Archives On The Air 21: Jack Benny's "Magic" Violin

Jul 16, 2018

Portrait of Jack Benny in 1909. Box 62, Jack Benny papers.
Credit American Heritage Center

Legendary entertainer Jack Benny was a pretty good violinist. In 1911 Benny was a 17-year old professional violinist playing in Chicago’s vaudeville theaters.

But Benny found more success with his comic timing than the violin. By 1921, his fiddle was more of a prop and comedy took over.

A running gag was his hopeless attempts to play the violin. He made the illusion seem real by trying to play pieces too difficult for his skill level.

Publicity portrait of Jack Benny taken for MGM Studios, undated. Box 62, Jack Benny papers.
Credit American Heritage Center

In a World War II skit, he plays a USO performer in the Pacific who comes under attack while playing the violin. Benny continues to play when two Japanese soldiers surrender to him. They were the only two left. The rest of the enemy did themselves in rather than endure his horrible music.

At UW’s American Heritage Center, you can see one of Benny’s violins and his papers which cover all aspects of the entertainer’s personal and professional life.