Comic Jack Benny Died with No Biological Child — Adopted Daughter Inherited Bulk of His Estate
Comic legend Jack Benny may not have had a biological child, but he was a proud and doting father to his adopted daughter Joan. The comedian even left a majority of his estate to her when he died.
Born Benjamin Kubelsky on February 14, 1894, in Chicago, Illinois, Jack Benny began his career as a violinist before transitioning to comedy. He got his first violin at the age of 8 and quit school in the ninth grade.
Ten years later, he was a part of the vaudeville circuit, popular from the 1880s until the 1930s. He told his first joke during one performance, and when the audience laughed, the sound "intoxicated" him.
Studio portrait of American actor and comedian Jack Benny (1894-1974) circa 1955 (left), Family portrait of American comedian Jack Benny, his wife, Mary Livingstone, and their teenage daughter Joan Benny, seated together in a living room circa 1945 (right) | Source: Getty Images
In 1917, he left the group to enlist in the Navy for World War I. There, he entertained soldiers using his violin through "The Great Lakes Review." During that period, he changed his name to "Jack Benny."
In the show, he used his comic genius to make an impression. Realizing he had a gift for making people laugh, he decided to ditch music altogether and pursue a career in comedy instead.
Studio portrait of comedian Jack Benny on November 8, 1962 | Source: Getty Images
START OF A NEW LIFE
By the 1920s, Benny's life took off in more ways than one. He had met and performed with a woman named Sadie Marks, who took on the stage and legal name Mary Livingstone.
In 1927, the pair got married. Just two years after, Benny signed a five-year film contract with MGM, and he landed his radio show titled "The Jack Benny Program" in 1932.
THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM
Benny created a sitcom within a sitcom, showing the comic effect of a self-serving version of himself. A good ensemble surrounded him, and the show ran from 1932 to 1955, alternating between CBS and NBC stations.
His cast included Don Wilson as the show's announcer, Eddie Anderson as his valet and chauffeur, Gene McNulty as singer Dennis Day, and his wife as his girlfriend. Phil Harris starred as himself, and Mel Blanc joined in for a variety of roles.
Studio portrait of American actor and comedian Jack Benny (1894-1974) circa 1955 | Source: Getty Images
HIS TRANSITION TO TELEVISION
Since his radio show was a big hit, he transitioned it to television, where it aired for 15 years, from 1950 to 1965. For five years, the show even overlapped between the two mediums.
However, not many people knew that he and his wife were going through something personal, especially amidst the fantastic milestones in his career.
ADOPTING THEIR DAUGHTER MARY
In 1934, Livingstone and Benny adopted a daughter. In the couple's biography "Sunday Nights at Seven: The Jack Benny Story," he introduced her in a strange yet sweet way, describing her wrinkled face, tiny arms, and crooked legs. He added:
"I couldn’t believe my eyes. ‘Is this the one you picked?’ I asked Mary. Mary was smiling a secret smile. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Isn’t she darling?’ ‘How can you want to adopt a funny-looking thing like that one?’"
American actor and comedian Jack Benny (1894 - 1974) and his wife, actress Mary Livingstone (1908 - 1983) arrive at London Airport for a stage tour of Britain on June 12, 1973 | Source: Getty Images
FALLING IN LOVE WITH HER
The same way Livingstone fell in love with their daughter, Benny did as well. He shared in the book that Joan became very beautiful, and he fell in love with her within two days. "She completed our lives," he added.
While Joan was growing up, his wife became the disciplinarian, and he was a "softie." At one point, Joan even proclaimed that she hated her mom, and Benny had to speak to her about it.
Jack and Mary Benny circa 1955, 28 years after their marriage | Source: Getty Images
ON LOVING EACH OTHER
During their little talk, Benny admitted to his daughter that he first thought she was ugly. He added that Livingstone wanted Joan so much, and this proved how much she loved her.
After their talk, his daughter said: "Daddy, I love you very much." He responded, saying, "Joanie, you don't love me as much as I love you." She insisted, declaring she loved him more, since she loved him all her life, while he didn't love her until the second day.
Family portrait of American comedian Jack Benny, his wife, Mary Livingstone, and their teenage daughter Joan Benny, seated together in a living room circa 1945 | Source: Getty Images
When Joan was 19, she married Seth Baker. Their wedding was marked one of the most fabulous weddings in Hollywood history, costing an estimated $25,000.
At the time, Benny walked his daughter down the aisle to wed her New York stockbroker love. The reception took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel, with white lilac decor flown from Holland. Designer Don Loper flew from France for Joan's gown.
American comedian and actor Jack Benny (1894 - 1974) reading 'The Painted Room' by Margaret Wilson, circa 1955. | Source: Getty Images
AN EVERLASTING LOVE
Through the years, Joan was proud to have had a good relationship with her father. She often described him as the nicest man she had ever known.
Although she admits that her father's show might have been his priority, the two were still very close. They went to baseball games together, traveled to different cities, and attended concerts.
Jack Benny playing the violin in 'Jack Benny's First Farewell' production celebrating his fifty years of entertaining, New York, New York, 1973 | Source: Getty Images
THEIR EXPANDED FAMILY
Joan added that her father was just as excellent as a grandfather as he was as a dad. Speaking about it, she said:
"When I was married and had children, I lived not too far away, so dad would come over every two or three days for a cup of coffee and to see his grandchild."
Comedian Jack Benny and wife Mary Livingston attend an event in Los Angeles, California circa 1940 | Source: Getty Images
Benny died at the age of 80 in 1974 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. The cancer was not discovered until it appeared on x-rays just a couple of days before his death.
After finding out about his illness, the likes of Ronal Reagan, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Danny Kaye, and George Burns visited his family home.
Actor Bob Hope with Jack Benny as he grabs his Golden Globe Award in Los Angeles, California circa 1958 | Source: Getty Images
HIS FINAL WILL
Benny left a chunk of his estate to Livingstone, Joan, and his sister. He also donated two valuable violins worth between $50,000 to $100,000 to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Livingstone got $100,000 and a $10,000 monthly income, Joan got $50,000 and a $2,000 monthly income, and his sister, Florence Fenchal, got $20,000 and $650 a month.
American comedian and actor Jack Benny (1894 - 1974) and his wife Mary Livingstone (1905 - 1983) circa 1952. | Source: Getty Images