Jack Benny (born Benjamin Kubelsky in 1894) first gained fame bringing his impeccable comic timing and “stingy” stage persona to vaudeville crowds. His pioneering style paved the way for generations of future comedians. And Benny’s eventual dominance of radio, film and television cemented his status as a true legend of laughter. Alongside him was wife Mary Livingstone (born Sadie Marks), who Benny met in 1927 when she was a Seattle sales clerk. Though initially shy, Mary emerged as a talented radio comedian in her own right, playing the sharp-witted friend to Benny’s hapless miser on The Jack Benny Program.
By 1936 the duo were comedy royalty, thanks in large part to Benny’s smash-hit radio show. That March, hot on the heels of their growing fame, Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone arrived in Washington D.C. for a week-long tour of the capital. Though married in real life, their on-air personas were of a penny-pinching boss and his wisecracking secretary. Stepping off the train in character to greet throngs of cheering fans, they were swarmed by entertainment executives and press eager to get a closer look at radio’s hottest pair. Benny and Livingstone had come to D.C. with a packed itinerary – Jack was slated to broadcast his variety program from the prestigious National Press Club, and the two would headline an extravagant theater revue in-between mingling with Washington’s political and social elite. The couple’s glamorous entrance set the tone for a week allowing them to showcase their ascent to comedy royalty.
Photos from the bustling train platform captured Mary beaming ear-to-ear, enthusiastically waving in a lavish fur coat and feathered hat as adoring fans called out to comedy’s newest royal couple. A Washington Post articles notes Jack cutting a refined figure in a sharp suit, smiling coyly and tipping his hat to the “swell DC welcome wagon.”
And the fanfare was certainly warranted, as the stars had one jam-packed itinerary! As announced in The Washington Post, Jack was set to headline an elaborate stage revue at Loew’s Fox Theater in conjunction with their visit. And keeping with the showbiz theme, his hit comedy program was scheduled to broadcast on March 15th from the auditorium of the prestigious National Press Club.
But it wasn’t all photos ops and microphones during their glamorous week in the capital. In their downtime, Jack and Mary got to take in some local color like Washington’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, having arrived just in time to proudly toast their Irish heritage. Later on, as mentioned in a Post column penned by Jack himself on March 15th, he attended a formal embassy dinner held in his honor. The lavish event, dripping in luxury, was sure to provide plenty of fodder for laughs.
Judging by the warm local reception and intense demand for the talented twosome, it was clear Jack Benny and Mary Livingstone had thoroughly charmed Washington during their week-long stay. As Mary openly declared in a Post profile dated March 19th, Jack’s stalwart coaching and encouragement over the years had been key in building her confidence as a performer.
Meanwhile, Jack had audiences tickled silly across DC through his hilarious attempts at sightseeing and culture, as displayed in his own guest column for the Post covering all that charming city had to offer.
As the dynamic duo finally departed DC, waving fondly from their departing train, they left behind a trail of smiles and happy memories. Though just one brief stop on their whirlwind national touring schedule, Jack and Mary’s charm offensive that week had clearly cemented their reign among East Coast society as America’s beloved royal couple of comedy.