For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.
The return of The Jack Benny Program to the ATVN lineup also includes the reappearance of one of television’s most beloved entertainers of the 1940s and 1950s.
Dennis Day was born Owen Patrick Eugene McNulty to Irish immigrants in The Bronx, New York on May 21, 1916.
After graduating from Manhattanville College, Day entered and won a national competition orchestrated by bandleader Larry Clinton. Shortly thereafter, he recorded his first single, “Goodnight, My Beautiful.”
At the same time, singer Kenny Baker had decided to leave The Jack Benny Radio Show–which was the number-one ranked comedy program at that time. (Baker would resurface one year later on the radio show of Benny’s on-air nemesis, Fred Allen.)
Day was one of hundreds of tenors who auditioned, featuring singers from all around the world. What got Dennis the job?
According to the book, Sunday Nights at Seven, Day was so nervous when they called his name to audition, that his immediate response was to blurt out, “Yes, please.” Benny and his writers were caught off guard by the unusual response (one they incorrectly thought was an attempt to interject some humor into the role) and gave the 23-year old the job.
Unbeknownst to Benny and the writing staff, Day was also a great mimic and voice actor who would fill in for legendary voice man Mel Blanc when he missed time due to a serious car accident. Day would also impersonate other legendary film actors and famous people of the time in both the radio and television versions of the program (one of his best mimics was that of Winston Churchill on the TV episode guest-starring Raymond Burr).
Day not only made a smooth transition to the cast of the nation’s most popular program, but his own fame spawned his very own radio show which ran for several seasons. Day would later host his own television show at the same time that Benny’s show ran. There would be frequent jokes on the latter’s program that the young tenor has “two shows to Benny’s one.”
Day’s youthful appearance was also utilized frequently as the target of many jokes–his naive approach often frustrated Benny, culminating with the host yelling for “that crazy kid” to get off his show.
In fact, Day’s attempts at a television show actually preceded Benny’s. A Day In The Life of Dennis Day tried to transition his radio show to television, but the pilot was never picked up.
A second pilot, The Dennis Day Show, in which he hosted a variety program, also failed to get momentum on the CBS Network.
In 1952, a third attempt, The RCA Victor Show (later renamed The Dennis Day Show), succeeded on NBC and ran for three seasons. Unlike his first attempt, the newer version had Day portraying a more mature character without the naivete he exhibited on the CBS show.
Even so, Day continued to appear on the Benny show posing as “that crazy kid” even through its final year in 1965, when Dennis was nearly 50 years old.
Day would continue singing and making appearances on popular television comedy and variety programs off-and-on over the next decade.
Day’s last two major on-air appearances were as voice animations for two popular annual cartoons. In 1976, he was the voice of “The Preacher” in the Rankin-Bass production, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, and again worked with them in 1978, when he voiced Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, in The Stingiest Man in Town, which was their animated version of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol.
On June 22, 1978, Day died from ALS/Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was surrounded by his wife of 40 years, Peggy Almquist, and his 10 children.
Be sure to set your DVRs and watch Dennis’s original role on The Jack Benny Program on the Astound TV Network’s programming lineup, every Wednesday at 12 noon. Also, you can binge-watch a number of great early “Benny” episodes as part of a mini-marathon this Monday starting at 8pm on ATVN.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.