The showbiz nickname of veteran vaudevillian, radio, television comedian Jack Benny, the star of THE JACK BENNY SHOW/CBS/1950-65.
Benny was so cheap that when a robber accosted him on the street and demanded “Your money or your life?,” Jack shouted, “I’m thinking!” Reportedly, Jack had a lock on his refrigerator, a pay telephone in his living room and preferred the color “dollar bill green.”
“Any man who would walk five miles through the snow, barefoot, just to return a library book so he could save three cents – that’s my kind of guy.” – Jack Benny
Being “The Cheapest Man in the World,” Jack distrusted banks and thus had a subterranean vault built several hundred feet below his home. The vault was protected with a moat filled with alligators, ear-shattering burglar alarms, Carmichael the Polar Bear whose savage roar was provided by Mel Blanc (both radio and TV); and by a very lonely guy named Ed, the “Keeper of the Vault” who was surprised to discover the Civil War was over.
Jack gained access to his vault by first giving Ed, the password “A fool and his money are soon parted” or “Hair of gold, Eyes of Blue”; and then by dialing the vault’s combination of Right 45, Left 60, Right 15, and Left 110.
A spoof of Jack Benny’s vault appeared on the September 27, 1967 episode of THE LUCY SHOW/CBS/1962-74 with Lucille Ball as bank secretary, Lucy Carmichael who tries to entice Jack Benny into opening a bank account.
For the occasion, Lucy constructs a vault with an electronic eye. When the light beam was broken it triggered a guillotine, a tribe of tomahawk-tossing Indians, a huge fierce gorilla; a deep stream filled with piranha fish and a patch of quicksand into which both Lucy and Jack fell prey.
“Everybody is afraid they won’t have any money after they die, but Jack Benny discovered a way to take it with him. He had his appendix taken out and a piggy bank put in.” – Bob Hope
The bill for the special effects was $25,000, the most expensive gag in TV history up to that time. Ray Singer and Milt Josefberg, writers of the skit won an Emmy for the that particular show.
In reality, Jack Benny was a philanthropist giving his money and his time to a number of charitable causes. He died on December 26, 1974 from complication of cancer of the pancreas. He was buried at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City, California and entombed in the same mausoleum as Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor.
Note: Other television cheapskates:
- Fred Mertz (William Frawley), a tightwad landlord on the sitcom I LOVE LUCY/CBS/1951-57. He was always penny-pinching and cutting corners with heat and building maintenance. He gave his wife Ethel very little money, but always had cash when a get-rich-quick investment opportunity came along (e.g., diner purchase, oil stocks).
- Herbert T. Gillis (Frank Faylen), a grocery store owner who lived in Central City on the sitcom THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS/CBS/1959-63. Herbert was once voted “The Citizen Most Likely To Hang Onto His Last Dollar.”
- Mr. Stanley Roper (Norman Fell) on the sitcom THREE’S COMPANY/ABC/1977-84. His tenants called him “The Cheapest Man Alive!” and once reported “He has every dollar he ever made in his mattress…Maybe that’s why he doesn’t get romantic (with his wife). He’s afraid to wrinkle his money!”