Monday, June 23, 2014

Jack Benny's Mary: Living Stoned

Mary Livingstone in 1940.
Jack Benny's beloved wife Mary Livingstone (née Sadie Marks), who he often mentioned in his act, was apparently a fan of Mary Jane.

According to Henry Bushkin's biography of his friend Johnny Carson, Livingstone attended Ronald Reagan's first inauguration in 1981, and afterwards at a party for Carson at an Italian restaurand, she lit up "a joint of marijuana" and passed the "fat doobie" to Janet De Cordova, wife of NBC executive Fred De Cordova.

The story lends some credence to the tale told in Kitty Kelley's biography of Nancy Reagan in which Alfred Bloomingdale passed around a joint at a dinner party attended by "the Jack Bennys and the George Burnses" as well as then-Governor Reagan and Nancy. Kelley tried twenty years later to verify the story with Janet DeCordova, but she (lied and?) said it hadn't happened at any dinner party she attended. She and Mary were at a second pot-fueled dinner party, according to Joan Benny, Jack and Mary's daughter.

Born June 23, 1905 in Seattle and raised in Vancouver, Sadie Marks's father was a Jewish immigrant from Romania whose family name had been Markovich (Wikipedia). She first met Benny (né Benjamin Kubelsky) when Zeppo Marx invited him to a Passover seder at her home when she was 14. At the age of 17, she moved to Los Angeles and took a job at the May Company department store, where Benny courted her (as replayed on Benny's TV show years later). She married him in 1927 and appeared with him on the vaudeville stage, proving to be a natural comedienne.

After Benny started performing on radio in 1932, Sadie was brought in as a last-minute replacement to play a character named Mary Livingstone for a single episode. As legend has it, NBC received so much fan mail that the character became a regular feature on the Benny show. "Livingstone soon displayed her own sharp wit and pinpoint comic timing, often used to puncture Benny's on-air ego, and she became a major part of the show." (Wiki). She became so well known as Mary that she legally changed her name to match her character's.

It makes you wish that Mary had co-starred with Benny in the original movie To Be or Not to Be, as Anne Bancroft did with husband Mel Brooks in the 1983 remake. Instead Carole Lombard starred opposite Benny, just before the plane crash that ended her life.

Like Bob Hope, Benny reportedly told a few pot jokes and admitted to trying it. True to the racist nature of our drug laws, it was the son of the actor who played Benny's black valet Rochester who was popped for pot in 1952.

Mary Livingstone died on June 30, 1983 at the age of 78, hours after receiving a visit from Nancy Reagan.

BTW, the Pope is no Nancy Reagan, says the Seattle Times.

Thanks to the well-read Louisa May All-Pot for this tip.

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