little-known secrets behind the men & women who shaped
Ben Kubelsky and Sadye Marks Were Such Big Stars That You Never
Heard of Them
By Paul Niemann
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[February 14, 2008]
Benjamin Kubelsky worked with some of the
biggest names in show business during his 57-year career -- people
like George Burns and Gracie Allen, Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Jimmy
Stewart, Bing Crosby, and Mary Livingstone (who was married to Jack
Benny). Later in life, he became close friends with Bob Hope and
Benjamin was born
1894, in Chicago, the oldest child of Meyer and Emma Kubelsky. His
younger sister was born six years later. Ben's parents gave him a
violin for his 6th birthday and would later push him toward a career
as a violinist. He hated it, yet he became one of the biggest stars
of his era and is still known all over the United States. But not
for his music.
During the peak of his comedy career, he performed at the famous
Palace Theatre in New York as well as the Orpheum Theatre in Los
Angeles. Later in his career, he played violin with the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and also at Carnegie Hall.
You say you've never heard of Ben Kubelsky?
WELL! I bet you have.
His first paying job was as a violinist in a local vaudeville
house when he was in the ninth grade. He went on to flunk every
class in school that year, and he dropped out the following year. It
was at this job where he met a new group known as the Marx Brothers,
who were so impressed with Ben that they offered him a chance to
tour with their comedy act. Ben's parents wouldn't allow it, though.
So he continued to perform comedy and, like many show biz
performers, Ben Kubelsky adopted a stage name. He did so in 1912
because another violinist, Jan Kubelik, thought that a comedian
would damage his reputation by having such a similar name as his.
It wasn't the only time that he adopted a stage name, because
during his vaudeville days, from 1919 to 1931, there was yet another
performer who claimed that Ben's stage name was too similar to his
name. So Ben took a different name, one that he would use for the
rest of his life.
Ben had become friendly with Sadye Marks, who was believed to be
a distant cousin to the Marx Brothers (somewhere along the way the
name was changed from Marks to Marx). In 1926 Ben learned that
20-year-old Sadye was about to be married to a man from Vancouver.
Ben got on the phone and convinced her that she was too young to get
married and that she should come to Chicago with him instead. Ben
and Sadye got married soon after that, and she asked him about his
comment about being "too young to get married."
[to top of second column]
He responded that she was too young to get married "to him maybe,
but not to me."
Ben worked in radio from 1932 to 1948, and his show was one of
the highest-rated radio shows during that time period before
television came along. He rated higher than Bing Crosby, Amos and
Andy, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and the Marx Brothers.
Still think that you've never heard of Ben Kubelsky?
WELL! Maybe you've heard of his television career, which
lasted from 1949 to 1964.
He won an Emmy for Best Comedy Series in 1958, and the following
year he had his first special on TV. Ben's friend, former President
Harry Truman, was a guest on one of his shows, and his TV career
lasted until 1965, when he was 71 years old. His CBS show ran
opposite a new show on NBC called "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C."
After 33 years in radio and TV, Ben Kubelsky left his regular
show but continued in showbiz with his one-hour specials. Earlier I
mentioned that he associated with Mary Livingstone, who was the wife
of Jack Benny.
That's because he was married to her.
You see, Ben Kubelsky's stage name was Jack Benny. And just like
Ben Kubelsky took a stage name, so did Mary Livingstone. Her real
name was Sadye Marks.
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2008