Friday, February 12, 2010

Another birthday for Illinois' favorite son

Today is Lincoln's Birthday and state and county offices are closed here in Illinois.

Before Lincoln became President, he was one of the busiest lawyers in Illinois. For many years, Lincoln held the record for most appearances in the Illinois Supreme Court. He may still; I haven't looked it up this morning. Once, Lincoln appeared before the Supreme Court twice in the same day, in two different cases -- on different sides of the same issue. In other words, the position he was arguing for in the first case was the position he was arguing against in the second. One of the learned justices asked, "Surely, Mr. Lincoln, you don't expect to win both these cases?" "No," said Mr. Lincoln, "but I fully expect to win one of 'em."

Anyway, Lincoln is still alive and well in the hearts and minds of Illinois lawyers. As you can see, we're still using him as a pitchman. (Another famous Illinois lawyer, Rod Blagojevich, tried to get the job, but had to settle for a guest bit on Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice instead.)

But, though Illinois honors Lincoln, and celebrates his birthday, we can't boast that he was born here. Abe was born in Kentucky and grew up in Indiana.

So this morning, I'm thinking of someone who really is a favorite son of Illinois, namely, the Waukegan Wonder, Benjamin Kubelsky, born on Valentine's Day in 1894 -- just 90 years before my Older Daughter, if you're looking for an additional hook here.

Benny Kubelsky changed his name on the road to fame and fortune -- and, as Jack Benny, became a comedian famous for not telling jokes. In fact, most of his biggest laughs came from him not saying anything. And yet, somehow, he became a national star on radio.

I found a couple of video clips for this morning's tribute. The first shows Benny with a very young Johnny Carson -- in which Carson presumes to give Benny advice.

Of course, Carson kept doing a Benny imitation -- and he'd be the first to admit it -- throughout his long career. All those hangdog double takes were pure Benny.

In our second clip, Benny and longtime friend Mel Blanc guest on The Tonight Show. The YouTube site from which I pilfered this clip says that this appearance was in April 1974 -- only a few months before Benny's death. Wikipedia claims that Benny's last Tonight Show appearance was in 1972, on Carson's 10th Anniversary Special. I don't really care which is accurate; I just love to see Benny again, and I hope you do, too.

If Jack were alive today, he'd be looking forward to his 39th birthday. And Older Daughter? Well, she's thinking about drawing a line in the sand, too. Happy Birthday to you both.

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