1930s-Style Celebrity Fake Feud: The PR Feud Between Radio Hosts Jack Benny and Fred Allen
In the 1930s, when radio was the top form of entertainment, listeners gathered around to tune into the biggest, most popular radio shows. Two of the best were The Jell-O Program, hosted by Jack Benny, and Texaco Star Theatre with Fred Allen. Radio performers were always looking for gimmicks to engage the audience and hook in more listeners and, in 1936, they hit on a gold mine of a gimmick. Jack Benny and Fred Allen, seen in these colorized photos, started a fake celebrity feud that they continued for a full decade.
Both men used their radio shows to make cheap shots at each other, to the delight of their audiences who faithfully tuned in so they could hear the quips and insults. Who doesn’t love a good celebrity feud? In truth, however, Benny and Allen were good friends, and their ongoing feud was a ratings gimmick. Here’s how the feud started and ended.
The Jell-O Program with Jack Benny
Jack Benny’s radio show, which debuted on May 2, 1932, went by several names to reflect the current corporate sponsor. During the start of his faux feud with Fred Allen, his show was called The Jell-O Program with Jack Benny. It was a comedy with a ‘show within a show’ structure. As Benny attempted to host his ‘show’, he would be interrupted by random characters, make comments about the advertisements, and interact with the audience. Benny poked fun at himself and portrayed himself as a penny-pinching marginally talented musician, which the audience thoroughly loved. Benny’s radio show set the bar for comedy radio shows of the 1930s.