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On Sunday evening, January 7, 1945, Anaheim’s war news weary residents sat down again to listen to the nation’s favorite radio entertainer,
Mr. Sunday Night himself, Jack Benny. Heard locally on KFI radio at 4:00 PM (for New York broadcast at 7:00 PM EST) and sponsored by
Lucky Strike cigarettes, this night’s broadcast would be like no other before and forever change our community of Anaheim. On this show,
Jack’s writers conceived three new characters and devices that were to remain among the most popular in broadcasting. We learned about
penny-pinching Jack’s underground “vault” with its outlandish protection systems as well as meeting a young Sheldon Leonard playing the
gravel-voiced “Race Track Tout.” The third “bit,” intended as a once-used throwaway line, will be long remembered by three Southern
California communities.
The story goes like this: the L.A. Union Station conductor (played by Mel Blanc) announces to Jack’s entourage heading to New York: “Train
leaving on Track five for Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc—-amonga!” While Jack seems oblivious to the recitation of these rhythmic names, the
residents of Anaheim are in disbelief. Known as the capital of the Valencia orange and the pre-war training grounds of Connie Mack’s
Philadelphia Athletics, the name Anaheim was never known as a household word or the subject of national radio comedy. Regardless the three
stops were not even on the same Santa Fe Railroad line, the audience response to Mel Blanc’s booming announcement was very positive and
this bit was used often during Jack’s radio years and was heard again when Jack came to Television in the early 1950’s.
The national recognition that these three towns were starting to receive (humorous or not) was not lost on their local Chambers of Commerce.
Wartime issues were still of top community interest but once hostilities ended, efforts began to “adopt” Jack as each town’s native son.
Every plan must have a leader and Anaheim had Mr. Ernest W. Moeller, the Secretary-Manager of the Chamber of Commerce. Moeller,
Chet Burke (The Anaheim Gazette Editor), Cornelius Smith from Azusa and Clifton Chappell of unincorporated Cucamonga began a
campaign in late 1945 to declare Jack Honorary Mayor of the three communities.
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Anaheim at this time was anticipating a post-war boom and the Chamber of
Commerce as well as many service clubs were advertising Anaheim as the future
business center of the southland. In addition, the Anaheim Kiwanis Club, the
sponsor of the Orange County Youth Symphony, was planning their annual
Concert for January 1946 and with the help of the Chamber of Commerce, were
hoping to have Jack Benny as their guest conductor. Plans began to quickly gel
when on Friday January 11, 1946 the representatives from the Chambers of the
three communities met and directed Editor Burke on the 13th, to wire Jack Benny
a request to accept duties of Honorary Mayor of Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga.
The telegram also asked that Jack accept the additional post as violin soloist of the
Youth Symphony. Jack’s positive response of Monday January 14th was printed in
full on the front page of the following Thursday’s Anaheim Gazette. At last on
January 20th, prior to Jack’s regular Sunday program, representatives of the three
cities presented Benny, at the NBC Hollywood studios, with his badge of office as
the first “triple mayor” in the history of American politics. With it went three
oversized wooden “keys to the cities.” Jack’s program that followed was devoted
almost entirely to his new honor, as “Honorary Mayor” of the three cities that he
helped make famous. It was reported that the laughs by the studio audience were
much greater that usual, consuming almost eight minutes of the show. Discussions
continued in the local press about Jack actually broadcasting from one of the towns.
Anaheim’s newspapers came alive at the thought that the country’s leading entertainer would visit their city, running stories, political cartoons
and even an interview with Anaheim’s mayor, Charles Pearson questioning his intention of entering radio! Plans were made for Jack to
broadcast his coast-to-coast program from the Anaheim Union High School Auditorium sometime in late February or March. Anaheim’s
eleven-year-old High School Auditorium could seat 1800 and was the largest venue in the three cities, putting Anaheim as front-runner in the
race to see what city would host the entertainer first. Plans were made to distribute tickets by chance with blocks of tickets reserved for Azusa
and Cucamonga residents.
Despite the extensive planning and municipal hoopla, conditions were never right for Benny’s visit during the remainder of 1946. The Orange
County Youth Symphony’s concert was held as scheduled with a slight postponement due to conductor Miss Norma Perkins’s appendicitis
operation. Occasional mentions were made of Jack’s “Mayorship” of Anaheim in the local press but no firm dates for a visit were ever
published. The subject of Benny’s visit to Anaheim was still a matter of regular discussion in Anaheim business circles and the right time
proved to be just around the corner.
Early in 1947, planning for Anaheim’s “Civic Progress Week” was well under way. Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, the City Planning
Commission and various service clubs, this week of meetings and tours and kicked off with a gala banquet, would showcase Anaheim’s current
and future growth. Anaheim’s newspapers were regularly reporting the plans of E. W. Moeller, Dick Gay, Ross Laird, Bill Cook, Norbert
Faessel, J.B. Collings Ben Kaulbars and Everett Cone (all community leaders of impeccable credentials). By April 1947, program details were
announced that included community planning lectures, industrial tours including Essex Wire, Southern California Citrus, Bridgeford Foods
and the Granada Packing House with a visit to one of Anaheim’s new off-street parking lots. On Friday, April 25, the Anaheim Annies would
open their Sunset League Softball season with a game at La Palma Park against their rivals, the Riverside Dons.
On Thursday April 17th, the Anaheim Gazette headlines finally announce that Jack Benny will be the guest of honor at the following Monday
night Chamber of Commerce banquet to be held at the Elk’s Club. In addition to Jack’s regular comedy routine, he would introduce the new
Miss Anaheim and perhaps play a violin solo for the lucky 340 who would receive the much sought after tickets. The Saturday April 19th
Anaheim Bulletin tells its readers that Jack Benny will ride through town in an old Maxwell Automobile, the 1906 model supplied and driven
by Santa Ana Superior Court Judge, Raymond H. Thompson.
Finally the big day that few thought possible “arrives amid a blaze of Jack1-423x319
ignition sparks.” At 6:30PM, Jack and Company were welcomed at the
corner of Palm and Center Streets (today’s Harbor and Lincoln Blvds.)
by Mayor Pearson and city officials. Benny was soon escorted to the
corner of Palm and Cypress streets where he climbed aboard the waiting
vehicle. The ancient roadster, sporting an auxiliary lantern and with
Judge Thompson at the wheel, was inscribed “Jack Benny’s Maxwell.”
His first visit was with the cadets from St. Catherine’s Military School,
where Mr. Ric Chilson one of the cadets recalled years later, the
excitement of having a Hollywood personality come to the school. Soon
students seeking autographs as well as about 25 neighborhood boys on
bicycles surrounded the entertainer.
The parade, now including the Maxwell, kids on bikes and a police escort,
returned to Center Street and proceeded non-stop to North Los Angeles
Street (today’s Anaheim Blvd.), followed by over 1500 cheering residents.
Once arriving at the Elks Club at about 7:00 P.M., another crowd seeking
autographs and a chance to see Mr. Sunday Night in person again met Jack
and the Maxwell.
Contemporary photos show a smiling Jack Benny and Judge Thompson surrounded by excited residents including Anaheim’s own Police
Officer Joe Miranda (out of uniform), Frank Belmont, owner of the Granada Packing House and this writer’s six-year-old brother David
Faessel and his childhood friend, Vincent Flynn. Amid an explosion of flashbulbs at the corner of Los Angeles and Sycamore Streets on a
cool April evening over 50 years ago, the lives of a 53-year-old radio comedian from Waukegan and the community that he helped make
famous were joined, at least for an instant.
The following week’s Anaheim Gazette headline screams: “Jack Benny Smiles, Jokes Way into Heart of Anaheim.” Newspaper accounts
detail Jack’s comedy routine including his stories of Hollywood life as well as the efforts of the local Anaheim talent that sang, juggled and
joked their way through the evening. Jack climaxed his act by playing his signature piece, “Love in Bloom” on his ever-present violin, much
to the delight of the crowd. Upon being presented the inscribed gavel as “Honorary Mayor” of Anaheim by Mayor Pearson, Jack promised
to try out the gavel by driving 80 miles per hour out of town. The new Miss Anaheim, Phyllis Officer, was introduced to the party, while her
proud father Ray looked on. In 1969, Judge Thompson recalled of the evening: “The streets were jammed packed with people, and I think the
crowd was more excited than if I had been hauling the President.” And so Jack Benny’s first (but not last) visit to Anaheim fades into memory.
The Civic Progress Week celebration continued through the rest of the week, ending with an address by Walter Elieson, Deputy Regional
Director of the United States Commerce Department who was prophetically quoted: “You haven’t begun to see the growth that is coming
your way.”
Jack Benny continued to use the “Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc—-amonga” routine throughout his radio career and reprised it when his show
came to the new medium of television in 1951. Mr. Milt Josefsberg, Benny’s long time writer and biographer noted: “We also eventually hit
upon the device of Mel (Mel Blanc playing the train announcer) taking longer and longer pauses in naming the town of Cucamonga. Once we
set a record by having Mel’s voice boom out, ‘Train now leaving on Track Five for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cuc—‘ and then we did a full five
minutes of routines with other members of the cast before Mel finished that name ‘amonga,’ getting a scream and applause from the audience
who anticipated its coming but didn’t know exactly when it would come.”
Many senior Anaheim residents recall longtime Police Chief Mark Stephenson’s remark that Anaheim’s jail in the basement of old city’s new
police facility at Harbor Blvd. and Santa Ana Street that would provide a modern home for Anaheim’s Police force well city’s new police
facility at Harbor Blvd. and Santa Ana Street that would provide a modern home for Anaheim’s Police force well into the future. During the
dedication ceremony held on November 25, 1963, the Master of Ceremonies, a young Johnny Carson, reintroduced Anaheim to its favorite
entertainer, Mr. Jack Benny. The 69 year-old comedian joked with the new Tonight Show host and recalled his Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc—-
amonga skit. Unfortunately, the nation’s humor appetite was changing and the 1963-1964 season would be Jack’s last on television. The
entertainer, who was first to promote Anaheim long before Walt Disney or Gene Autry arrived, would only occasionally be seen now in the
community’s living rooms on various walk-on roles, commercials or NBC specials.
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Having already appointed Jack Benny “Honorary Mayor” of the three noted
communities in 1946, they finally got around to naming him an “Honorary Citizen”
on December 15, 1965. At the Azusa Civic Center, with the Azusa High School
Marching Band providing part of the afternoon’s entertainment and surrounded by
the reigning Queens of the three Cities, Jack was presented proclamations by
various officials representing the famous little towns that
he helped make household
names. Local old timers were quoted as recalling the popularity of Jack’s old radio
show and the time he was appointed “Mayor.”
Anaheim, Azusa and Cuc—-amonga lost a friend at 11:52 P.M., December 26, 1974,
when Mr. Sunday Night took his final bow. He left the world a lifetime legacy of
humor but for the residents of Anaheim we lost a little bit more. The official
Resolution of Appreciation signed by officials of the three communities, dated
December 30, 1974 sums his life as follows:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED that the Cities of Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga, in deference to the lifetime of pleasure
brought to a troubled world by the pleasant and soft-spoken violin player from Waukegan, Illinois, do jointly and unanimously convey their
admiration and appreciation to the memory of MR. JACK BENNY….
Today, few remember his ride down Center Street, all of the adults in the published photos are gone now, some of the children too, even Phyllis
Officer, Anaheim’s charming Miss of 1947 is gone now, taken by cancer. Anaheim’s proud Elks Club, a victim of declining membership and
excessive debt has been gone for years as well. A few St. Catherine cadets faintly recall the big day over half a century ago when Hollywood
arrived at their doorstep. Anaheim today is easily recognized as the home of Disneyland and Angels baseball, however over fifty years ago, a
sleepy but awakening little town entered the nation’s consciousness with the help of a radio comedian from Waukegan, and the rest we say, is
history.