Jack Benny Ruins His Reputation

Posted 10/10/03

By Ben Nicks

 (This yarn was originally published in the July 27, 2003 Kansas City Star)

In 1947 I was punching TWA tickets at old Municipal Airport (now Downtown Airport) on the midnight shift when our westbound DC-3 took a delay for some reason or another, not unusual then and rather routine today, airlines regret to admit.

Passengers waked down the roll-up stairs and wandered into the Gilbert-Robinson coffee shop for java. Jack Benny was one of them.

Stars aplenty and noted personalities of every stripe flew TWA coast-to-coast on those old puddle-jumpers before the long-range Constellations (we called them Connies) came into use. We often caught a glimpse of the stars as the nightly DC-3 toiled through.

And Jack Benny stood out among the brightest of those radio-days stars. Nobody missed his Tuesday night Jell-O show with announcer Don Wilson and back-ups Dennis Day and Rochester. Jack wowed them with his eternal cheapskate character.

He’d have them rolling in the aisles as he refused to answer a holdup man’s repeated demand: "Your money or your life." After the third demand Benny would finally say: "I’m thinking about it." He worked that gag for years.

A few cargo-busters on break were seated at a booth in the back of the coffee shop as the passengers filed in. Benny approached them diffidently and said, "Er, fellows, mind if I join you for coffee?"

Mind? They were goggle-eyed. They quickly made room for Benny to sit and order. As they drank, Jack struck up a conversation, small and fascinating chit-chat about radio and movies. He was a regular guy, all right. What was all this stuff about being tight?

The P.A. blurted, "Passengers for TWA flight to Amarillo, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Los Angeles, please re-board, we are ready to take off." The crowd struggled to attention and headed for the cold, damp outer world. Jack stood up, gulped down the last of his coffee and apologized, "Er, fellows, I seem to be a little short. You won’t mind picking this up?" With that, he hurried away.

"Well, I’ll be …" blurted one of the cargo-busters. "He really is a tight jerk," said another. They watched open-mouthed as Jack scurried to the door, paused a moment at the front, then out into the black night. The group reluctantly trudged up to the cashier, debating how much they would have to chip in to pay for Cheapo’s coffee.

"Mighty nice of Mr. Benny," said the woman cashier.

"What’s that?" came the confused reply from the cargo men.

"Why he paid for everybody’s coffee on the way out. And left a good tip, too."

And so Jack Benny disappeared into the west, ruining forever his cheapskate reputation in Kansas City.

Ben Nicks (1945 – 1981) worked in Kansas City and New York serving in a wide range of positions including ticketing, editing, public relations, and facilities management.

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