'Well!' Jack Would Have Said at the Turnout of the Stars
01/13/1975 at 01:00 AM EST
In Hollywood, funerals often take on the trappings of premieres—the bigger the star, the bigger the turnout. Two weekends ago in Los Angeles, Jack Benny, dead of cancer at the age of 80, drew the funereal equivalent of a packed house. As thousands outside the Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City strained to catch a better look, a Who's Who of American Comedy came to pay their respects—Groucho Marx, George Jessel, Milton Berle, Bob Hope, George Burns. Like Benny, most had originally gained fame in vaudeville and radio, in those pre-television days when a well-turned gag line or a carefully studied sketch would last season after season. Befitting Jack Benny's role as entertainment's elder statesman, the ceremony was brief—20 minutes—and to the point. George Burns, Benny's closest friend for 55 years, found it too difficult to speak. "I cannot imagine my life without him," he said in a cracking voice. Bob Hope's eulogy, delivered uncharacteristically deadpan, was no less loving. "He was stingy to the end," Hope said. "He gave us only 80 years. God keep him and enjoy him—we did."
Recovered from heart surgery, George Burns, 78, was Benny's best pal.
Bob Hope, 71, and his wife, Dolores, who is infrequently seen in public, sign in. Hope later delivered Benny's eulogy at the brief service.
Oldest comic, Groucho Marx, 84, waits for companion Erin Fleming.
A crowd of more than 2,000 sightseers turned out for the Benny funeral at the Culver City Hillside Memorial Park.
An ever youthful Merle Oberon, now 63, signs the registry while her lover, actor Robert Wolders, 36, waits his turn.
Phil Harris, who was an early Benny radio show regular before getting his own show with wife, Alice Faye, greets Rosemarie and Robert Stack.
Attending the service with his wife, Veronique, Gregory Peck, 58, was one of the younger pallbearers.
James Stewart, 66, often played himself on Benny's programs.
Frank Sinatra, 59, and Milton Berle, 66 (in back, right), both acted as pallbearers for their longtime friend.
Show-biz politicos George Murphy (top) and Ronald Reagan with wife, Nancy, brave the crowd.
Among the guests was Jack Lemmon, who enters the chapel with wife, Felicia Farr.
Natalie Wood, 36, and husband, Robert Wagner, 44, represent the more youthful Hollywood.