The Vaudeville, radio, movie, and television comedian Jack Benny was born in 1894 on February 14th. If you don't know the name, I think the closest analogy in today's comedy scene is Jerry Seinfeld. Although the Jack Benny show had more jokes and one-liners than Seinfeld's, both shows were situational and derived comedy from the personality traits of Jack's radio family, and Jack himself got laughs less from delivering punchlines than his inflections, nuances, and the comic musicality of exasperation. He was a major celebrity in the 40's up through the 60's, and most old people still remember his most notorious punchline, "I'm thinking it over!" Trust that it is funny in context.
I went to a small high school, and one of the things I was known for among my friends was that I was a big Jack Benny fan. My idolatry was anachronistic, but I thought Jack's radio shows were very funny and I thought he was a noble man worthy of admiration, the same way I felt about Atticus Finch. I made a big deal about Jack Benny, and intentionally tied his identity up with mine, the same way I did with Harpo Marx, Tom Waits, and Bruce Springsteen. Also Ani DiFranco and Kurt Vonnegut, which I think are more commonplace artists to be drawn to in high school in the 90's, but to me they all took a backseat to Jack Benny.
One of the ways I manifested my admiration was, on February 14th, I would make signs with his picture on them wishing Jack Benny a happy birthday and put them up in the halls of the school. It wasn't commonplace for kids to put up signs when their favorite celebrity's birthday occurred; I was the only person doing this. There weren't even a lot of signs on the walls in general: there was a student bulletin board where you could put up notifications, and I put a sign there too, but I did them all up and down the halls. It was probably against the rules, but nobody seemed bothered enough to take them down or discipline me. Probably I took them down at the end of the day, but I don't remember.
One year one of the signs was an excerpt from a chapter of a book written by George Burns, who was Jack's best friend for 50 years. I typed the chapter out long hand and posted it to the wall. I don't know who I was thinking would read it.
Since today (as I'm writing this) it is February 14th, I was thinking back about that old habit I used to have. It hadn't struck me until today that it's funny that I was "writing on everyone's wall" long before Facebook existed. One December, for my birthday, my mom made a bunch of signs with Jack Benny on them, wishing ME a happy birthday. She had my older sister put them up before I got to school. I ran from sign to sign gleefully, not even thinking who might be behind it. It should have been obvious, but I was so pleased at the stunt, how personal it was to me, that the guessing part of my brain didn't even engage. I just enjoyed the prank, in the best way.
And then today I found out that February 14th is also the birthday of tap dancer Gregory Hines. I have a story about him too. I'll post that later. But for now, here's the photo.