Remember back in 2012 when a bunch of us heard the name Jack Benny and “wireless hero” during a screening of Roadhouse Nights from 1930? Only problem was that Jackson wasn’t supposed to be on the radio before 1932.
But still, the reference remained inexplicable.
Curiosity here at Up and Down These Mean Streets never sleeps (it has nothing, however, against profound napping), so when The Virtual Jack Benny Convention streamed a few weekends back we sent in our Jack Benny Research Team to ask the tough questions. I even caught some of the action. The interview with Dennis Devine — son of Andy Devine — was especially interesting (he does a great voice impression of The Duke).
The answer showed up afterwards on the Facebook page for the International Jack Benny Fan Club.
Zach Eastman put it out there and got responses from Don M. Yowp and Hope Sears. Let’s quote Yowp:
Hello, all. Zach sent me a note asking if I had any clue about a Ben Hecht script reference to Jack Benny as “The Wireless Hero.”
I did (not a lot) of digging and it would appear Hecht was referring to Jack Binns. He was nicknamed “The Wireless Hero” in 1909. He was the wireless operator on the Steamship Republic that was hit by another ship. He stuck at the wireless for 48 hours, guiding rescue ships and saving the lives of the passengers. That made him a celebrity for many years.
Yeah, I’m satisfied that’s the answer. Obviously none of us movie-goers a century later had heard of Binns, so our minds tricked us into subbing in “Benny” in his place.
Pretty cool, though. Got to love history. And now I know Jack Binns, Wireless Hero.