LARAMIE, Wyo. — Emily Christopherson didn’t know much about Jack Benny, a celebrated American comedian and entertainer, before 2010.
“But, my grandpa was a big fan, so he was excited when I told him I was processing the Jack Benny papers,” said Christopherson, an archivist at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.
The Heritage Center is the university’s repository of manuscript collections, rare books and archives. One of its more notable collections is the Benny papers, which includes materials from 1894-1993 from the performer’s life and career.
Christopherson was tasked in 2010 with reorganizing the collection, a process completed a year later. The university recently sent out a news release about the collection, originally acquired in 1985.
“We knew he was popular and there would be interest in it,” Christopherson tells the Laramie Boomerang (http://bit.ly/10WsaPF).
According to the Heritage Center’s website, the Benny papers “cover all aspects of the popular entertainer’s personal and professional life and business affairs.”
“There are photographs, personal memoirs, early programs, advertisements and reviews from his beginnings in vaudeville, scripts and correspondence from his radio shows, and film footage from his career in television,” the website reports in an inventory of the collection.
The Heritage Center’s Benny materials also include one of his violins, an instrument for which he showed an early talent.
“He brought his violin talents with him onto the vaudeville stage, where he learned that he was especially adept at comedy,” according to the news release.
Christopherson described the collection as “significant.”
She said it’s not uncommon for individuals or companies to request access to the collection in hopes of learning more about Benny, who died in December 1974.
Although she wasn’t necessarily a Benny fan, she said she found some aspects of his life and times interesting while sifting through the collection, such as his notes from radio and TV show scripts.
“I thought that would be really interesting for people to see what he thought worked well in a script,” Christopherson said.
She also found materials that contradicted portrayals of Benny as a cheap man in his programs.
“He was portrayed as stingy, but in real life he was extremely charitable,” she said.
The news release adds: “In his later years, he traveled to countless cities to perform concerts to support local symphonies.”
One of those trips was to Christopherson’s hometown, Rochester, Minn., she learned.
“You can just find all kinds of random stuff in a collection this large,” she said.
Collections available through the Heritage Center are wide-ranging, but “particular areas of strength,” according to the website, are Wyoming, the American West, mining and petroleum industries, U.S. journalism, conservation, aeronautics and aviation and 20th century entertainment.
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com