Ben Blue – Biography
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(January 13, 2023 – Toronto, ON) Born in Montréal in 1901, today the man who became Ben Blue might have been known as an entrepreneur. History has given him a hyphenated career as a dance instructor-dance school owner-vaudeville comedian-Hollywood actor-nightclub owner.
Chronologically, Benjamin Bernstein, his original name, was first drawn to acting. The son of David A. Bernstein, an art dealer, and Sadie Goldberg, when his parents divorced he moved with his father to Baltimore in 1911. It sounds a little fantastical but it is believed the future actor got his start in 1914 as a window dresser at a men’s wear store in that city. Realizing the passing pedestrians were his “audience,” he would dance as best he could in the confined space and generally act up, often drawing applause from the people on the street. This led to an offer to imitate Charlie Chaplin outside movie houses where Chaplin films were playing.
It is thought the young man returned to Montreal in 1915, perhaps to see his mother, and while there attended a tryout for the George M. Cohan musical comedy Irene. However, a fairly exhaustive search of Cohan’s works produced no information about that title, either for that year or for any year after. It is possible it was produced under another name. It could also be that the play was produced in Montreal but never made it to Broadway.
Whatever the real story, it is known that Ben Blue left Baltimore in 1916 and landed a job at Macy’s in New York where he worked again as a window dresser for seven months. Apparently he landed a job on Broadway in the chorus of George M. Cohan’s production of Married, but it only ran for a year and the young, and we can assume struggling actor, was out of work for a year.
We searched both the IBDB (Internet Broadway Database) and the Broadway World website which lists all the shows that open on Broadway by year and we could find no entry for either Irene or for Married in the productions listed for 1916, 1917 or 1918. There was a musical titled Irene with book by James Montgomery, lyrics by Joseph McCarthy, and music by Harry Tierney. It opened on Broadway in 1919 and ran for 675 performances, which was at the time the record for the longest-running musical in Broadway history. Ben Blue is not mentioned as being in the cast.
What is known is that George M. Cohan wrote far more than 100 skits and it could be the titles Irene and Married were essentially standalone scenes in many of his “Reviews” that were popular on Broadway. In fact there were two such shows flanking the dates in questions. The Cohan Review of 1916 and The Cohan Review of 1918.
When Ben Blue was 19, in 1920, he and some partners opened the first in a string of dancing schools in Minnesota. Three years later that business failed. By then Hollywood was established as the place to be if you wanted to be in the movies and he wanted to be in the movies. He started by appearing wherever he could in Hollywood and Los Angeles doing his own nightclub acts and creating routines that greatly increased his popularity and profile.
In 1926 he appeared in the first in a series of silent comic shorts for Warner Bros., Hal Roach and other Hollywood studios. For Hal Roach Studios he became identified with their popular Taxi Boys comedy shorts. He also landed roles with Paramount Studios in the 1930s, and later at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Some notable titles include The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938), For Me and My Gal (1942), and One Sunday Afternoon (1948). He also continued his solo stage act and was a regular in George White’s Scandals in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Divorced in 1937 from his first wife, he remarried in 1940 tying the knot with Axie Dunlap, who he had met when she was also in George White’s Scandals.When you look at his filmography you can see a large gap in his film career in the 1950s, but he was busy managing the nightclubs he owned, where he often performed, and he found a new outlet for his vaudeville comedy style, television. He was a regular on The Frank Sinatra Show from 1949 to 1951, did guest appearances on The Jack Benny Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Ed Wynn Show, All Star Review and The Milton Berle Show. From 1967 to 1968 he played a farm handyman on the situation comedy show Accidental Family. His film career, such as it was, concluded with cameo appearances playing the biplane pilot in Stanley Kramer’s comedy It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and doing a classic routine of trying and failing to catch a horse in Norman Jewison’s The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming. His last three films were Married Man (1967), The Busy Body (1967), and Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968).
Ben Blue died in hospital in the Los Angeles retirement community of Westlake in March 1975 following a long illness.
Also see: Ben Blue’s filmography.
All of the images on this page were scanned from originals in the Northernstars Collection. This biography is Copyright © 2023 by Ralph Lucas and may not be reproduced without written permission. Click here for more information about copyright.