A Creative Life…Uncle Frank and Jack Benny

Many of Jonathan Murphy’s friends and family LIVE a creative life! Here’s a look at…

Frank Remley, a guitarist, performer for, and best buds with the legendary Jack Benny.

Frank was Jonathan’s great, great uncle who played in the famous Phil Harris (a.k.a Disney’s Baloo!) Band and was a part of the orchestra for the Jack Benny Television Show. He and Benny, and their wives, traveled the world together. Jonathan’s family recently discovered that the Boston Library had several letters in their archives between Jack and Frank, who corresponded regularly. Frank was one of the few people who could make Jack laugh!

A fun bit of Wiki-trivia: “A popular running gag on Benny’s show concerned the social habits of Benny’s on-air orchestra, who were consistently portrayed as a bunch of drunken ne’er-do-wells. Led first by Phil Harris and later by Bob Crosby, the orchestra, and in particular band member Frank Remley, were jokingly portrayed as often being too drunk to play properly, using an overturned bass drum to play cards on just minutes before a show, and so enamored by liquor that the sight of a glass of milk would make them sick. Remley was portrayed in various unflattering situations, such as being thrown into a garbage can by a road sweeper who had found him passed out in the street at 4 am, and on a wanted poster at the Beverly Hills police station.”

The insider’s truth: Frank Remley rarely drank alcohol. He preferred buttermilk.

Here’s one of the few clips from the Jack Benny Show with “Frankie:”

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16 responses to “A Creative Life…Uncle Frank and Jack Benny

  1. Notice Frank Remley plays the guitar left handed.

  2. Frank Remley provided the “drunken guitarist” character on the Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show on radio for years, but in name only. The Remley character was actually played by actor Elliot Lewis. Lewis’ Remley was so beloved by fans that when the real Frank Remley made rare and occasional TV appearances years later, he was recognized by name and presumed to be the character that had been given only a voice by Elliot Lewis.

    • That makes sense. Frank was in Phil Harris’ band and they probably used his name as the character. Then when the Jack Benny Show said that they owned the character name, Frank started making the occasional appearances as that character. According to my grandmother, he loved playing music and wasn’t interested in being front and center on camera. He and Jack Benny and their wives were great friends and my grandmother was thrilled to get copies of letters Jack wrote to Frank from the Boston library archives. Frank’s letters to Jack are long gone.

      • It’s a shame those letters are gone. If you ever get a chance to listen to an old Harris-Faye radio show, the Elliott Lewis “Frankie Remley” is a riot and often a showstopper.

        According to “On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio” by John Dunning, Remley and Phil Harris were friends going back into the 1920s, long before the association with Jack Benny. It was Benny who comically started using Remley as the on-air whipping-boy example of Harris’ band of shiftless alcoholics, characteristics which Harris humorously referred to as “virtues”.

        Later, when the Harris-Faye show spun off of the Benny program, it was decided to soften the Harris character from a boozing playboy to a bumbling family man. The Remley character was already established, and by Dunning’s account, Remley himself tried out for the role. Remley was no actor and had little desire to invest himself in becoming one. When he was turned down, Remley recommended Elliott Lewis for the part.

        I would imagine that one of the real Frank Remley’s left-handed Gibson L5 guitars would be worth a fortune these days…an old L5 with no historic or celebrity value (and right-handed) is collectable. These instruments, in excellent condition, can fetch upwards of $12,000.

        Frank Remley’s death was untimely and signaled the departure of those who literally invented electronic entertainment. The photo at the top of this page shows Jack Benny and Remley playing their Polk-A-Laylees. These instruments were promotional premiums offered by Polk Brothers stores in Chicago in the 1960s. I have one of these hanging in my den.

      • Awesome info, thanks! I never met great uncle frank but my grandmother thought he was the best.

  3. Michell Remley

    My Grandpa Charles Remley was Frankie’s cousin. He use to show me a news paper article from a paper in Minnesota from a visit Phil Harris and Frankie Remley made there. Loved listening to stories about Frankie and the family. What was your Grandmothers name?

  4. My mother Lillian Remley Strong was Franks sister. Frank also had a sister Alice and a half brother Edward Kennally. It’s interesting that your grandfather used to read you article’s from the Minnesota paper about Phil Harris and Frank, they came once to Minneapolis to do a show with Jack and my grandmother Strong entertained and fed them at her farm in Edina, MN. I was five years old and remember what a big deal it was to everyone. Who was Charles Remley’s father? Frank’s father was Constance Remley and his mother was Nellie Moran. Maybe Charles father and Constance were brothers.

    • Michell Remley

      Yes, Constance was my Grandpa’s brother (Grandpa called him Gov) and they had a sister Elizabeth (first telephone operator in Bemidji). Their Dads name was Frank and his wife was Lillian Darrar. Frank was from Germany.

  5. Great information as I’ve been doing the Remley Family tree and didn’t have Charles as Constance brother or Elizabeth as his sister. I had their father as Frank and knew he was from Germany and I’ll have to check to see if I have Lillian as his wife. I think they all lived in Moorhead, MN for some time I know it was my mother’s birthplace (Lillian Remley Strong).

  6. I lived on Teesdale Avenue in Studio City, CA in the 1940s and 1950s. Frank Remley and his wife “Stub” and their son Franky lived at 4212 Teesdale Ave. They lived there through most of the 50s. They were the first family on the block to have a TV and a swimming pool. The TV had a 12 inch screen and they put a magnifier in front of it so that the picture appeared larger. The swimming pool is still in the same position on the lot today as it was when the Remleys put it in although it has been modernized. Franky Jr. was about my age. We had many kids on the block at that time and it was like growing up in Mayberry, USA. The Phil Harrises (Phil and Alice Faye) visited the Remleys often and brought their two daughters over. Later, in the 60s, I heard that Franky Jr. Was lost at sea on a fishing boat.

  7. Frank was my 2nd cousin, my grandmother’s nephew. My grandmother Agnes Moran was Nellie’s sister. I was always told that after his son Frank Jr. disappeared at sea Frankie was never the same after that. We visited the family’s place on Balboa Island once when I was a kid.

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