The Benny Goodman Story

The Benny Goodman Story is a biographical film starring Steve Allen and Donna Reed, directed by Valentine Davies and released by Universal-International in 1956. The film is based on the life of clarinetist Benny Goodman, who recorded most of the clarinet solos featured in the film.

The Benny Goodman Story
Poster of the movie The Benny Goodman Story.jpg
Directed byValentine Davies
Produced byAaron Rosenberg
Written byValentine Davies
StarringSteve Allen
Donna Reed
Bertha Gersten
Herbert Anderson
Robert F. Simon
Dick Winslow
Music byJoseph Gershenson
Henry Mancini
Sol Yaged
Alan Harding
Harold Brown
CinematographyWilliam H. Daniels
Edited byRussell Schoengarth
Distributed byUniversal-International
Release date
  • February 2, 1956 (1956-02-02)
Running time
116 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.7 million (US)[1]

The film captures several major moments in Goodman's life but it has been described as less than accurate in details.[2] Goodman's Jewish background is mentioned only implicitly, despite its playing a part in his artistic and personal endeavors for decades. In one scene, where his mother tries to talk him out of a romance with Alice Hammond (played by Donna Reed), whom Goodman eventually married, she says, "Bagels and caviar don't mix."


The young Benny Goodman is taught clarinet by a Chicago music professor. He is advised by bandleader Kid Ory to play whichever kind of music he likes best, but to make a living, Benny begins by joining the Ben Pollack traveling band.

Later in New York, where his new band gets a lukewarm reception, Benny meets jazz lover John Hammond and his sister Alice. He is invited to the stately Hammond home to perform Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. Alice fears he will be embarrassed, but his playing is impeccable and Benny appreciates her concern.

Benny's performances on a popular Saturday night radio program result in Fletcher Henderson volunteering to do some arrangements for him. On the west coast, the radio show's early start has made Benny's music a sensation with a younger generation. He puts together a quartet featuring Gene Krupa on drums, Teddy Wilson on piano and Lionel Hampton on vibraphone.

The romance with society girl Alice is disconcerting to Benny's mother, but by the time her son plays Carnegie Hall, all is well and Mrs. Goodman has personally invited her future daughter-in-law to sit by her side.


The following people appeared in the film as themselves:


Lionel Hampton, Martha Tilton, Kid Ory, George Givot, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Harry James and many other musicians made appearances in this film. However, while Ziggy Elman appeared on screen recreating his trumpet solo on "And the Angels Sing", he was unable to record his portion for the soundtrack; Mannie Klein actually performed it, off-camera. Similarly, Red Mack's performance in the film is actually played by Alvin Alcorn.

Fletcher Henderson is portrayed by Sammy Davis, Sr., father of Sammy Davis, Jr.

Talent scout John Hammond was dissatisfied with the way he and the rest of the Hammond family, including his sister Alice, were portrayed in the movie. He objected and the next version of the script saw his character completely removed, with all of his actions given over to another character, Willard Alexander, Goodman's manager. Hammond objected even more strenuously, pointing out that, among many other things, Willard Alexander did not host the party in the Hammond mansion where Goodman first played Mozart publicly, nor did he introduce Alice to Benny. In the end, Hammond reluctantly agreed to leave his portrayal in the film, though he sued for $50,000 for being portrayed in what he thought was an unflattering manner.


  1. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  2. ^ "The Benny Goodman Story". IMDB. Retrieved 26 October 2011.

External linksEdit