Don Bestor

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Don Bestor
Don Bestor
BornSeptember 23, 1889
Longford, South Dakota, U.S.
DiedJanuary 13, 1970
Known forLeading orchestra on The Jack Benny Program in the old-time radio era
Spouse(s)Frankie Classen (or Klassen or Klossam)

Don Bestor (September 23, 1889 - January 13, 1970) was an American bandleader, probably best known for directing the orchestra in the early years of The Jack Benny Program on old-time radio.[1]

Early years[edit]

Bestor was born September 13, 1889, in Longford, South Dakota (although his birthplace also has been cited as Madison, Wisconsin).[1] His mother was Mrs. Carrie Bestor. His brother, A.L. Bestor, was also a musician, directing the orchestra of the Orpheum Theater in Madison.[2]

Critical evaluations[edit]

Jazz writer George T. Simon wrote that Bestor "led one of the best bands of the twenties, the Benson Orchestra of Chicago. Its music was rhythmic, crisp and clean."[3] In September 1925, the trade publication Variety reported that the Don Bestor name appeared "by itself on the Victor label, [an arrangement which] gives Bestor solo billing, and deservedly so."[4]

In 1926 Bestor recorded 'I've Got The Girl' with a refrain by a group of male vocalists. One member of that vocal group, in his very first recording, was Bing Crosby. (It was over a year before Crosby recorded his first solo with Paul Whiteman).

A 1942 review on the trade publication Billboard said about Bestor's band at that time, "There's nothing fancy or flashy about this combination; it's just a sound, well-balanced band that offers a good brand of music and looks wholesome and pleasing on the stand."[5]

By 1949, a list of bands in Billboard designated Bestor's group as "inactive."[6]



Bestor's radio debut occurred in 1922 on KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His orchestra, which was playing at the William Penn Hotel, was broadcast over the station in what was described in his obituary as "the world's first remote control orchestra pickup."[7] He also led orchestras at WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1925 and at WGN in Chicago, Illinois, in 1925-26.[8] By 1928, he and his orchestra were back on KDKA.[9]


Bestor's tenure at KDKA ended in 1931. A June 13 newspaper listing had the headline "Don Bestor to Say Farewell: Final Concert to Be Played Over KDKA Sunday at 7:15 P.M."[10]

In 1932, Bestor and his orchestra were in New York City and "on the air over an NBC-WEAF hook-up four nights a week."[11] In the summer of 1933, the group was broadcast "from the 'Show Boat' on Lake George via remote control" over WGY in Schenectady, New York.[12] Bestor's orchestra also provided the music for the Nestle Chocolateers program in 1933.[13]

On April 6, 1934, Bestor became the bandleader for Jack Benny's radio program, The General Tire Show.[14] A statement from the sponsor said, in part, "Good music is an important part of a program such as Jack Benny presents, and critics who have commented on the excellence of the Benny broadcasts give no small part of the credit for their results to the tenor voice of Frank Parker and the intriguing melodies of Don Bestor and his musicians."[15]

When Johnny Green replaced Bestor on the Benny program, a newspaper article noted: "Benny turned Bestor overnight from just another orchestra leader to the one man in America everyone knew wore spats... Bestor just finished a tour of the country on which he billed himself as the band that played with radio's king pin [sic] of humor."[16]

Also in 1935, Bestor ran afoul of the musicians' union "because of paying his men under the scale while on the Jack Benny program," but he was reinstated in December.[17]

Bestor had programs on CBS in 1936, on WLW in 1937, and on the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1939.[8]


On December 14, 1942, Bestor became the leader of the studio orchestra at WHN in New York City.[18] His programs at that station included Gloom Dodgers.[19]


In 1954-55, Bestor and his wife had a disk jockey show on WICC (AM) in Bridgeport, Connecticut.[20]


Bestor's musical compositions, described as "catchy but fleetingly popular,"[1] included Doodle-De-Doo, Just Baby and Me, Contented, Teach Me to Smile, and Down by the Vinegar Works.[7] Probably the best known of his compositions was the J-E-L-L-O jingle for the Jell-O brand of gelatin dessert.[21] In 1942, Bestor sued Benny, General Foods, NBC, and the Young & Rubicam advertising agency alleging that they "converted [his jingle] to their own use without his consent."[22] Bestor also wrote the song that was the theme of the Carnation Milk program.[23]

Personal life[edit]

Bestor married Frankie Classen (or Klassen[24] or Klossam[25]), a dancer who was a "favorite of Chicago night club audiences."[26] They had a daughter, Mary Ann.[26] Bestor later married "a jet-set covergirl model," and they had a son, Don Bestor Jr.,[27] and a daughter, Robyn.[20] He was also married to Hattie C. Bestor Catton. In 1937, a judge in Illinois ordered Bestor to surrender "insurance policies with a cash value of $3,000" to her "for back support of their 16 year old son, Bartley Bestor."[28] [29]

Mary Ann became an actress and at age 16 "signed for [the] No. 2 company of 'Eve of St. Mark'" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1942.[30]


Bestor died of a cerebral hemorrhage January 13, 1970, in Metamora, Illinois. He was 80.[7]

Partial discography[edit]


  1. ^ a b c DeLong, Thomas A. (1996). Radio Stars: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of 953 Performers, 1920 through 1960. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-2834-2. Pp. 32-33.
  2. ^ "Death Record: Mrs.Carrie Bestor". The Film Daily. January 17, 1938. p. 4. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  3. ^ Simon, George T. (1974). The Big Bands. Collier Books. P. 496.
  4. ^ a b Abel (September 2, 1925). "Disk Reviews". Variety. p. 40.
  5. ^ Sachs (January 10, 1942). "On the Stand: Don Bestor" (PDF). Billboard. p. 14. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  6. ^ "Agency Band List Via $$$ Classification" (PDF). March 5, 1949. p. 15. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  7. ^ a b c "Don Bestor, Band Leader of '30s, Dies". Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Press. January 14, 1970. p. 55. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  8. ^ a b Sies, Luther F. (2014). Encyclopedia of American Radio, 1920-1960, 2nd Edition, Volume 1. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-5149-4. P. 69.
  9. ^ "Radio Programs". The Indiana Gazette. Pennsylvania, Indiana. The Indiana Gazette. October 6, 1928. p. 18. Retrieved November 23, 2015 – via open access
  10. ^ "Don Bestor to Say Farewell". The Indiana Gazette. Pennsylvania, Indiana. The Indiana Gazette. June 13, 1931. p. 11. Retrieved November 24, 2015 – via open access
  11. ^ Gaudette, Gene (December 1932). "Don Bestor Clicks in the East". Radio Digest. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Radio Chatter". Variety. August 8, 1933. p. 42. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  13. ^ Turner, Dyal (October 1933). "Reviewing the Current Programs" (PDF). Radio Fan-Fare. XXX (6): 14. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  14. ^ Dunning, John (1998). "The Jack Benny Program". On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio (Revised ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. pp. 355–363. ISBN 978-0-19-507678-3. Retrieved 2019-10-20.
  15. ^ "General Tire Points Proudly" (PDF). Broadcasting. September 15, 1934. p. 64. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  16. ^ Robert, Bernes (October 6, 1935). "The Radio Reporter". Oakland Tribune. California, Oakland. Screen & Radio Weekly, Sunday supplement to the Oakland Tribune. p. 86. Retrieved November 20, 2015 – via open access
  17. ^ Wolters, Larry (December 4, 1935). "News of the Radio Stations". Illinois, Chicago. Chicago Tribune. p. 18. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  18. ^ "(untitled brief)" (PDF). Broadcasting. December 14, 1942. p. 35. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  19. ^ "Production" (PDF). Broadcasting. October 8, 1945. p. 50. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  20. ^ a b "Wilton's Bestor: 'The Best' to Benny". The Bridgeport Post. Connecticut, Bridgeport. The Bridgeport Post. February 9, 1958. p. 29. Retrieved November 23, 2015 – via open access
  21. ^ "Jello Again". Variety. December 11, 1940. p. 35. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  22. ^ "Sues for J-E-L-L-O" (PDF). Broadcasting. February 23, 1942. p. 59. Retrieved 20 November 2015.
  23. ^ "Showboat to Feature Don Bestor and His Band Wednesday, Nov. 4". The Freeport Facts. Texas, Freeport. The Freeport Facts. October 29, 1942. p. 9. Retrieved November 24, 2015 – via open access
  24. ^ Bestor, Don (April 21, 1934). "One for Radio Wives" (PDF). Radio Guide. p. 13. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  25. ^ "Clinching an Art Heritage" (PDF). Radio Guide. February 24, 1934. p. 11. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
  26. ^ a b Kieffer, Jan (August 1935). "The Girl Who Runs Don Bestor". Radio Mirror. 4 (4): 34–35, 74–75. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  27. ^ "Who Is Don Bestor, Jr". Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  28. ^ "Don Bestor Pays Wife, Goes Free". Reading Times. Reading Times. November 24, 1937. p. 18. Retrieved November 24, 2015 – via open access
  29. ^ "Can Go Sour. "Sweet Music" Bestor Jailed By His Divorced Wife". Dixon Evening Telegraph. Dixon Evening Telegraph. November 23, 1937. p. 3. Retrieved April 12, 2019 – via open access
  30. ^ Cohen, Hal (December 30, 1942). "Pittsburgh". Variety. p. 45. Retrieved 18 November 2015.
  31. ^ Jasen, David A. (2012). Tin Pan Alley: An Encyclopedia of the Golden Age of American Song. Routledge. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-415-93877-8.

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