Phil Harris was a beloved American radio personality, actor, comedian and songwriter best known for his role as the musical director of "The Jack Benny Show."
Although Harris was a successful bandleader and vocalist before he joined Benny in 1936, he quickly became a popular fixture on the comedian's weekly radio show, remaining for 16 years.
In the late 1940s, while still appearing on the Benny show, Harris joined his wife, Alice Faye, on the NBC radio network in "The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show."
Harris had some big hits as a novelty singer, notably "That's What I Like About the South." Some of his other top-selling records were "Deck of Cards," "Lazy River," "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke" and "The Thing."
Harris also appeared in several movies, beginning with "Melody Cruise" in 1933 and including "Turn Off the Moon" (1937), "Buck Benny Rides Again" (1940), "I Love a Bandleader" (1945), "The Wild Blue Yonder" (1951) and "The Wheeler Dealers" (1963).
He played a dramatic role in "The High and the Mighty," the 1954 John Wayne-Robert Stack film about a stricken transpacific airliner.
Asked in 1984 whether his success in "The High and the Mighty" had prompted him to wish for a serious acting career, Harris said wistfully: "I always wanted to do a more serious part, but I never had another chance. It was just one of those things."
Then 78, he said he had also wanted to work on Broadway. "The worst mistake I ever made," he recalled, "was when Meredith Willson tried to get me to do 'The Music Man' before anyone else. We were old friends. I told him, 'If you take that thing to New York, they'll stone you.' I thought it was the corniest thing I ever heard."
In the 1920s, Benny became a successful vocalist-leader, going from the dance pavilions and hotel ballrooms to the film studios. The film "Melody Cruise" launched his movie career. Then, in 1936 came the Jack Benny radio show and national fame.
Harris had met Faye in 1933, when she was singing with Rudy Vallee, but her face was bandaged because of an accident and he was not instantly attracted to her. They were eventually married by a Tijuana judge in May 1941, then remarried in a church later that year.
They had two daughters, Alice, born in 1942, and Phyllis, born in 1944.
Harris appeared numerous times on the "American Sportsman" TV show with Curt Gowdy and his old pal, Bing Crosby, to talk about fishing and hunting.
"That was my really big deal," he said later. "I really enjoyed that."