|Jimmy Durante [James Francis Durante]
Stage, Radio, Television and Film Actor
Birthplace: New York City, New York, U.S.A.
1935 The Jumbo Fire Chief Program
1935 Opening Of the NBC Hollywood Studios
1937 Eddie Cantor Anniversary Tribute
1938 The Rudy Vallee Hour
1941 The Rudy Vallee Sealtest Show
1942 Camel Comedy Caravan
1943 Only Yesterday
1943 Command Performance
1943 Cavalcade For Victory
1943 G.I. Journal
1944 The Friday Night Camel Show
1944 Texaco Star Theater
1944 America Salutes the President's Birthday
1944 Radio Hall Of Fame
1944 Mail Call
1944 Get Out the Vote
1944 Hollywood Democratic Committee
1945 The Jimmy Durante Show
1945 The Danny Kaye Show
1945 Robert Benchley, Radio Critic
1945 The Pepsodent Shwo
1946 Songs By Sinatra
1946 Lux Radio Theatre
1946 Stars In the Afternoon
1946 Philco Radio Time
1947 Here's To Veterans
1947 The Victor Borge Show
1947 Guest Star
1947 The Jimmy Durante-Garry Moore Show
1947 Family Theater
1947 Elgin Thanksgiving Day Greeting To America
1948 The Triumphant Hour
1948 Kraft Music Hall
1948 Bing Crosby's Program
1948 A Question Of Pianos
1948 Camel Screen Guild Theater
1948 Symphonies Under the Stars
1948 Sealtest Variety Theater
1948 Family Theater
1948 Christmas Seal Campaign
1949 Duffy's Tavern
1949 The Bob Hope Swan Show
1949 Theatre U.S.A.
1949 This Is Show Business
1950 The Big Show
1951 Our Silver Jubilee Show...Of the NBC
1952 Fibber McGee and Molly
1953 Your Rhythm Revue
1955 Heart To Heart
1956 The All-Star Revue
1956 Biography In Sound
1957 Calling All Hearts
1957 Stars For Defense
1964 The Chase and Sanborn One Hundredth Anniversary Show
1968 Salute To Bob Hope
1969 The Golden Days Of Christmas
1972 KFI Fiftieth Anniversary Shwo
1979 A Summer Radio Picnic With the Kraft Family
Jimmy Durante circa 1937
Jimmy Durante made a name for himself with his Original New Orlans Jazz Band in 1917. (left to right, Frank Lotak, Achille Baquet, Jimmy Durante, Frank Christian, and Johnny Stein
Jimmy Durante appeared in both the Musical and the Jumbo Radio serial as Claudius 'Brainy' Bowers
Caption: Jimmy Durante is the Claudius--Brainy--BOwers, comedy press agent of the Consodine Show
Jimmy Durante with Jumbo in the 1962 film remake of the 1935 Jumbo musical comedy.
'The Schnozz' Jimmy Durante, circa 1972
A 1933 clip of Jimmy Durante promoting the N.R.A.
Jimmy Durante: In Person for Old Gold Cigarettes from October 1955
From the January 30, 1980 edition of the Wisconsin State Journal:
'Good night Mrs. Calabash'
Jimmy Durante, 86, dies
By Murray Schumach
(c) N.Y. Times News Service
NEW YORK Jimmy Durante, 86, the raspy-voiced comic who became one of show business' most beloved personalities, died Tuesday at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif., where he had been hospitalized for treatment of a form of pneumonia.
A true artist, Durante drew upon his own enormous talents, not the files of gag writers, for the uproarious antics and songs that convulsed his millions of admirers over the years.
Lesser comedians squeezed laughs with vulgarity, but Durante trusted to his inexhaustible good will and overpowering energy. When the fashion of comedy drifted to insult, he clung to the tradition of the great clowns and gibed only at himself.
"There's a million good-lookin' guys," he often said, "but I'm a novelty."
Superficial observers, accepting this modesty at face value, sometimes ascribed the Durante fame in theater, nightclubs, movies, radio and television entirely to his comical appearance and raffish mannerisms.
But the Durante formula for converting pandemonium into laughter was much more than a preposterous nose, merry eyes, raucous voice, penguin strut and battered hat.
Like Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Willie Howard and Bert Lahr, he had perfect timing and the "feel" of an audience, developed by almost a lifetime in show business. And, like his famous contemporaries, this comedian was indefatigable at the rehearsals that made his brand of humor seem as spontaneous and simple as child's play.
So successful was Durante that his trademarks became as well known in the nation as the long nose that brought him the nickname Schnozzola, or Schnozzle. For decades house parties could count on someone to rasp such Durante comments as: "Everybody's gettin' into de act," "Am I mortified," "I'm surrounded by assassins," "Don't raise da bridge, boys, lower da river." A creature of his imagination, Umbriago, became almost as widely known at one time as Pinocchio.
Professional comedians tried to capture the Durante technique of word slaughter that brought him laughs with "cazamclysmic," "nonfriction" books.
But not even the experts could catch the wondrous frenzy of Durante smashing musical instruments or throwing his hat into the orchestra pit. And when he attacked the piano, honky-tonk style, and roared "I'm Jimmy, the Well Dressed Man," or "Inka Dinka Doo," gangsters and literati alike laughed until they cried.
One bookish connoisseur of the Durante studies in frustration said the secret of this waving, stomping, thigh-slapping zany was that "he is eternally baffled by the screwy world, but never angry about it."
Offstage, Durante was as popular as during performances. Even in the highly competitive world of professional comedians, where W. C. Fields sniffed at Chaplin as a "ballet dancer," Durante was regarded with enormous affection. One admirer said Durante's only enemy was the King's English.
His humility and generosity were extraordinary. Once, when a more worldly acquaintance suggested he might be naive in his love for his fellow man, Durante replied:
"I know there are more good people than bad ones in the world. I don't mind if a gentleman scratches a match on the furniture so long as he is careful to go with the grain."
And when he was teased about the large amounts of money he gave to panhandlers, he responded:
"Maybe we ain't born equal, but it's a cinch we all die equal."
To strangers who crossed his path fans, doormen, parking-lot attendants, cab and truck drivers and bellhops Durante was always greeted as Jimmy. He cherished the familiarity.
Parties, galas shunned
"What's so undignifiable about that?" he would say. "Why, I crinch whenever anyone calls me Mister Durante."
His mere appearance made people smile, even when he was not performing. For, as Lou Clayton, the soft-shoe dancer in the Durante troupe from the early 1920's until his death in 1950, used to say, "You can warm your hands on this man."
Though his artistry made him very wealthy, his behavior seemed the same as that of the urchin who was born and grew up in the slums of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His retainers he was rarely without an entourage for fear of loneliness were friends of 40 and 50 years. He declined social invitations if these associates were not invited.
And he disliked attending big parties, gala movie premieres and the lavish openings of nightclubs, preferring instead to spend his idle time at home chatting with old vaudevillians or horse trainers, or playing the piano.
Of his comparatively simple Hollywood home with eight rooms he said:
"I got a house wit' two swimmin' pools. One for swimmin' and one for rinsin' off."
In later years, he spent his summers at a beach house at Del Mar, Calif., strolling nearby beaches and surf-casting, but seldom swimming. Asked why, he once replied, "When Durante swims, nobody watches."
Handicapping thoroughbreds at home was also a favorite, but apparently imprecise, pastime. Whatever his figuring in the race sheets, Durante would bet up to five and six horses in the same race at the Del Mar track.
James Francis Durante was born on Feb. 10, 1893. His father, Bartolomeo Durante, a barber, encouraged him to play the piano in the hope he would become a concert artist. But before the boy was out of his teens this hope had been abandoned.
By 1910 Durante was banging a honky-tonk piano in Coney Island, where he met Kiddie Cantor, then a singing waiter. For a few years he worked the Coney Island-Bowery-Chinatown circuit of glorified saloons. He went from $1 a night to $25 a week. At one of these jobs he met Jeanne Olson, a singer, and married her in 1921. She died in 1943.
Lured to Hollywood
A year later, while playing at the Copacabana, Durante met Marjorie Little, who was working at the club as a hat-check girl and telephone switchboard operator. After a 16-year courtship, he married her in December 1960, when he was 67 and she was 39.
On Christmas Day in 1961 they adopted an infant daughter, Cecelia Alicia. She was nicknamed Ce Ce, and Durante cherished her, his only child.
The big break in Durante's career came in 1919, when, with Eddie Jackson and Clayton, he attracted attention from nightclub patrons at the Club Durant, a speakeasy at 232 West 58th Street.
In this environment, with the encouragement of Clayton, Durante developed his comic style. Clayton, a shrewd businessman, wangled high priced contracts for the act until it became one of the best draws at the Palace, the pinnacle of vaudeville. Clayton was also reported to have stood off gangsters who tried to kidnap Durante and hold him for ransom.
By the mid-30s, Durante had established himself on the Broadway stage with "Show Girl," "The New Yorkers," "Strike Me Pink," "Jumbo" and "Red, Hot and Blue." Brooks Atkinson, drama critic of The New York Times and a Durante admirer, said of the comedian, "In his mountebankery, nothing succeeds like excess."
Simultaneously, Durante was lured to Hollywood. At first his movies were disappointing, mainly because of the scripts and the refusal of the movie industry lo let him try the comedy he knew best.
Fame extends to TV
But, after an enormously successful comeback in nightclub work. Durante's popularity reached new heights. He was recalled to Hollywood. All told, between 1930 and 1951, he made 29 movies, none of which were so good as his musicals
or nightclub routines.
In the mid-40s, Durante extended his fame on radio and created a nationwide mystery by signing off programs with a good night to "Mrs. Calabash." Eventually, he confessed in an interview that she was a sweetheart of his in grammar school, the only school he attended.
A new chapter in the Durante career began in 1950, when he burst into millions of living rooms from the television screen. He was as welcome as when he first began singing "Who Will Be With You When I'm Far Away?" The homes of the nation became his nightclub, exactly suited to the man who once said:
"I like a small place where you know everybody and can kid around."
But at the height of his popularity and public affection, he fretted about the durability of his image on television.
"That box could be the death of us. They're going to hate us if we stay on too long," he said.
Consequently, he ended his regular Saturday night, half-hour television show at the end of the 1956 season. Thereafter, he appeared only once or twice annually on television, as a guest on variety or comedy shows or in spectaculars.
He also made one last movie, "Jumbo" a filmed re-creation of his role in the Rodgers and Hart musical that had charmed Broadway years before. The movie had its premiere as the Christmas-season attraction at Radio City Music Hall in 1962.
Playing nightclubs in New York, Las Vegas, Washington and other big cities dominated his work through the 60s.
Vintage Durante was the fare. And the clowning, the piano ballads and the one-liners of butchered diction, delivered
with winks, sighs and shrugs, drew the same roars that had filled Manhattan speakeasies 40 years earlier.
Durante limited his nightclub dates to about four months a year, and he scorned suggestions of retiring to a life of wealth and ease.
"If y'retire, y'decay," he said in 1965. Four years later, at 76, he still felt the lure of the stage and the audience, noting after one of his periodic appearances, "As long as they laugh, "as long as they want me to sing, I'll stay."
But after hospitalizations in late 1972 for exhaustion and a fall, his endurance and health waned. Thin, enfeebled and in a wheelchair, he was a guest of honor in April 1974, at a luncheon show of 1,600 newspaper executives and guests in New York.
Several standing ovations greeted him, and he was awarded a statuette. "Thanks a million." Durante responded in a weak whisper. Then a pause of some seconds.
His wife, Marge, leaned toward him. He seemed to draw new strength. He took a table microphone and began belting out his old favorite from years earlier, "Inka Dinka Doo."
Jimmy's friends pay tribute
In one of his last interviews before his illness, Jimmy Durante remarked after a Las Vegas performance: "I love it out there. It ain't work. To hear those people out there laugh and enjoy themselves . . . When you're out there, you pray to God that it'll never end."
But it must sometime.
Learning of his old friend's death, comedian George Burns, 84, said: "What can I say that the world doesn't already know? He was a fine man and a wonderful artist."
Red Buttons, another old friend, said: "I loved him. We all loved him. I am sorry to hear the news.
"But I am almost glad he is out of his misery."
After a stroke in November 1972 left him partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, Durante was forced to say good night to Mrs. Calabash for the last time and retire from show business.
Throughout his career, one of his trademarks was to end his performances with, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." He once confided he was referring to his grade school teacher.
To Eddie Jackson, who spent more than half a century as partner to the inexhaustible Jimmy Durante, the raspy-voiced comedian was "a fine man."
Other celebrities from Bob Hope to Lucille Ball lauded Durante for his artistry and warmth.
Speaking haltingly, and sometimes through his wife, the 84-year-old Jackson, who is confined to a wheelchair because three strokes have crippled his legs and left hand and partially paralyzed his throat, praised his years with Durante.
"They were together for 57 years beginning in 1917," his wife Jeannie said. "Brothers aren't usually together that long."
The deans of American comedy Burns and Hope both lauded Durante for his ability to make people laugh.
Hope, 76, who appeared for a season with Durante on Broadway and did numerous radio and television shows with him, added:
"Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like. Well, I never met a man or woman who didn't like Jimmy Durante. Jimmy was a great clown and could liven up a party better than anyone else. He was beautiful man."
Milton Berle, who had been a friend of Durante's since the 1920s, said: "I lost a dear friend, and I think the theatrical world has lost a legend."
"He was a beautiful human being," said Lucille Ball. "Even that wonderful nose of his was a thing of beauty."
"The world lost a great friend when Jimmy Durante breathed his final 'Inka Dinka Doo,'" singer Frank Sinatra said.
"He came to my aid when I was just a kid with stars in my eyes, just as he came to the aid of a world looking for laughs and songs and entertainment," Sinatra added.
Singer Tony Martin, 67, recalled Durante as "a saintly man," and Cyd Charisse, who worked with him early in her career, said he was "probably one of nicest men in whole world. He was generous and wonderful with everybody."