- Jimmy Durante
from the Broadway to Hollywood trailer (1933)
Born James Francis Durante
February 10, 1893
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died January 29, 1980(aged 86)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Other names The Schnoz Occupation Actor, comedian, singer, pianist Years active 1920–1980 Spouse Jeanne Olsen (1921–1943)
Margie Little (1960–1980)
James Francis "Jimmy" Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) was an American singer, pianist, comedian and actor. His distinctive clipped gravelly speech, comic language butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and large nose helped make him one of America's most familiar and popular personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s. His jokes about his nose included referring to it as a "Schnozzola", and the word became his nickname.
Durante was born on the Lower East Side of New York, the youngest of four children born to immigrants from Salerno, Italy, Bartolomeo Durante, and his mail order bride Rosa, the sister of a woman who lived in the same boarding house. Jimmy Durante served as an altar boy at Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Church, known as the Actor's Chapel.
Durante dropped out of school in eighth grade to become a full-time ragtime pianist. He first played with his cousin, whose name was also "Jimmy Durante." It was a family act, but he was too professional for his cousin. He continued working the city's piano bar circuit and earned the nickname "Ragtime Jimmy," before he joined one of the first recognizable jazz bands in New York, the Original New Orleans Jazz Band. Durante was the only member not from New Orleans. His routine of breaking into a song to deliver a joke, with band or orchestra chord punctuation after each line, became a Durante trademark. In 1920, the group was renamed Jimmy Durante's Jazz Band.
Durante became a vaudeville star and radio personality by the mid-1920s, with a trio called Clayton, Jackson and Durante. Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson, Durante's closest friends, often reunited professionally. Jackson and Durante appeared in the Cole Porter musical The New Yorkers, which opened on Broadway on December 8, 1930. Earlier that same year, the team had appeared in the movie Roadhouse Nights, ostensibly based on Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest.
By 1934, he had a major record hit with his own novelty composition, Inka Dinka Doo, co-written by Ben Ryan. It became his theme song for the rest of his life. A year later, Durante starred on Broadway in the Billy Rose stage musical Jumbo, in which a police officer stopped him while leading a live elephant and asked him, "What are you doing with that elephant?" Durante's reply, "What elephant?", was a regular show-stopper. Durante also appeared on Broadway in Show Girl (1929), Strike Me Pink (1934) and Red, Hot and Blue (1936).
He began appearing in motion pictures in a comedy series pairing him with silent film legend Buster Keaton and continuing with The Wet Parade (1932), Broadway to Hollywood (1933), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942, playing "Banjo", a character based on Harpo Marx), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962, based on the 1935 musical) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
On September 10, 1933, Durante appeared on Eddie Cantor's The Chase and Sanborn Hour, continuing until November 12 of that year. When Cantor departed, Durante took over the NBC show as its star from April 22 to September 30, 1934, moving on to The Jumbo Fire Chief Program (1935–36).
He teamed with Garry Moore for The Durante-Moore Show in 1943. Durante's comic chemistry with the young, brushcut Moore brought Durante an even larger audience. "Dat's my boy dat said dat!" became an instant catchphrase. The duo became one of the nation's favorites for the rest of the decade, including a well-reviewed Armed Forces Radio Network command performance with Frank Sinatra that remains a favorite of radio collectors today. Moore left in mid-1947, and the program returned October 1, 1947 as The Jimmy Durante Show. Durante worked in radio for three years after Moore's 1947 departure, including a reunion of Clayton, Jackson and Durante on his April 21, 1948 broadcast.
Durante made his television debut on November 1, 1950, though he kept a presence in radio as one of the frequent guests on Tallulah Bankhead's two-year, NBC comedy-variety show, The Big Show. Durante was one of the cast on the show's premiere November 5, 1950. The rest of the cast included humorist Fred Allen, singers Mindy Carson and Frankie Laine, stage musical performer Ethel Merman, actors Jose Ferrer and Paul Lukas, and comic-singer Danny Thomas (about to become a major television star in his own right). A highlight of the show was Durante and Thomas, whose own nose rivaled Durante's, in a routine in which Durante accused Thomas of stealing his nose. "Stay outta dis, No-Nose!" Durante barked at Bankhead to a big laugh.
Beginning in the early 1950s, Durante teamed with sidekick Sonny King, a collaboration that would continue until Durante's death. Jimmy could be seen regularly in Las Vegas after Sunday Mass outside of the Guardian Angel Cathedral standing next to the priest and greeting the people as they left Mass.
On August 4, 1955, The Jimmy Durante Show on NBC was the venue of the final performance by the famous Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda. Miranda fell to her knees while dancing with Durante, who instinctively told the band to "stop da music!". He helped Miranda up to her feet as she laughed "I'm all out of breath!". "Dat's OK, honey, I'll take yer lines" Durante replied. Miranda laughed again and quickly pulled herself together and finished the show. However, the next morning, August 5, Miranda died at home from heart failure.
Durante also appeared on NBC's Club Oasis, another comedy/variety show broadcast in the 1957-1958 season, alternating first with The Polly Bergen Show.
Durante's radio show was bracketed with two trademarks: "Inka Dinka Doo" as his opening theme, and the invariable signoff that became another familiar national catchphrase: "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." For years Durante preferred to keep the mystery alive.
One theory was that it referred to the owner of a restaurant in Calabash, North Carolina, where Durante and his troupe had stopped to eat. He was so taken by the food, the service, and the chitchat he told the owner that he would make her famous. Since he did not know her name, he referred to her as "Mrs. Calabash".
Another idea was that it was a personal salute to his deceased first wife, Jeanne (Olsen) Durante, who died in 1943. "Calabash" might be a mangle of Calabasas, the California city where they made their home during the last years of her life.
At a National Press Club meeting in 1966 (broadcast on NBC's Monitor program), Durante finally revealed that it was indeed a tribute to his wife. While driving across the country, they stopped in a small town called Calabash, which name she had loved. "Mrs. Calabash" became his pet name for her, and he signed off his radio program with "Good night, Mrs. Calabash." He added "wherever you are" after the first year.
Durante's first wife was the former Jean (Jeanne) Olson, whom he married on June 19, 1921. She was born in Ohio on August 31, 1896. She died on Valentine's Day in 1943, after a lingering heart ailment of about two years. She was 46 years old when she died, although different newspaper accounts of her death suggest she was 45 or perhaps 52. Her death was not immediately expected, as Jimmy was touring in New York at the time and returned to Los Angeles right away to complete funeral arrangements.
Durante married his second wife, Margaret "Margie" Little, at St. Malachy's Catholic Church in New York City on December 14, 1960. As a teenager, with her gorgeous red hair and undeniable charm, Margie had been crowned Queen of the New Jersey State Fair. She attended New York University before being hired by the legendary Copacabana, in New York City. They met 16 years before their marriage when he was performing there and where she worked as a hatcheck girl. She was 41, he 67, when they married. The couple adopted a baby, Cecilia Alicia (nicknamed CeCe and now known as CeCe Durante-Bloum) on Christmas Day, 1961. CeCe became a champion horsewoman and then a horse trainer and horseback-riding instructor near San Diego, married a computer designer (Stephen), and has two sons and a daughter (Connor, Ryan and Maddie).
On August 15, 1958, for his charitable acts, Durante was awarded a huge 3 ft. high brass loving cup by the Al Bahr Shriners Temple. The inscription was: "JIMMY DURANTE THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS COMEDIAN A loving cup to you Jimmy, Its' larger than your nose, but smaller than your heart Happiness always, Al Bahr Temple August 15, 1958".
Jimmy's love for children continued through the Fraternal Order of Eagles children, who among many causes raise money for handicapped and abused. At Jimmy's first appearance at the Eagles International Convention in 1961, judge Bob Hansen inquired about his fee for performing. Jimmy replied, "do not even mention money judge or I'll have to mention a figure that'll make ya sorry ya brought it up" "What can we do then?" asked Hansen. "Help da kids," was Durante's reply. Jimmy performed for many years at Eagles conventions free of charge, not even accepting travel money. The Fraternal Order of Eagles in his honor changed the name of their Children's Fund to the Jimmy Durante Children's Fund, and in his memory have raised over 20 million dollars to help children . A reporter once remarked of Durante after an interview: "You could warm your hands on this one." One of the projects built using money from the Durante Fund was a heated therapy swimming pool at the Hughen School in Port Arthur, Texas. Completed in 1968, Durante named the pool the "Inka Dinka Doo Pool".
Durante was an active member of the Democratic Party. In 1933, he appeared in an advertisement shown in theaters supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs and wrote a musical score entitled Give a Guy a Job to accompany it.
Durante continued his film appearances through It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and television appearances through the early 1970s. He narrated the Rankin-Bass animated Christmas special Frosty the Snowman (1969), re-run for many years since. The television work also included a series of commercial spots for Kellogg's Corn Flakes cereals in the mid 1960s, which introduced Durante's gravelly growl and narrow-eyed, large-nosed countenance to millions of children. "Dis is Jimmy Durante, in puy-son!" was his introduction to some of the Kellogg's spots. One of his last appearances was in a memorable television commercial for the 1973 Volkswagen Beetle, where he proclaimed that the new, roomier Beetle had "plenty of breathin' room... for da old schnozzola!"
In 1963, Durante recorded an album of pop standards, September Song. The album became a best-seller and provided Durante's re-introduction, to yet another generation, almost three decades later. From the Jimmy Durante's Way of Life album, came the gravelly interpretations of "As Time Goes By" accompanied the opening credits of the romantic comedy hit, Sleepless in Seattle, while his version of "Make Someone Happy" launched the film's closing credits.The former number appeared on the film's best-selling soundtrack.
He wrote a foreword for a humorous book titled Cockeyed Americana, compiled by Dick Hyman. In the first paragraph of the "Foreword!", as Durante called it, he met Hyman and discussed the book and the contribution Hyman wanted Durante to make to it. Durante wrote, "Before I can say gaziggadeegasackeegazobbath, we're at his luxurious office." After reading the material Hyman had compiled for the book, Durante commented on it, "COLOSSAL, GIGANTIC, MAGNANIMOUS, and last but not first, AURORA BOREALIS. [Capitalization Durante's.] Four little words that make a sentence--and a sentence that will eventually get me six months."
Aside from "Dat's my boy dat said dat!", "Dat's moral turpentine!" and "It's a catastastroke!" (for "catastrophe",) Durante sent such catchphrases as "Everybody wants ta get inta the act!", "Umbriago!", "Ha-cha-cha-chaaaaaaa!", "I got a million of 'em" and "Surrounded by assassins!" into the vernacular.
Durante retired from performing in 1972 after suffering a stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair. He died of pneumonia in Santa Monica, California, on January 29, 1980 and was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.
Jimmy Durante is known to most modern audiences as the character who narrated and sang the 1969 animated special Frosty the Snowman. He also performed the Ron Goodwin title song to the 1968 comedy-adventure Monte Carlo or Bust sung over the film's animated opening credits. There are numerous Durante depictions and allusions in animation. Pumbaa does a brief Durante impression while singing "Hakuna Matata" in The Lion King. A character in M-G-M cartoons, a bulldog named Spike, whose puppy son was always getting caught by accident in the middle of Tom and Jerry's activities, referenced Durante with a raspy voice and an affectionate "Dat's my boy!" In another Tom and Jerry episode, a starfish lands on Tom's head, giving him a big nose. He then proceeds with Durante's famous "Ha-cha-cha-cha" call. A Durante-like voice (originally by Doug Young) was also given to the father beagle, Doggie Daddy, in Hanna-Barbera's Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy cartoons, Doggie Daddy invariably addressing the junior beagle with a Durante-like "Augie, my son, my son," and with frequent citations of, "That's my boy who said that!" In the 1933 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes short, Bosko's Picture Show, there is a scene where he is chased by Adolf Hitler with a meat cleaver.
Many 1940s Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons had characters based on Durante. Two examples are A Gruesome Twosome, which features a cat based on Durante and Baby Bottleneck, which in unedited versions opens with a Durante-like stork. Book Revue shows the well-known (at that time) 1924 Edna Ferber novel So Big featuring a Durante caricature on the cover. The "so big" refers to his nose, and as a runaway criminal turns the corner by the book, Durante turns sideways using his nose to trip the criminal, allowing his capture. In the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoon named Hollywood Daffy, Durante is directly depicted as himself, pronouncing his catch-phrase "Those are the conditions that prevail!". One of Durante's common catch phrases, "I got a million of 'em!", was used as Bugs' final line in Stage Door Cartoon.
A Durante-like voice was also used for Marvel Comics superhero The Thing in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Fred and Barney Meet the Thing. In a 1993 episode of The Simpsons titled "Lady Bouvier's Lover", after Grampa cries out, "Good night, Mrs. Bouvier, wherever you are," the Blue-haired lawyer announces himself in charge of Jimmy Durante's estate and therefore puts a halt to Abraham Simpson's "unauthorized imitation" of Durante. The voice and appearance of Crispy, the mascot for Crispy Critters cereal, was also based on Durante.
- British comedian Eric Morecambe would occasionally break into an impression of Durante on the Morecambe and Wise Show while wearing a plastic cup on his nose, miming piano-playing and putting on a fake accent to say: "Sitting at my pianna the udder day ..."
- Herry Monster from Sesame Street had a voice (and nose) modeled after Jimmy Durante.
- A street on the east side of Las Vegas is named after Durante. A street in Del Mar, California, specifically located at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, is also named after him.
- The voice of Apocalypse Lane character Cuddles the cat was said to be "a vulgar Jimmy Durante" by creator Jon Etheridge.
- Martin Short uses a Jimmy Durante imitation in character as aging vaudevillian songsmith Irving Cohen. When this character was revived almost 20 years later for his one-man show, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, he amped up the Durante imitation to the point of using his catchphrase "Ha-cha-cha-chaaaaaaa!" as his exit line.
- In the late 1960s, Jimmy Durante appeared in a commercial for Scotties tissue, claiming that he liked them because they were "3-sneezers".
- A 2008 Acura MDX commercial uses Durante's "Make Someone Happy" throughout.
- Crow, from Mystery Science Theater 3000, often imitated Jimmy Durante during movies or in sketches.
- In The Powerpuff Girls, there is a monkey that is named Ha-cha-cha-cha and has a big nose, which refers to Jimmy's quote ha-cha-cha-cha.
- In the improvisational comedy show Whose Line Is It Anyway, Durante is often referred to in impressions, either as a character the player pretends to be, or as a visual gag (Such as in the game Props, in which a player would hold their prop to their face, imitating Durante's nose, and go "Ha-cha-cha-chaaaa!")
- Cartoonist Drew Friedman created a one-page comic strip for Spy Magazine called "Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets." The strip shows Durante with a bevy of young ladies to whom he exclaims, "And you goils thought my NOSE was big!"
- The 1991 film City Slickers features Durante singing "Young At Heart" during scenes from the first day of the cattle drive.
- The comic band The Blanks, also known as "Ted's Band" from the US comedy-drama Scrubs, released a song in their album Ride The Wave called "The Ballad of Jimmy Durante". The song tells the story of Jimmy's life, with mention of his "Schnozz", "Ha cha cha cha" and everybody wanting to get into the act.
- In the musical 42nd Street, (set in the year 1933), the song "Gettin' Out of Town" features the phrase "hot-cha-cha-cha, hot-cha-cha-cha"—a possible reference to Durante.
- Referenced in a Crispy Critters cereal commercial (1987). The commercials for the cereal featured a puppet named "Crispy" with pom-pom antennae and a furry yellow body. Crispy spoke and sang with a voice based on that of Jimmy Durante including the nonsense phrase "Ah-cha-cha-cha".
- Glenn Beck parodies Jimmy Durante's "Mrs. Calabash" sign-off on his Television show replacing "Mrs. Calabash" with "Mrs. Dunn".
- In the Cole Porter song You're The Top, in the Broadway show Anything Goes, Reno, while listing pairs of great things, rhymes the line "You're a rose, you're Inferno's Dante" with "You're the nose on the great Durante."
- Roadhouse Nights (1930)
- New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford (1931)
- The Cuban Love Song (1931)
- Jackie Cooper's Birthday Party (1931) (short subject)
- The Christmas Party (1931) (short subject)
- Hollywood on Parade: Down Memory Lane (1932) (short subject)
- The Wet Parade (1932)
- Hollywood on Parade (1932) (short subject)
- Speak Easily (1932)
- Blondie of the Follies (1932)
- The Phantom President (1932)
- Give a Man a Job (1933) (short subject)
- What! No Beer? (1933)
- Hollywood on Parade No. 9 (1933) (short subject)
- Hell Below (1933)
- Broadway to Hollywood (1933)
- Meet the Baron (1933)
- Palooka (1934)
- George White's Scandals (1934)
- Strictly Dynamite (1934)
- Hollywood Party (1934)
- Student Tour (1934)
- Carnival (1935)
- Land Without Music (1936)
- Start Cheering (1938)
- Sally, Irene and Mary (1938)
- Little Miss Broadway (1938)
- Melody Ranch (1940)
- You're in the Army Now (1941)
- The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
- Two Girls and a Sailor (1944)
- Music for Millions (1944)
- Two Sisters from Boston (1946)
- It Happened in Brooklyn (1947)
- This Time for Keeps (1947)
- On an Island with You (1948)
- The Great Rupert (1950)
- The Milkman (1950)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Premiere (1955) (short subject)
- The Heart of Show Business (1957) (short subject)
- Beau James (1957) (Cameo)
- Pepe (1960) (Cameo)
- The Last Judgment (Il Giudizio universale 1961)
- Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962)
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
- Frosty the Snowman (1969)
- Just One More Time (1974) (short subject)
- 1963 September Song
- 1964 Hello Young Lovers
- 1965 Jimmy Durante's Way of Life...
- 1966 One of Those Songs
- 1967 Songs for Sunday
- ^ Fowler, Gene Jr. Schnozzola: The Story of Jimmy Durante Viking Press, 1951
- ^ Bakish, David Jimmy Durante: His Show Business Career, with an Annotated Filmography and Discography McFarland & Co., 1994 ISBN 9780899509686
- ^ http://sanctepater.blogspot.com/2009/10/actors-chapel.html
- ^ http://www.allmusic.com/search/track/Inka+Dinka+Doo/order:default-asc
- ^ Benoit, Tod (2003-05-06). Jimmy Durante. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. http://www.amazon.com/Buried-Fitting-Resting-Infamous-Noteworthy/dp/1579122876.
- ^ NBC Monitor, January 25, 1975 (sound clip at 48:08) From the Monitor Tribute Pages
- ^ See California Death Records - Jeanne Durante
- ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jiUu8od_I8
- ^ A Gruesome Twosome (1945)
- ^ Baby Bottleneck (1946)
- ^ X-Entertainment: Crispy Critters Cereal Tribute
- Jimmy Durante at the Internet Movie Database
- Jimmy Durante at the Internet Broadway Database
- Jimmy Durante at AllRovi
- Jimmy Durante at Find a Grave
- Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: The Jimmy Durante Show (1933-50)
- Jerry Haendiges Vintage Radio Logs: The Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore Show (1943-47)
- Jimmy Durante on "Four Star Revue/All Star Revue" (1950-53) at Classic TV Info.
- Jimmy Durante on "The Colgate Comedy Hour" (1953-54) at Classic TV Info.
- Jimmy Durante on "Texaco Star Theater" (1954-56) at Classic TV Info.
- Alternate theory that Mrs. Calabash was Lucille "Lucy" Coleman, a restaurant owner in Calabash, North Carolina
- Biography with list of credits
- Lyrics for "Inka-Dinka-Doo"
- Jimmy Durante and Eddie Cantor (1947)
- Command Performance (March 15, 1945)
- Red Hot Jazz Archive: Jimmy Durante
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor – Comedy Series (1950–1975)
Alan Young (1950) · Sid Caesar (1951) · Jimmy Durante (1952) · Donald O'Connor (1953) · Danny Thomas (1954) · Phil Silvers (1955) · Sid Caesar (1956) · Jack Benny (1957) · Jack Benny (1959) · Dick Van Dyke (1964) · Dick Van Dyke (1965) · Dick Van Dyke (1966) · Don Adams (1967) · Don Adams (1968) · Don Adams (1969) · William Windom (1970) · Jack Klugman (1971) · Carroll O'Connor (1972) · Jack Klugman (1973) · Alan Alda (1974) · Tony Randall (1975)
Complete List · (1950–1975) · (1976–2000) · (2001–2025)
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