Saturday, February 10, 2007


Today is Jimmy Durante's birthday. And bar none, Jimmy remains an absolute treasure of my heart from my early life. Even though it's been twenty-five years since his passing, I remember his grand and glorious vocal trademarks especially "Goodnight Mrs. Callibash, wherever you are!" A tribute to his first wife for whom he had purchased land in totally undeveloped Calabasas in the early 1930's shortly before her demise in 1934. Jimmy Durante's famous nose was equally matched by his incredible good heart. He worked tirelesly for children's charities. In fact it was said "You could warm your hands on this man" A steadfast Catholic, he was the kindest and sweetest man you could ever meet. James Francis Durante was born in 1893 and died of pneumonia on January 29 1980. He was a singer, pianist, comedian and actor, whose distinctive gravel delivery, comic language butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and large nose — his frequent jokes about it included a frequent self-reference that became his nickname: "Schnozzola" — helped make him one of America's most familiar and popular personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s. I met himj once in Las Vegas in 1977-- I never forgot the experience. I learned Durante dropped out of school in the eighth grade to become a full-time ragtime pianist, working the city circuit and earning 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 of the group who didn't hail from New Orleans. His routines of breaking into a song to use 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. Jimmy became a vaudeville star and radio attraction by the mid-1920s, with a music and comedy trio called Clayton, Jackson and Durante. By 1934, he had a major record hit, his own novelty composition "Inka Dinka Doo," and it became his signature song for practically the rest of his life. A year later, Durante starred 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.
He began appearing in motion pictures at about the same time, beginning with a comedy series pairing him with silent film legend Buster Keaton and continuing with such offerings as The Wet Parade (1932), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942, playing a character based on Harpo Marx), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Billy Rose's Jumbo (based on the 1935 musical) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World 1963). Jimmy's famous catch phrases were "Stop the music! Stop the music" and "Everybody wants to get into the act!" He paired in early radio with later TV personality Gary Moore. Who can forget Jimmy's opening scene in "Mad Mad World" in which he "kicks the bucket"-- Mad Mad World was his final motion picture! He even had Mickery Mouse appear in one picture called "Hollywood Party"

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