Wednesday, February 10, 2010

WE LOST JIMMY DURANTE 30 YEARS AGO TODAY




Today would have been Jimmy Durante's birthday. We lost him thirty years ago this year on January 29th. What an amazing performer with an incredibly generous heart. Jimmy's love for children continued through the Fraternal Order of Eagles children, who among many causes raise money for handicapped and abused kids of all ages. 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, children and in his memory have raised over 20 million dollars to help. A reporter once remarked of Durante after an interview: "You could warm your hands on this one." Jimmy's later years were his best. He appeared in the classic comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963) (in which, early in the film, his Smiler Grogan character tells a concerned crowd of $350,000 "buried under a big W" and then dies, literally "kicking the bucket") Jimmy made many classic 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. His gravelly interpretation 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 catch phrases as "Everybody wants ta get inta the act!", "Umbriago!" and "Ha-cha-cha-chaaaaaaa!" into the vernacular. Jimmy suffered a stroke in 1972, and used a wheelchair during the last years of his life. He died of pneumonia in Santa Monica, California, on January 29, 1980, aged 86, and was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City.

It is also actor Robert Wagner's 80th birthday. Robert Wagner was actually discovered by a talent agent as Lana Turner was. It was a protegee of classic actor Clifton Webb. His most famous marriage was to actress Natalie Wood who drowned while aboard his yacht at Catalina Island.

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