10th February 1893 - 29th January 1980
Jimmy Durante - called Schnozzle or Schnozzola because of his oversized, bulbous nose - is considered by many as one of the most famous and lovable entertainers of the 20th century in America.
Born February 10, 1893, in New York City as James Francis Durante, he dropped out of school in the eighth grade. A couple years later, his career began as a piano player at parties in Coney Island, on the Lower East Side of New York. Known for a time as Ragtime Jimmy, he played ragtime piano for a living, taking jobs wherever he could.
A multi-talented person - comedian, composer, actor, singer and songwriter - Jimmy Durante became even more famous on the air. He actually became a vaudeville star and radio attraction by the mid-1920s, with a music and comedy trio called Clayton, Jackson and Durante.
But Jimmy was also a frequent guest on radio shows. The creators of the popular Eddie Cantor show, The Chase and Sanborn Hour contacted Durante to fill in for Cantor. But Jimmy Durante was so successful that he was offered his own nationally broadcasted radio variety show.
On his radio show he regularly pushed the envelope, anything for a laugh. One of his famous bits was that he was continuously working on a symphony. He became known for his quick-witted misuse of the English language, and referred to his symphony's title not as Rhapsody in Blue, but Inka Dinka Do. In 1934 he recorded that song as a novelty, one that would become his signature theme song for his many radio shows.
Starting March 24, 1943 Durante could be heard on radio with a young man, Garry Moore. Viewed as a quick replacement for the Abbott and Costello show when Lou Costello suffered a heart attack, the Durante/Moore show, called The Camel Comedy Caravan, was an instant success.
The show moved quickly into the top five. Durante's comic chemistry with the young Garry Moore brought an even larger audience to the man with the big nose, raspy voice and mangling language. Dat's my boy dat said dat! became an instant catchphrase and Jimmy Durante became one of America's favorite radio stars for the rest of the 1940s. He even managed to survive Moore's 1947 departure for three more years, including a reunion of Clayton, Jackson and Durante on his 21 April 1948 broadcast.
Although Durante moved to television in the 1950s, 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.
For years, Jimmy signed off his radio and TV shows with, Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are but he would never divulge who she was. Most people thought the mysterious Mrs. Calabash must have been some fictional character that Durante dreamed up just to tease his audiences. Although there are a few theories, it seems that the famous Mrs. Calabash sign-off referred to his first wife, Jeanne Olson and Calabash was the name of a Chicago suburb they both liked. However, Reminisce has an interesting alternative theory about the origins of Mrs. Calabash.
A genuine star of the golden age of radio, Durante died at age 86, on January 29, 1980, in Santa Monica, California. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery, Culver City, California. To remember him I will be adding some shows featuring the wonderfully funny man to RUSC throughout the week.
Happy listening my friends,