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Durante, Jimmy


Nationality: American. Born: James Francis Durante in New York City, 10 February 1893. Education: Attended Public School 114, New York, dropped out in seventh grade. Family: Married 1) Maud Jeanne Olson, 1921 (died 1943); 2) Margie Little, 1960, adopted daughter: Cecilia Alicia, 1961. Career: Piano player and singer from c.1908; c.1913–21—organized the Durante Original Jazz Novelty Band and alternated between playing the Alamo in Harlem and the Coney Island College Inn; early 1920s—own nightclub in Manhattan, Club Durante; formed singing and dancing trio with Eddie Jackson and Lou Clayton; 1923—Club Durante closed down for Prohibition violations; trio worked for several Manhattan clubs managed by organized crime members; vaudeville theaters in New York City, in Florenz Ziegfeld's production of Show Girl, 1929, and in film Roadhouse Nights; 1930—five-year solo contract with MGM; 1934—on Chase and Sanborn's Radio Coffee Hour; 1935—returned to musical comedy theater in Billy Rose's extravaganza Jumbo; late 1930s–1940s—in films, musical comedies on Broadway, and nightclubs and on radio; 1944—"rediscovered" by critics and new generation of audiences after record-breaking appearance in New York nightclub; 1950s–1960s—frequent guest-star appearances on television variety programs; 1954–56—host of The Jimmy Durante Show on NBC-TV, based on nightclub act from 1920s and featuring former partners Clayton and Jackson. Awards: Peabody Award for Entertainment, 1950. Died: In Santa Monica, California, 29 January 1980.

Films as Actor:


Roadhouse Nights (Henley) (as Daffy)


The New Adventures of Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford) (Wood) (as Schnozzle); The Cuban Love Song (Van Dyke) (as O. O. Jones)


The Passionate Plumber (Sedgwick) (as McCracken); The Wet Parade (Fleming) (as Abe Schilling); Speak Easily (Sedgwick) (as James); The Phantom President (Taurog) (as Curly Cooney); Blondie of the Follies (Edmund Goulding) (as Jimmy)


What! No Beer? (Sedgwick) (as Jimmy Potts); Hell Below (Conway) (as Ptomaine); Broadway to Hollywood (Ring Up the Curtain) (Mack); Meet the Baron (Walter Lang) (as Joe McGoo)


Palooka (The Great Schnozzle; Joe Palooka) (Stoloff) (as Knobby Walsh); George White's Scandals (George White's Scandals of 1934) (White) (as Happy McGillicuddy); Hollywood Party (Boleslawski, Dwan, and Rowland [uncredited]); Strictly Dynamite (Nugent) (as Moxie Slaight); Student Tour (Riesner) (as Hank)


Carnival (Walter Lang) (as Fingers)


Land without Music (Forbidden Music) (Forde) (as Jonah J. Whistler)


Start Cheering (Rogell) (as Willie Gumbatz); Sally, Irene and Mary (Seiter) (as Jefferson Twitchell); Little Miss Broadway (Cummings) (as Jimmy Clayton)


Melody Ranch (Santley and Mackay) (as Cornelius J. Courtney)


You're in the Army Now (Seiler) (as Jeeper Smith); The Man Who Came to Dinner (Keighley) (as Banjo)


Two Girls and a Sailor (Thorpe) (as Billy Kipp); Music for Millions (Koster) (as Andrews)


Two Sisters from Boston (Koster) (as "Spike")


It Happened in Brooklyn (Whorf) (as Nick Lombardi); This Time for Keeps (Thorpe) (as Ferdi Farro)


On an Island with You (Thorpe) (as Buckley)


The Great Rupert (Pichel) (as Mr. Amendola); The Milkman (Barton) (as Breezy Albright)


Beau James (Shavelson) (as guest)


Pepe (Sidney) (as himself)


Il giudizio universale (The Last Judgment) (De Sica)


Jumbo (Billy Rose's Jumbo) (Walters) (as Pop Wonder)


It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Kramer) (as Smiler Grogan)


Alice through the Looking Glass (Handley—for TV) (as Humpty-Dumpty)


By DURANTE: books—

Night Clubs, with Jack Kofoed, 1931.

The Candidate (humor), 1952.

On DURANTE: books—

Cahn, William, Good Night, Mrs. Calabash: The Secret of Jimmy Durante, New York, 1963.

Parish, James Robert, The Funsters, New Rochelle, New York, 1979.

Adler, Irene, I Remember Jimmy: The Life and Times of Jimmy Durante, Westport, Connecticut, 1980.

Robbins, Jhan, Inka Dinka Doo: The Life of Jimmy Durante, New York, 1991.

Bakish, David, Jimmy Durante: His Show Business Career, Jefferson, North Carolina, 1995.

On DURANTE: articles—

Time (New York), 24 January 1944.

Variety (New York), 5 June 1946.

The Annual Obituary 1980, New York, 1981.

Holden, Stephen, "Pals on the Comeback Trail: Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante and Meat Loaf," in New York Times, 26 December 1993.

* * *

One of the most lovable of the eccentric comic actors, Jimmy Durante was paired with Buster Keaton in the early 1930s. This combination would appear to have given Keaton some hope of making a smoother transition to sound pictures; as a team their talents could have been complementary. Durante, however, had a role in What! No Beer? that pushed the famous silent screen comedian into the background. Urging Keaton to invest in a brewery just as Prohibition is about to be repealed, this lad with the Cyrano de Bergerac profile played the manic character with gusto, shouting the type of malapropism and mixed metaphor that would become typical of his characters: "A hundred-twenty million cracked lips are straining at the leach. Where's your patronism? Here's a chance to do something for your country."

Though Durante appeared to be headed for star billings in the early 1930s, he remained a likable eccentric who was more often the second banana. The most durable of old-timers, he provided excellent support for Donald O'Connor in The Milkman. When you look at this slight, contrived work today, you realize Durante stole the show from O'Connor without effort. The young comedian "knocked himself out" while the "Schnozzola," as Durante was nicknamed, sailed through his own part with all the charm of an old pro (he was 60 when he made this film) who knew how to make the best of each comic situation. Appearing in movies, vaudeville, nightclubs, and radio at the time of his greatest popularity in the 1930s, Durante may have spread his talent too thin. Unfortunately, the comedian does not have a single movie to his credit that has the quality to be ranked with the best comedies. As it failed to utilize the comedy skills of Bert Lahr (now known only for his portrait of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz), Hollywood never exploited Durante's potential.

—Donald McCaffrey

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