Family & Companions
A big-nosed, ingratiating performer of stage, screen and radio, Jimmy Durante possessed a unique gravelly voice, a raucous manner and a persona which later in life radiated a love of the old showbiz traditions of vaudeville and slapstick. He began his career playing honky-tonk piano in New York saloons, working his way into a vaudeville act with partners Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson. The three opened the Club Durant in 1919, a speakeasy which rocketed them to fame. The trio spent the 1920s entertaining from their club as well as on the vaudeville circuit, including a long run at the Palace Theater. They also appeared in Ziegfeld's "Show Girl" (1929) and Cole Porter's "The New Yorkers" (1930). Durante--with his brash, lovable mien and cries of "hotcha-cha!"--branched out alone in such Broadway shows as "Strike Me Pink" (1933), Billy Rose's "Jumbo" (1935) with a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart and book by Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht, and another Cole Porter musical, "Red, Hot and Blue." He also made numerous radio appearances in the 30s and 40s.
Durante's film career started rockily with "Roadhouse Nights" (1930). He was successfully teamed with Marion Davies in "Blondie of the Follies" (1932), but then MGM unwisely paired him with Buster Keaton in four films which did nothing for either performer. Durante appeared in a total of 21 films in the 30s, but the only ones of note were "The Phantom President" (1932), with George M. Cohan, the all-star "Hollywood Party" (1934), in which he served as host, and "Palooka" (1934), which introduced his theme song, "Inka-Dinka-Doo." He made another 15 films, mostly as an avuncular character actor and sidekick. Among his best were the Frank Sinatra musical "It Happened in Brooklyn" (1947), the Esther Williams splasher "On an Island with You" (1948), "Billy Rose's Jumbo" (1962) and his swan song, literally "kicking the bucket" in the all-star "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963).
The small screen gave Durante a second lease on life as his film career floundered. He guested on numerous shows through the early 50s, finally earning his own popular series from 1954-57 (first on NBC, then CBS). He continued popping up on variety specials through the early 70s, and narrated the frequently re-run Christmas special "Frosty the Snowman" (CBS, 1969). A kind and much-loved man on-stage and off, Durante's rasped exclamations "Everybody wants ta get into th' act!," "Stop da music!" and "Surrounded by assassins!" have entered the American consciousness.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Hired as ragtime pianist in Bowery nightclubs, NY
Opened Club Durant with Eddie Jackson and Lou Clayton
First Broadway performance in Ziegfeld's "Show Girl"
Film acting debut in "Roadhouse Nights"
Had own TV show (NBC and CBS)
Final film, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World"
Confined to wheelchair after fall