Continuing with last week’s tribute to Jimmy Durante, today we’ll look at his post-1940 career which included movies, records, radio, and TV appearances.
Although Durante found work, and some success in the movies, he was hardly a `movie star’.
With the exception of You’re In The Army Now (1941) and The Great Rupert (1950) most of his appearances were in supporting `character’ roles, usually with 3rd, 4th, or even lower billing.
His high powered stage presence which worked to great effect on the Broadway stage was at times too overpowering for the movies. Subtlety was not Durante’s stock in trade.
During the 1940s, it would be radio (and personal appearances) where Durante would shine brightest. In 1943 Durante teamed with a young comedian named Gary Moore in the The Durante-Moore Show that ran until 1947.
Sadly, very few of these shows appear to have survived.
Four that are a available on the Internet Archive include:
Sorry, the Lion Is Busy 6.53 MB
Bond Rally, the 6.33 MB
Thanksgiving Pilgram Opera 6.56 MB
(36), the 6.93 MB
Jimmy’s next radio show would go on for another 3 years, with a cast that included songstress Peggy Lee, and Candy Candido and a series of co-hosts that included Arthur Treacher and Allen Young.
Here we are far more fortunate to have available more than 3 dozen episodes, with guest stars such as Boris Karloff, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Al Jolson, Van Johnson, Lucille Ball, and Eddie Cantor.
Like many radio personalities, Durante also appeared frequently as a guest on other people’s shows. He was a semi-regular on NBC’s The Big Show in the early 1950’s (see A Really Big Show), and appeared on many variety shows.
Despite his gravelly voice, Durante was to become a successful recording artist, with not only novelty hits, like Inka Dinka Doo, but with his surprisingly poignant renditions of standards like September Song, Make Someone Happy, Young At Heart, and As Time Goes by.
A few of these recordings to enjoy include:
Jimmy Durante - SEPTEMBER SONG 1.47 MB
Durante was such a part of American culture, he was even caricaturized in a Warner Brothers Tweety-bird Cartoon, A Gruesome Twosome in 1944.
The early 1950s saw the slow demise of radio as America’s top home entertainment option and the rise of Television. And Durante – nearly 60 by then – took to this new format like the old pro he was.
In 1950 and 1951 Durante alternated with Danny Thomas, Ed Wynn, and Jack Carson as the host of 4 Star Revue before moving on to his own TV show.
Here we have a clip from about 1955 from Jimmy’s TV show where he reunites with his old Vaudeville Partner Eddie Jackson, and together they show us what real showmanship is about.
And here is Jimmy doing a novelty song called The Umbriago.
And from 1959, we have this hour long Kinescope of NBC’s Sunday Showcase, starring Jimmy along with guests Jane Powell, Ray Bolger, Eddie Hodges and Jimmie Rodgers
An 1959 episode of the TV series "Sunday Showcase", which consisted of TV specials. This episode features Jimmy Durante, with special guests Jane Powell, Ray Bolger, Eddie Hodges and Jimmie Rodgers. This special aired on NBC during 1959 in colour, but only a black and white kinescope survives of the telecast.
During the 1960’s (while well into his 70s) Durante would appear on TV variety shows such as The Hollywood Palace on a regular basis. Here is a clip from 1969.
It would be this same year that Jimmy would become a Holiday icon for a whole new generation, narrating Frosty The Snowman for the perennial Christmas cartoon.
During the last decade of his life, Durante suffered several strokes, and finally retired from show business. Truly as beloved an entertainer as existed during the 20th century.
At the end of each performance, Jimmy would end by saying `Good Night, Mrs. Calabash . . . Where ever you are’.
For many years this sparked much speculation as to who, or what Mrs. Calabash was. Many believed it to be a reference to his first wife, who died on Valentine’s Day 1943.
That mystery was solved, according to the Wikipedia, in 1966.
At a National Press Club meeting in 1966 (broadcast on NBC's Monitor program), Durante revealed that it was indeed a tribute to the first Mrs. Durante.
One time while driving across the country, they stopped in a small town called Calabash, which Mrs. Durante loved. He recalled the town as being near Chicago. "Mrs. Calabash" became his private pet name for her, so years later he came to sign off his radio program with "Good night, Mrs. Calabash." He added "...wherever you are" after the first year.
So, it is only fitting that I end this post with a clip of Jimmy saying `Good Night’ at the end of his show from the 1950s.
Goodnight, Mr. Durante . . . Where ever you are.