Jimmy Durante in 1933
Even for later generations who weren’t around during the golden age of movies, radio, and Television it is pretty easy to understand why some stars or entertainers made it.
No one can look back at the artistry of Fred Astaire’s dancing and have any doubts as to his talent. or listen to the singing voices of Judy Garland or Frank Sinatra and marvel that they made it.
Some actors and actresses made it on talent alone, while others parlayed good looks into a career. In some cases, they had both. And some could sing and dance as well.
Again, no real mystery that they succeeded. Although for reasons that are harder to quantify, thousands of equally talented individuals didn’t make it in Hollywood.
But there were other stars whose success – looking back - today’s generation may find a bit difficult to understand. And I would suspect that Jimmy Durante fits into that category.
But the truth is, Jimmy Durante was one of those stars that it was hard not to like.
Sure, his singing voice was gravelly, his jokes often lame and predictable, and his acting something less than world class . . . yet somehow he became one of the most beloved entertainers of the 20th century.
None of this is to say he was without talent. Hardly.
He became a well respected jazz pianist as a young man in the second decade of the last century. His comic timing was impeccable. And most important of all, he created a persona that people liked.
His massacring of the English language, his self-deprecating humor . . . even his choice of musical numbers . . . all brought a smile to his audience’s lips.
He was the unpretentious `everyman’, with the funny voice and the even funnier nose, who obviously was having as good a time up there on stage as were his fans were having in the audience.
Like I say, it was hard not to like Jimmy Durante. And that led to a career that spanned seven decades.
James Francis "Jimmy" Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) dropped out of school in the eight grade to become a full time ragtime pianist, and went by the name `Ragtime Jimmy’.
By the late 1910’s he was playing piano for NYC’s Original New Orleans Jazz Band, as the only member not from New Orleans. It was there he developed his trademark of stopping in the middle of a song to tell a series of jokes, with the band punctuating his punch lines.
RedHotJazz.com is an absolutely terrific repository of knowledge of, and recordings from, jazz greats from before 1930. There you’ll find a handful pre-1920 recordings with Jimmy and the band, along with this picture.
Durante moved into vaudeville, and radio, by the mid 1920s. He also appeared on Broadway in shows such as Show Girl (1929), Strike Me Pink (1934), and Red, Hot, & Blue (1936).
But it was in Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1935) where he is confronted by a cop as he attempts to sneak Jumbo out of the circus who asks him, “Where are you going with that elephant?’, and he responds `What elephant?’, that regularly stopped the show.
Durante would reprise the role in the 1962 film that retained little resemblance to the original production.
Durante also began appearing in films, often with silent film star Buster Keaton, in the early 1930s including The Wet Parade (1932) and Broadway to Hollywood (1933).
Two public domain examples of Jimmy’s early movies include:
Palooka - Edward Small
Palooka is a 1934 comedy film based on the comic strip by Ham Fisher. Joe Palooka (Stuart Erwin) is a naive young man whose father Pete (Robert Armstrong) was a champion boxer, but his lifestyle caused Joe's mother Mayme (Marjorie Rambeau) to leave him and to take young Joe to the country to raise him. But when a shady boxing manager (Jimmy Durante) discovers Joe's natural boxing talent, Joe decides to follow him to the big city, where he becomes a champion and begins to follow his father's path...
Land Without Music aka Forbidden Music - Walter Forde
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0027866/ Forbidden Music, or 'Land Without Music', teams Jimmy Durante with Richard Tauber (now that's a strange pairing if ever there was one) in a tale about a land so obsessed with music its Princess outlaws all forms of musical expression - Tauber of course plays an opera singer who makes regular visits back to the country of his birth to appear in concert; but how will he fare under the new rules?
Well, hardly. But they are likable movies.
In 1934, Durante would pen the novelty song `Inka Dinka Do’, and it would become a major hit, and would become his signature song (although not the only song associated with him).
This rendition with the Harry James Orchestra is from the 1944 movie, Two girls and a sailor.
During 1935, Durante starred in the `Jumbo Fire Chief Show’, which was a replacement for Texaco's "The Fire Chief" starring Ed “The perfect fool’ Wynn.
This was essentially a radio serialization of the Broadway Musical Billy Rose’s Jumbo, in which Durante was appearing.
Spread out over 19 episodes, only 12 have survived.
Trouble with the IRS 6.89 MB
Romantic Mix-Up 6.79 MB
An Investor for the Circus 6.87 MB
Brainy Modernizes the Circus 6.74 MB
An Old Fashioned Show 6.64 MB
The First Payment Is Due 6.86 MB
Fights with Bosco 6.89 MB
Brainy Woos a Wealthy Woman 6.62 MB
The Wealthy Woman Visits the Circus 6.87 MB
The Big Fight 6.74 MB
There’s more to the Durante story, of course. A lot more.
For those who don’t already know, the title of today’s blog comes from the 1947 musical `It Happened in Brooklyn’, which starred Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Katherine Grayson, and Peter Lawford.
Perhaps not the greatest of musical comedies, but well remembered for a show stopping number by Durante and Sinatra; “The Song’s Gotta Come From the Heart’.
I’ll leave you with this clip from Youtube of the old master showing a young Frankie how to sing, and a promise to return with another installment on Jimmy Durante next week.
Until then. Enjoy.