Jimmy Durante: The Great Schnozzola by David Soren

Jimmy Durante (New York City, February 10, 1893 – Santa Monica, California, January 29, 1980) was a unique entertainer and reportedly one of the kindest, sweetest people at the top of the entertainment world. He was an accomplished although self-taught ragtime piano player with a singing voice that sounded like a pneumatic drill glossing over sandpaper. He couldn’t dance either so he would take off his battered hat and hold it in the air and just shuffle his feet rhythmically one after the other and, for some reason, when he went into this strut the crowd would go wild. There were few real show business icons but The Great Durante was surely one of them.

http://www.keyword-suggestions.com/amltbXkgIGR1cmFudGU/He was born the youngest of four children, on the Lower East Side www.suprmchaos.com/bcEnt-Wed-122414.index.htmlto Italian immigrants from Salerno. His father was a barber and young Jimmy was an altar boy at the local Catholic church. He quickly began to learn ragtime piano to such a professional level that he dropped out of school in the seventh grade and began a vaudeville career which often had him playing piano for stars of the time, including particularly Eddie Cantor. Eventually he became a founding member of the famed Original New Orleans Jazz Band, even though he was a New Yorker and eventually in 1917 he took over as leader of the reformed band and even introduced a black musician into the group, a real rarity at the time. They made recordings for the Gennett label.

Ragtime Jimmy began to punctuate his band’s numbers with jokes told as he played the piano and by 1923 he had become a successful vaudeville trio, partnering with Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson. In this year he opened up the Club Durant night club in Manhattan where the trio began to make less music and more comedy.But Jimmy was always the center of attention in the act and quickly outshone his partners and achieved stardom on Broadway in several shows.https://www.pinterest.com/pin/410601690998013261/

Jackson, Durante and Clayton

Never a good-looking man, Durante couldn’t hide his enormous nose and although he was always sensitive about his shortcomings he was able to make jokes about his most prominent feature and he became known as the Great Schnozzola or simply Schnozzle. In 1929 the trio starred in the George and Ira Gershwin musical Show Girl, presented by Florenz Ziegfeld, and then appeared in a musical movie called Roadhouse Nights.

By 1930 Durante was so famous that he went solo, although throughout his career the trio periodically reunited up until Clayton’s death in 1950. Thereafter, Durante usually brought on Eddie Jackson in top hat and cane to serve as a straight man or strut and sing a bit. Apparently the three men had vowed that if one made it in show business he would look out for the others. Durante scarcely needed Jackson but he always enjoyed bringing him on during his television specials. During his solo career, Durante played vaudeville, night clubs and a great deal of radio with every major star wanting him to spruce up their shows. His MGM movie contract saw him make more than forty films.

Durante introduced many catch phrases during his career. After cracking a joke he might say: “I’ve got a million of ’em.” He was constantly pretending to be outraged by his accompanying orchestra, shouting “Stop the Music” and then launching into a comic tirade. He was also sought after to appear on Broadway as comic relief in major shows such as Strike Me Pink, Rodgers and Hart’s Jumbo, Stars in Your Eyes and Cole Porter’s Red, Hot and Blue.

http://mediaconfidential.blogspot.com/2016/01/january-31-radio-history.htmlOn radio he starred with Gary Moore (later a tv panel-show and variety show host) on the Camel Comedy Hour between 1943 and 1947 on which one might occasionally hear the comedy team of Clayton, Jackson, Durante and Moore! With his own show in 1947 he had frequent guests and friends Bing Crosby, Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor. When television came along in the later forties and early fifties Durante became an instant smash on such venues as the Four Star Revue and the Colgate Comedy Hour where he brought on all of his old friends in the business and since everyone adored him his guest list was always audiopreservationfund.org/archivesdetail.php?archive_id=7&table=albums&id=988impressive.

As time went on his television specials would often include a serious song half talked through by him or sung in his inimitable gravel voiced style. Such tunes as September Song became national hits, sung seriously, and he was even able to issue long playing albums of his serious songs. His television shows would end with him walking slowly away from the audience moving from spotlight to spotlight and waving goodbye. Before walking away he would always say: “Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are”. For years he was asked who this person was. It was believed to have been a reference to his first wife Jeanne who died of a heart ailment at a very young age. Calabash, North Carolina was supposedly a name she found very funny.

Durante also invented characters that he would use for years in his act. They may have been based on real people whom he knew growing up but one could never be sure. These included his first girlfriend Elsie Pepperpool to whom he would allegedly read poetry and she would cuddle next to him and turn the light off and he would keep turning it on. Eddie Jackson would ask him why he would keep putting the light on when she was snuggling up to him and turning it off and he would say he did it because he couldn’t read in the dark. Another character he called Umbriago, who was a character of Italian folklore who was a happy go lucky fellow but for Durante it was a catch-all name for someone who did bizarre things.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/436497388859265872/There was also a Surrealist component to Durante’s humor. Many of his songs would create fantastic images that strained the imagination or seemed impossible. A mystical religious poem written in 1858 by Adelaide Anne Procter called A Lost Chord was set to music by Arthur Sullivan in 1877 and sung by many great voices including Enrico Caruso. Durante took this near forgotten British classical work and treated it as if hhttps://charlespaolino.com/2014/08/28/surrounded-by-assassins/e were looking for an actual musical chord that got lost. His song which contained a dissonant chord sound he claimed he’d located was called “I’m the Guy Who Found the Lost Chord.”

Durante was also a composer and in 1934 had a genuine hit in Inka Dinka Doo, another nonsense song with Surreal overtones. Other standards he often repeated in his vaudeville or radio or tv performances included The Song’s Gotta Come From the Heart and Umbriago. But throughout his songs a thread of non-sequiturs can be noted, crazy situations which couldn’t possibly fit together.

In 1974 a severe stroke ended the amazing career of Jimmy Durante and confined him to a wheelchair until his death in 1980. But he lived on, imitated to this day, showing up in Augie Doggie cartoons, Disney’s House of Mouse, the Crispy Critters tv ad, and so on. Durante also left money to charity and was a life-long sponsor of causes for children.

Name: Durante
Topics: Comedians