Hollywood made a couple of movies about Al Jolson and one about Eddie Cantor. It’s a shame it didn’t do the same thing with Jimmy Durante.
Jimmy’s life had enough drama and atmosphere to make a good film (especially with a little dramatic embellishment). So it’s a shame that some studio didn’t work out a deal when it had the chance. Durante’s biography was written in 1949 by one of W.C. Fields’ drinking buddies, Gene Fowler, and United Press columnist Virginia MacPherson learned an option on it was being pursued in Tinseltown. She talked with Durante about it. A couple of things about her column are interesting. One is that she, like everyone else it seems, wrote Durante’s quotes in his dialect. The other is that Durante didn’t get a cent from the sale of any books. Fowler got it all. That just doesn’t seem quite fair. Dem’s da conditions dat prevail, I guess.
MacPherson obliquely refers to the fact that Larry Parks played Jolson on the screen because Jolson was too old. The immortal Keefe Brasselle was Cantor for the same reason. But she’s right. Who else could play Durante but Durante?
The column is from 1949.
‘Flabbergasketed’ Jimmy Watches ‘Schnozz’ Sales
By Virginia MacPherson
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 23. (U.P.)—Jimmy Durante whose life story “Schnozola” has hit the best seller lists already, says he’s “flabbergasketed” anybody’d shell out three bucks to read about him.
“I really am,” rasped the little guy with the big beak. “An’ dat’s a fack. It’s sold more ‘n 50,000 awreddy . . . Imagine! All does people gittin’ on de inside o’Durante.
“I’LL BE ENTERTAINING at the Greater Los Angeles Press club. Maybe I oughta take a few copies down ‘n peddle ‘em, huh?”
Jimmy doesn't get a penny of the proceeds from all this—those go to author Gene Fowler and the publishing firm.
“But what I’m gittin’ outa dis, honey,” he twinkled, “couldn’t be bought wit money.”
DURANTE SPENT months “spillin’ my heart out” to Fowler, who lolled in an easy chair, turned on a wire recorder, asked a question now and then, and just listened happily while the “Schnozz” spun his yarns of the old days in show business.
“I didn't have any idea what he was gonna put in," Jimmy added. “To tell de troot, I t’ink he left out a lotta good stuff.
“AND I DON’T like the pitchas he put in. A lotta dem are just gags. Day don’t belong in a book like dat. But what the heck . . . It’s a helluva good writing job.
“I’ve read it free times myself awreddy. And dere’s parts of it dat jist make me cry.
Jeez, it sure brings back the memories . . . it sure does.”
IT’S PROBABLY gonna bring him a lot more ‘n that. MGM, 20th-Century-Fox and Paramount studios are scrambling for the rights to put it on the screen.
"Dis story’s gotta be told,” Jimmy nodded. “Not on accounta Durante. Heck, dere’s more about Lou Clayton in it dan there is about me.
“But it’s a nice story about me and my Missus and Eddie Jackson and Clayton... all the people who've been wit’ me fer years. It’s a kinda family story. Make a good pitcha, I betcha.”
THE MASTERMINDS are already looking around for a young feller to play Durante’s part. At which point MacPherson, the No. 1 Durante fan in these parts, will register an official complaint.
All the “Schnozz” needs to look 20 years younger is a little hair. What he’s got left is white and kind of wispy. But Mac Factor’s wig experts could remedy that in two shakes.
HE WAS NO BEAUTY when he was 16 and he’s no beauty now. But the same old gleam is still here.
“Da’s ‘cause I’m still havin’ fun,” Jimmy says modestly.
“And I’ve kept me shapely figger. No bulges around Durante’s diagram.”
No sir, the idea of anybody else playing Durante is something we don’t even like to think about. It’d be nothing short of heresy.