Tuesday, 10 February 2015

He Put the Rant in Durante

There are two things you’ll notice in any newspaper interview with Jimmy Durante—all the quotes are in Durante dialect, and he launches into a monologue that sounds just like one of his acts.

Here’s a good example from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 30, 1940. You can probably hear Durante’s voice as you read this. By the way, the Schnozz was born on today’s date in 1893.

Jimmy Durante Discovers Acting Preferable to Sleuthing; Decides to Stick To ‘Keep Off the Grass’

"I got nothin’ to say," announced Jimmy Durante, eyeing us severely in his dressing room at the Broadhurst. "You newspaper guys made me enough trouble already."
We never take a statement like that from the Durante seriously. He always has plenty to say. And usually gets in the last word.
"Everybody should mind his own business," he went on. "A butcher should cut meat, a banker should cut coupons, an’..."
"And you should stick to cutting capers in "Keep Off the Grass," we suggested.
"Ha," he snorted, indignantly, "everybody wants to get in the act! Stand back! I make the gags!"
"Listen, I read in the papers all about this ‘Fifth Column.’ Somethings got to be done! ‘Jimmy,’ I says, ‘we organize a Gessepo of our own.’ ‘How do I start?’ I asks me.
"I goes into the Astor Bar for a buttermilk. I greets a guy next to me. ‘How dy ye do, Mr. Durante?’ he cracks. Right away I am auspicious. I ask him to cash my check. He does. I am more suspicious.
"He tells me he is a baker. ‘Do you own a car?’ I queries. ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘an I got a chauffer, too.’ What effrontery! Now I knows I’m on the scent! Like a dog after a frankfurter!
"I slips out and phones the F. B. I. This is too big to handle alone. They investigates, shadows, wire-taps. What a catastrophe! They discovers he is a Harvard man with money left him!
"So he sues me in Supreme Court for inflamation of character! I tries to camouflage the details, but the judge has a congested mind. He fines me a hundred dollars. Politics! I considers taking it to the Epaulet Division, but I thinks the matter has gone far enough!"
The ever-present Durante cigar stump twisted furiously.
"You’d think that learnt me a lesson, but last week I tries again. Gluttony! I see a suspicious character in . . . (this is for the ‘Eagle,’ ain't it?) . . . in Brooklyn. I trails him through the Park Slope, through Flatbush, into Bay Ridge. What a sleut! He ducks into a house, an’ I waits diligently. I holds my breath an’ watches for him to come out. He don’t. I am breathless.
"All of a sudden a big guy is next to me. We discovers each other siniustaniously! He is a cop. I have claustrophobia! ‘What are you doin’ here?' he barks ominiously. ‘I’m on a suspicious case,’ I ups to him, bold. '‘You look suspicious to me,’ he comes back, frisking me, ‘an’ wearin’ a disguise, eh?’ An’ before I knows it, he grabs me by the schnozzle an’ yanks. The ignominy of it!
"So I’m in court again. I explains to the judge I’m an actor. “Why don’t you work at it?’ he says. ‘I do work at it,’ I replies, ‘Right now I'm in ‘Keep Off the Grass’ at the Broadhurst Theater, New York City.’ ‘Then I fine you ten dollars,’ he retorts, ‘for being nosey an’ not stayin’ where you belong.’ The brutality of it! Durante fined ten bucks for nosetalgia!"
Il Schnozzola waggled his bare toes which were getting an alcohol rub from Tiny, that 200-pound fixture of the Durante menage.
"You guys are responsible for it all," he sighed, plaintively. "You write all that stuff in the papers about ‘boring from within’ and ‘fronts.’ It gets a guy like me all steamed up. I can’t knit, but I wants to do somethin’. But from now on I leaves sleuthin’ to the sleuts. The butcher should cut meat, and the banker. . . ."
"We know, Jimmy," we interrupted, firmly, "and you should stay on 44th St. where you belong. However, there isn't a word of truth in any of this." The Durante grin appeared around the stub of the cigar.
"Well," he drawled, "it might make a good song lyric, at that. And anyway, I told you I had nothin’ to say. You guys have made me trouble enough already."
In any event, that fictitious magistrate may have been gifted with second sight, for "Keep Off the Grass" takes a Summer vacation, begun last night and lasting until mid-August. Jimmy goes to the Coast to make a picture in the interim. He can practice his "sleuthing" for the next six weeks in Hollywood.

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