Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Night Owl Who Was a Friend to Bass

“Ya gotta start out each day widda song!” Jimmy Durante (“In poy-sun!”) enthusiastically belted out when he made his entrance on his radio show in the 1940s. But it turns out he started out each day with toast. If that.

Audiences loved Durante and Durante loved audiences. In the first four months of 1955, he was alternating with Donald O’Connor on television’s Texaco Star Theater (the better-paid O’Connor was dumped and Durante took over three weeks of the month), took part in a grand opening special (in pre-peacock NBC colour), was a presenter at the Emmys, and attended spring training in Florida with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And when Mario Lanza didn’t appear on opening night for his act at the Venus Room of the Hotel New Frontier in Vegas, Durante—who was in the audience waiting for the show to start!—immediately jumped on stage and ad-libbed a whole act solo. He even found time to perform at a police benefit in Los Angeles, staging a publicity photo for it showing him objecting to a traffic cop writing him a ticket while pulled over in a police cruiser.

The Associated Press caught up with him for this story that appeared in papers starting March 26, 1955. You have to read it in Durante’s verse, uh, voice.
Durante, 62 Continues Working at Furious Pace

HOLLYWOOD—(AP)—How does the Schnoz do it?
Jimmy Durante turned 62 last month, yet he has lost none of his vitality. He continues working at a furious pace. He is doing 20 TV shows this season, all but two of them on a live basis. He'll do 30 shows next season. When he draws a couple of weeks away from TV, he often spends them playing his explosive act in Miami, New York, Reno or Las Vegas night clubs.
This is his off-week on his regular TV show and he's filling the time by appearing on NBC's spectacular to open its 3 1/2-million-dollar color studio in Burbank Sunday.
I tried to learn Jimmy's magic formula for energy over lunch at a Sunset Strip eatery. Lunch for Jimmy was some hot tea and toast. He explained that he had just gotten up and had already eaten a bowl of hot cereal.
"Me, I never feel hungry," he explained. "Eatin' don't mean nuttin' to me. I'll have maybe some cereal and toast for breakfast, and no lunch. For dinner I might have a lamb chop. Or if I don't feel hungry, it might be a bowl of corn flakes or somethin' like that.
"I can't understand it, because my dad was a big eater. He was eatin' the spaghetti until he was 92, washin' it down with wine. When I told him he should drink water, he said, 'water is for washin' the face; wine is to drink.'
"The guys around me, they love to eat. Comes six o'clock and [Eddie] Jackson gotta have dinner, regular as clockwork. If the boys wait for me, they, gonna eat around nine o'clock."
Because of his night club upbringing, Jimmy is a night owl. He prowls around his house until 1 or 2 in the morning, reading letters and studying music. He gets up around 11 or noon.
Exercise? He gets most of his while performing; that's enough activity for any human. He takes a daily dip in his pool—"just enough to kick my feet; in and out."
Perhaps the most important element in Jimmy's well-being is his avoidance of the usual strains of show business life. "Enemies?" he reflected. "I can't think of any."
It works in reverse too. Durante is the only star of whom I have I never heard an ill word said.
"I don't like to have arguments around me," he continued. "I don't want the writers arguin' with me about things. Ninety per cent of the time I take their word for things. Once in a while I override them. If I'm goin' to get killed, I want to do the killin' myself."
Show business comprises almost his whole life, but he does have one hobby. Fishing. He owns a house on Clear Lake in Northern California and he talked longingly of the days be spent there.
"My wife's folks used to own property up there—that's how I heard about it," he said. "I used to spend three months away from a telephone and everythin'. Then I'd go back and open a night club season.
"I used to row out on the lake all alone and fish for bass. They're my favorite. I think they're the prettiest fish and the smartest. Feller wrote a book once called 'My Friend, the Bass.' I absorbed every word of it.
"I haven't been back there in four years. For one thing, I'm too busy. And it's kinds hard to go back. There are too many memories of the happy times I spent there."
Jimmy Durante was a friend to bass, and I suspect they were a friend to him. The rest of the world was.

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