Wednesday, 21 July 2021


He moved to Hollywood in 1932 but Jimmy Durante never lost that 1920s New York speakeasy entertainer atmosphere about him, even four decades later.

His act was old-fashioned hokum when radio made his career explode again, but audiences loved it. They were taken in by Durante’s sincere enthusiasm for the old numbers and corny jokes. He was impossible to dislike.

In the late ’50s, United Press International put out on the newswire a three-part series on Durante. As is usual in show biz, with happiness comes sadness, too. You can read that in this first part that began appearing in papers on November 5, 1959. I’ll try to get to the other two parts in future posts.

Comedian Soft Touch

UPI Hollywood Correspondent
HOLLYWOOD – The curtain goes up, the ricky-ticky music blares out, “Who Will Be With You When You're Far Away?” and a ramshackle old man struts jauntily on stage.
The music fades away. "I'm walking into de theater mindin' my own business when dis man comes up and sez, 'I reconize the face, but the nose ain't familiar.' So I ups to him and he ups to me and I sez, 'Any friend of mine, is also a friend of thuh nose.' "
Cackling merrily, the bald little guy breaks into a dance. He pounds the piano. He sings off-key. He spouts another joke in a voice that cracks plaster. He's Jimmy Durante, 66 years old.
A secretive man who baffles even hit closest associates, the old Schnozzola is beloved but not well-known in Hollywood. Fifty years in show business has not separated fact from fiction, and Durante does everything possible to confuse legend with reality.
Example: Jimmy has lived in the same Beverly Hills house for 20 years. His friends insist the Schnozz never has been in the swimming pool. They say it's typical of Durante's eccentricities. But Jimmy swears he goes for a dip every morning.
"Sure I do," he said hoarsely. "Why else have I got a pool?"
His compatriots merely lift their eyebrows in resignation.
The softest touch in the warm-hearted society of entertainers, Durante denies his charities and good works, perhaps to minimize future handouts, but it is known he gives away some $15,000 a year to organized charities and an equal amount to down-on-their-luck buddies. This may not sound like a lot of money for a big star, but Jimmy is not as wealthy as his Beverly Hills Neighbors.
"Aw," he says of his generosity, "I don't like discussin' them things."
Pressed on the subject, Jimmy smoothed down a fragile wisp of hair atop his head. "Well, lem-me see. There's the Jewish Home for the Aged, the Thalians (mentally retarded children), the Lighthouse for the Blind in New York and the Catholic Church among others. But please don't talk about it no more."
Durante's perverse nature crops up whenever his passion for horse races is mentioned. He vows his bets are small and infrequent, and made only at the track.
But I’ve seen him in action during many a TV rehearsal when he spends as much time with the racing form as he does with the script. Jimmy’s sidekick and friend of 42 years, Eddie Jackson, shuttled between Durante and the telephone placing bets. On one occasion Jimmy was astonished to find he’d bet on every horse in a single race.
Yet he will tell you he’s not a real horse player.
“I don’t know how to gamble—and I never won on the horses during a season in my life.”
Then why is he the inveterate plunger?
“I like to see ‘em run,” he grinned sheepishly.
Purposefully or not, Jimmy Durante will twist and sidetrack a conversation so skilfully most people are unaware he is escaping painful subjects. And there have been many painful episodes in the comedian’s life.
His cheerful, raucous on-stage personality gives way to thoughtful reflection when Jimmy is alone. He speaks and thinks about the past a great deal, but not regretfully. He enjoys the nostalgia, re-living the good old days when Clayton, Jackson and Durante were the toast of New York.
Durante's life has been a series of professional and emotional ups of and downs. He's seen good times and bad in night clubs, movies, radio and television The death of his wife, the passing of his partner Lou Clayton, a disastrous love affair in his youth and other tragedies played an important role in shaping Jimmy's way of life.
Jimmy is fiercely loyal to his troupe of seven regulars who surround him on his night club and TV skirmishes.
"I gotta keep 'em workin'," he explained, before enumerating his tight little band. "My drummer, Jack Roth, has been with me 41 years. Eddie Jackson (with whom he squabbled last year) and I been together 42 years, and Jules Buffano, my piano player, has been around 17 years.
“Then there's Louis Cohen, he attended lots of things, and he's been working for me for 40 years. Lemme see. I think it's 24 years Bill Stocker has been driving me around and taking care of me. My press agent Joe Bleeden, has been with me nine years. Sonny King, my new singer, is a two-year man. They're all my boys."
The "boys" make the big-beaked word-mangler's home their own. They drop by at all hours of the day and night to keep the boss happy.
It's a surprisingly democratic clan, in contrast with the sycophants who generally congregate around a star. His pals adjust themselves to Jimmy's schedule which keeps them up until 5 and 6 in the morning hashing over the "good old days."


  1. Hans Christian Brando22 July 2021 at 18:09

    A great man. If only he'd been able to perform and/or record Stephen Sondheim's "God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me Blues," a song that could have (should have) been written for Durante, before he suffered the stroke in 1972 that ended his career. I hope at least he heard the song because it would have made him smile.

  2. A real original. No one else like him.