James Francis "Jimmy" Durante
was an American
entertainer, one of the most popular and recognized
personalities of the 1920s-1960s. Durante was a pianist,
actor, comedian, as well as a singer with a distinctive
hoarse voice with a strong working class New York City
accent. He was noted for his large nose which he frequently
made jokes about, which earned him the nickname Schnozzola.
Jimmy Durante was born New York City. He dropped
out of school in eighth-grade to play ragtime piano.
In his youth Durante worked as pianist and entertainer
in New York city, nickmaned "Ragtime Jimmy".
About 1917 he joined one of the first jazz bands in
New York, The Original New Orleans Jazz Band (all other
musicians were from New Orleans). Durante's outgoing
personality and ability to "sell" a number
to the audience started attracting greater attention,
and by 1920 the band was renamed Jimmy Durante's Jazz
In the mid 1920s he became a star on Vaudeville and
radio with his music & comedy trio Clayton Jackson & Durante
(with Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson); despite third
billing Durante was the star of the act.
He had big hit in 1934 with his composition Inka
Dinka Do, a novelty number he sang and played piano
on, and which became his signature song.
In 1935 he starred in Billy Rose's spectacle, Jumbo.
In the show, a policeman stops him while leading a
live elephant and asks "What are you doing with
that elephant?" Durante stopped the show by saying "Elephant?
He was featured in a series of comedy motion pictures
paired with Buster Keaton in the early 1930's.
Durante had a nationally broadcast radio variety
show; in the 1950s he had a television show as well.
He continued making movie appearances through 1963
and television appearances until 1970.
He married Jeanne Olsen on 19 June 1921, who remained
his wife until her death on 14 February 1943. Though
it did not become public knowledge until after his
own death, she was the mysterious "Mrs. Calabash" to
whom he always referred with what became the sign off
line to all his radio and TV shows: "'Goodnight
Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." Calabash was
a private name between them for Calabasas, California,
where she spent the final years of her life.
Durante courted his second wife, Marjorie Little,
whom he met as a hatcheck girl at the Copacabana, for
16 years before they married in 1960, when she was
39, and he 67. On Christmas day 1961, they adopted
a baby girl, Cecelia Alicia, whom they nicknamed "CeCe".
Cecelia became a horseback-riding instructor near San
Diego, married a computer designer, and has two sons.
Jimmy Durante died in Santa Monica, California of
pneumonia, and was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery,