1929
Jimmy Durante, leading comedian of Little Italy and the world of comedy.


One of America's favorite entertainers, James F. Durante (1893-1980) was born in lower Manhattan's Little Italy in 1893, the son of a barber from Salerno, Italy. Although his formal schooling ended in the eighth grade, he learned to play piano, eschewing his father's preference for classics, he opted instead for the popular ragtime of his day. It was as a piano player and bandleader that he earned a living for a number of years in various unsavory honky-tonk saloons, speakeasies, and burlesque houses in Coney Island and Harlem. Always a likeable young man, his is the story of triumph over his perceived ugly duckling complex, particularly his big proboscis. In time he would turn that seeming defect of nature into a physical attribute being dubbed "Schozzola," or simply "The Nose." Playing ragtime and jazz piano enabled him to meet with many young aspiring show business people such as Eddie Jackson and Lou Clayton. Durante's career received a big boost when he teamed up with them in the "Clayton, Jackson, and Durante" act that became one of the most popular nightclub acts of the 1920s. With his unique brand of comedy that he delivered in a raspy New York accent replete with malapropisms and fracturing of polysyllabic words, Jimmy was the star of the show. In shattering the English language Durante could be regarded as engaging in self-parody, the voice of the immigrant mimicking himself. He also wrote a number of comedy tunes such as "Inka Dinka Doo" and "Umbriago," and starred in Broadway's 1929 hit musical "Show Girl." By the 1950s, after a brief decline, Jimmy Durante's career rebounded and he had become one of the most widely respected and beloved figures in the entertainment world. He appeared in many high-profile musicals and Hollywood motion pictures as well as performed on radio and television. His television success was truly phenomenal and led to prestigious awards: Peabody Award for Entertainment and Emmy Award for "Best Comedian." It is evident that Durante's brand of humor had staying power - witness the 1993 film "Sleepless in Seattle" - long after his death –that featured his voice as background music. Jimmy Durante was a much beloved, respected and generous individual, one who brought credit and honor to the Italian American community. There are many other Italian American comedians who performed in English and were successful including Lou Costello, Jerry Colonna, Charlie Manna, Pat Cooper, Dom DeLouise, Floyd Vivino (Uncle Floyd), and Jay Leno.





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