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"There's a million good-lookin' guys, but I'm a novelty!" A true artist, James Francis "Jimmy" Durante was an Italian-American pianist, singer, comedian, and actor. His distinctive raspy voice, language butchery, jazzy tunes, and large nose made him one of America's most popular personalities for 60 years. Jimmy was born on February 10, 1893 in the Lower East Side of New York City. His father, Bartolomeo Durante, and his mother, Rosa, were both born in Salerno, Italy. Bartolomeo opened a barbershop on Cherry Street and with his wife Rosa and her sister they lived in the same boarding house. Bartolomeo and Rosa had four children. Little Jimmy was the youngest.

Jimmy dropped out of school in eighth grade to become a full-time ragtime pianist. He started working the city's piano bar circuit, earning the nickname "Ragtime Jimmy" until he joined one of the first recognizable jazz bands in New York, and one of the first jazz bands to make recordings. the Original New Orleans Jazz Band. Jimmy was the only member not from New Orleans; the other musicians were most veterans of Papa Jack Laine's groups. His routine of breaking into a song to deliver a joke, with band or orchestra chord punctuation after each line, became a Durante trademark. In 1920, the group was renamed Jimmy Durante's Jazz Band.

By the mid-1920s, Jimmy was a vaudeville star and radio personality with a trio called Clayton, Jackson and Durante. Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson were Jimmy's closest friends. Eddie and Jimmy appeared in Cole Porter’s musical The New Yorkers, which opened on Broadway on December 8, 1930.

Jimmy starred on Broadway in the Billy Rose stage musical Jumbo, in Show Girl (1929), Strike Me Pink (1934) and Red, Hot and Blue (1936). He apperead in motion pictures in a comedy series pairing him with silent film legend Buster Keaton and continuing with The Wet Parade (1932), Broadway to Hollywood (1933), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Ziegfeld Follies (1946), Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962, based on the 1935 musical) and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Those were the radio days and on September 10, 1933, Jimmy appeared on Eddie Cantor's The Chase and Sanborn Hour, continuing until November 12 of that year. When Cantor departed, Jimmy took over the NBC show as its star from April 22 to September 30, 1934, moving on to The Jumbo Fire Chief Program (1935–36). He teamed with Garry Moore for The Durante-Moore Show in 1943. Moore left in mid-1947, and the program returned October 1, 1947 as The Jimmy Durante Show.

Then came television, and Jimmy made his debut on November 1, 1950, as one of the frequent guests on Tallulah Bankhead's two-year, NBC comedy-variety show, The Big Show. The rest of the cast included humorist Fred Allen, singers Mindy Carson and Frankie Laine, stage musical performer Ethel Merman, actors Jose Ferrer and Paul Lukas, and comic-singer Danny Thomas. He then teamed with sidekick Sonny King, a collaboration that would continue until Durante's death. On August 4, 1955, The Jimmy Durante Show on NBC was the venue of the final performance by the famous Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda. Miranda fell to her knees while dancing with Durante, who instinctively told the band, "STOP--da music!" He helped Miranda up to her feet as she laughed and quickly pulled herself together. However, the next morning, August 5, Miranda died at home from heart failure.

Jimmy's first wife was the former Jean (Jeanne) Olson, whom he married on June 19, 1921. She was born in Ohio on August 31, 1896. She died on Valentine's Day in 1943, after a lingering heart ailment of about two years. She was 46 years old when she died.

Durante married his second wife, Margaret "Margie" Little, at St. Malachy's Catholic Church in New York City on December 14, 1960. She attended New York University before being hired by the legendary Copacabana, in New York City. They met 16 years before their marriage when he was performing there and where she worked as a hatcheck girl. She was 41, he 67, when they married. With help from their attorney Mary G. Rogan, the couple was able to adopt a baby, Cecilia Alicia (nicknamed CeCe and now known as CeCe Durante-Bloum) on Christmas Day, 1961. CeCe became a champion horsewoman and then a horse trainer and horseback-riding instructor near San Diego, married a computer designer (Stephen), and has two sons and a daughter (Connor, Ryan and Maddie). Margaret died on June 7, 2009, at age 90.

On August 15, 1958, for his charitable acts, Jimmy was awarded a huge three-foot-high brass loving cup by the Al Bahr Shriners Temple. The inscription read: "JIMMY DURANTE THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS COMEDIAN. A loving cup to you Jimmy, it's larger than your nose, but smaller than your heart. Happiness always, Al Bahr Temple, August 15, 1958."

Jimmy's love for children continued through the Fraternal Order of Eagles children, who among many causes raise money for the handicapped and abused. The Fraternal Order of Eagles changed the name of their children's fund to the Jimmy Durante Children's Fund in his honor, and in his memory have raised over 20 million dollars to help children. Jimmy was also an active member of the Democratic Party. In 1933, he appeared in an advertisement shown in theaters supporting Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal programs and wrote a musical score entitled Give a Guy a Job to accompany it.

To mention all the things he did in his 60-year career would be too long, but here are some of his trademarks: "Inka Dinka Doo", "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are", "Dat's my boy dat said dat!", "Dat's moral turpentine!", "It's a catastastroke!", "Everybody wants ta get inta the act!", "Umbriago!", "Ha-cha-cha-chaaaaaaa!", "I got a million of 'em" and "Surrounded by assassins!"

And the beginning of his theme song:

You gotta start off each day with a song

Now even when things go wrong

You'll feel better, you'll even look better

I'm here to tell you that you'll be a go-getter



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