Mt. Carmel St. Cristina Society

Jimmy Durante

Let me talk about a television "Jolly Elf" - Jimmy Durante. He was not just an entertainer, we was an American culture. Today we remember Durante for his big nose, his destruction of the English language, his piano playing, and his weekly farewell to the mysterious Mrs. Calabash.

Jimmy Durante was born to Bartolomeo and Rosa Durante, immigrants of Solerno, Italy in February of 1893. He was the youngest of four children who grew up in the lower east side of New York. His family may have provided him with a home filled with love and stability, but the outside world was a different case. The kids at school would tease him about his "naso". As an adult he remembered his childhood saying: "My nose made me a shrinken violet - I go home and cry". But he made up his mind never to hurt anybody, he never made any jokes about somebody, big ears, cross eyes or their stuttering. Instead he took control of the situation by making fun of himself. He was a successful ragtime piano player all around Coney Island when he met another singing waiter named Eddie Jackson. They became partners and opened "Club Durant". The legend has it that they didn't have the money to pay for the last "e" in the club's sign so instead of Club Durante it became "Club Durant". The club closed in 1928, but he and his two partners became the toast of New York.

He went into radio and television and after just one season on the air, Durante won The George Foster award. The following year he won the Emmy Award for best comedian. The New York Times declared: the schnozzola is a TV smash and about the only thing bigger than his nose is his talent. He was without question as beloved by his peers as he was by his fans and he was the only celebrity to ever entertain the immigrants at Ellis Island.