Home » 1950s » Durante ‘Da Schnoz’ was a genuine nice guy in showbiz

Durante ‘Da Schnoz’ was a genuine nice guy in showbiz

Jimmy Durante never forgot his fans, even when he was caught in his bathrobe in Beverly Hills in the 1950s!

SNOUT'S HONOR. A big schnoz never hurt the careers of Jimmy Durante (left) and Danny Thomas, who went nose to nose in this publicity shot shared by the author. (Click on image to view larger.)

Known as one of the nicest guys in show business, the legendary Jimmy Durante touched many lives—including mine. I worked for Jimmy as a publicist for 29 years, and I have many wonderful memories of him.

People across the country recall Jimmy’s comic performances, which often began with a musical fanfare. “Stop the music! Stop the music!” he’d insist, strid­ing on stage and pointing at the band. “Da trumpet player’s only usin’ one lip!”

Or, wisecracking while running a comb through his thinning hair, Jimmy would quip, “It may not be much, folks, but every strand has muscle!”

Funny as Jimmy’s performances could be, my most durable memories are of him off-stage. One in particular stands out. One day in 1952, Jimmy and Eddie Cantor were rehearsing for a television show. “C’mon,” said Jimmy, “let’s take a break and get some tea.” He, Eddie and I walked to a small coffee shop down the street.

We chatted as Jimmy sipped his tea and Eddie and I drank our coffee.

“I know Eddie always wanted to be an entertainer,” I said to Jimmy, “but what about you? Did you always want to be a comedian?”

Jimmy was staring out the window at the rain. “When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a ragtime piano player. That was really all I ever wanted outta life.”

“But Jimmy,” Eddie cut in, “wasn’t it your former partner, Lou Clayton, who told you to sing and not just play the piano?”

“You’re right, Eddie,” Jimmy re­plied. “If it wasn’t for Lou, Eddie Jackson and I would still be playin’ joints on Coney Island.”

Jimmy continued, talking about his most famous feature. “Those days, I was ashamed of my big schnoz. I was always touchy about the nose, even as I started makin’ it in the clubs and later in movies.

“But one day, I get a letter from a kid who tells me he has a big nose, too. Up until then, he was always ashamed of it. But now, when he sees me makin’ fun of my nose, all of a sudden he feels proud to have a ‘Durante nose.’

“So, by clownin’ around, I was able to make this kid proud of his. Right then, it was like a big chunk lifted off my back. After that, I kept on laughin’ about my nose, and now I never even think about it. What a load it was off my back.”

The rain stopped as we left the cafe, and as I walked between the two old friends, passersby smiled at us and left us to our thoughts. Mine were good ones, and today, when I hear how many stars are never seen on the streets, I marvel at the freedom Jimmy and Eddie had to live their lives as normally as possible.

How accessible was Jimmy? One morning while I was at his small home in Beverly Hills, we heard a horn honking outside. Jimmy hurried out the front door, dressed in his bathrobe and slippers.

I went out to see what was happening. A tour bus had stopped, and Jimmy was standing on his lawn signing photographs, having his picture taken, waving and talking with everyone—and loving it.

“The drivers know that when I’m home, I’ll come out and say hello,” Jimmy explained later. “It makes people happy, and I don’t mind. They always love it!”

Jimmy and Eddie and others of their generation never let their stardom get in the way of their lives. You saw them all over—shopping, at the races or at a small cafe on a rainy day. I not only miss them, I miss that way of life.

By Joe Bleeden
Las Vegas, Nevada

 

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Trina December 11, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Hello,
I suppose you get frustrated Hat Pin seekers all the time. Was the hatpin deleted accidently at printing of magazine? I will start my fourth look around next time.
Confused in Illinois,
Trina

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john December 13, 2011 at 8:37 am

Hattie’s hatpin is there, but our art director was VERY sneaky in hiding it this time. The clue is it’s on a page you wouldn’t expect it to be.

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Lorraine December 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm

What a nice story. To bad today’s stars are so stuck on themselves they really do forget where they came from

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LAWRENCE BROWN December 17, 2011 at 10:41 am

I AM PROUD TO SAY THAT HERE IN EAST TENNESSE WE HAVE A STAR AMOUNG US WHO STILL WALKS THE STREET OF A TOWN CLOSE BUY AND YOU WOULDN’T EVEN REGONIZE HER . SHE DOES WONDERS FOR THE COMMUNTIES AND SURROUNDING AREA . PROUD TO SAY SHES A GREAT PERSON. DOLLIES WELL KNON FOR GENEROSITY SHE MAKE S US PROUD TO BE TENNESEANS.

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Chuck March 12, 2013 at 11:18 am

I have to imagine that I’d have no trouble recognizing Dolly, if only for a couple of reasons. :-)

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Robert Munz December 19, 2011 at 2:57 am

Speaking of hat pins, I was given a old issue of Reminisce extra.
It’s a January 2007 issue, my daughter and I found the pin on page 8 but after searching for a couple of weeks we just can’t find the other hat pin.
It dosn’t seem to be missing any pages, can somebody tell us where it is?
great magazine, any help may keep us from going crazy.

Thank you for any help.
Robert Munz

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john December 19, 2011 at 9:30 am

I’m guessing you found the one on the man’s sweater on page 8. For a hint on the other one, it doubles as a drapery rod. If you can’t find it, email again and I’ll reveal it. Happy hunting!

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Robert Munz December 20, 2011 at 5:34 am

Thanx John, my daughter found it after getting the hint.
I get old issues of Reminisce and Reminisce Extra where I work, my daughter is
going to subscribe to Reminisce Extra.
Again, thank you for the quick response
Robert Munz
ram515@msn.com

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karen December 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm

i can always find the pin..but admit to having trouble with the december/ january 2012 issue…can anyone help?

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john January 13, 2012 at 12:47 pm

It’s on the page you’d least expect it to be on. Hattie certainly agrees.

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Cheryl Johnson January 10, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I first saw the Reminisce magazine while visiting my Mom, who lives in Wisconsin. She got hers from a friend who also subscribed. I fell in love with the magazine and promptly ordered it when we returned to Texas. My husband and I wished it came out every month, and then lo, and behold, came Reminisce Extra! We also gave Mom a subscription for herself as a surprise present. I’ve encouraged her to send in some mighty wonderful pictures from the 20′s through the 50′s that she has collected of the family. If she doesn’t, I will! She has some great stories, too. Thanks for the memories!

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Jerry Moore January 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Sadly, I let my subscription expire a couple of years ago. Must have been a long senior moment. Fortunately, I regained my senses, and re-subscribed today.
Approximately two years ago there was a article about a 1960 Chevrolet Impala that had been discovered with only about 12,000 miles on it. What issue was that in?

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john January 17, 2012 at 8:50 am

The article was in the August/September 2010 issue.

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Jocelyn Wolfe September 26, 2012 at 5:01 pm

is there any way to get old issues of Reminisce? I have the newest ones but love to read the ones that are older.

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TOMMY STEPHENS September 26, 2012 at 11:35 pm

THE YEAR IS 1962 IN SEPTEMBER IN HAZEL PARK MICHIGAN !! THE HAZEL PARK VARSITY FOOTBALL TEAM HAD TO PRACTICE BEHIND HOOVER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL ACROSS FROM THE HIGH SCHOOL ! VARSITY PRACTICE HAD ENDED THE TEAM WAS HEADED TOWARD THE ROAD TO CROSS AND GO TO THE HIGH SCHOOL LOCKER-ROOMS !! AS THEY APPROACHED THE STREET A BIG BLACK CADDY LIMO SLOWED DOWN IN FRONT OF THEM AND WINDOW ROLLED DOWN AND IT WAS MR. INKA ! DINKA ! DO ! HIMSELF THE GREAT JIMMY DURANTE !! HE ASKED HOW THE TEAM WAS DOING
AND SOME OTHER COMMENTS AND PULLED AWAY !! WHAT A NICE THING FOR HIM TO DO AND GREAT MEMORIES FOR A BUNCH OF HIGH SCHOOL KIDS !!! BUT THAT’S THE KIND OF MAN I BELIEVE JIMMY DURANTE WAS A BIG STAR BUT A REGULAR GUY !! SOME MAY WANDER WHAT JIMMY WAS DOING THERE ? BUT ABOUT !/4 OF A MILE NORTH OF US THE HAZEL PARK RACE TRACK WAS IN SESSION !!!! I’AM SURE JIMMY WON ….. BY A NOSE !! LOL

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