Early on in my life, as most of you know, I was influenced by many greats of the silver screen and television. I tried to emulate my life in their images. One of those is dedicated to the column this week JIMMY DURANTE!!!
Before Jimmy Durante became one of the most famous and lovable entertainers of the Twentieth Century, he was a hot piano player and bandleader. Durante was greatly influenced by Scott Joplin and had his first success in show business as a Ragtime piano player starting around 1911. He was billed as "Ragtime Jimmy" and played in New York City and Coney Island.
Jimmy was a solid Ragtime and Jazz piano player, but soon gravitated towards vaudeville as the 1920s wore on. He became part of a comedy music team called "Clayton, Jackson and Durante." By the end of the decade, the team was very popular on Broadway, and Durante got a role in a play called "Jumbo," which made him a star. In the early 1930's, he started to get roles in movies and became popular on radio and eventually became one of the most popular entertainers in America.
For years, Jimmy Durante ended his radio and television shows with that unusual sign-off. Most people thought the mysterious Mrs. Calabash must have been some fictional character that Durante dreamed up just to tease his audiences. But longtime residents of Calabash, North Carolina believe otherwise. The folks in this town will tell you she was a real person with a real name-and a fascinating story, to boot. They claim that Mrs. Calabash was really a local woman named Lucille "Lucy" Coleman.
In 1940, Lucy was 28 years old and running a restaurant in Calabash, then a tiny seaside community bordering South Carolina. Durante and his touring entertainment troupe are said to have stopped in for supper one night. It may have been the genuine homespun friendliness of the young restaurant owner that prompted the gregarious Jimmy Durante to beckon Lucy over to his table for some short chitchat. "I'm going to make you famous," vowed Durante, thinking she recognized his well-known face. (In fact, at that moment, she didn't even know who he was!) Lucy's daughter, Clarice Holden, says she will never forget what happened next.
"As Mr. Durante and his group were walking out the door after their meal," Clarice recalls, "he turned to my mom and said, 'Good night Mrs. Calabash.'" It wasn't long afterward that this popular entertainer began signing off his radio shows with a similar message. For years, audiences enjoyed this rather lighthearted farewell mystery. By the time of Durante's death in 1980, it had become one of his trademarks, almost as recognizable as his big "schnozzola." But, while that sign-off may have remained a mystery to most folks, Calabash residents believe it was Durante's way of saying to Mrs. Coleman, "Hi, Lucy-I remember you, if you're still out there now."
Lucy Coleman passed away in 1989, nearly 50 years after her meeting with Jimmy Durante.
Jimmy was also a composer of many hit songs, including "I'm Jimmy That Well-Dressed Man," "I Know Darn Well I Can Do Without Broadway," "I Ups to Him and He Ups to Me," "Daddy Your Mamma Is Lonesome For You," "Umbriago," "Any State In the Forty-Eight," "Chidabee Chidabee Chidabee," and "I'm Jimmy's Girl" and "Inka Dinka Do."
Rest in Peace, Sir.
Percival A. Friend, Retired
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