The great Durante


I’ve written before about the ephemerality of fame. How many of you remember Jinx Falkenberg, who was such a big star in her time? And, worse yet, how many of the “celebrities” that she wrote about in her autobiography are still remembered? Almost none. Here’s a great line from her book:  “Tex [Jinx’s husband] asked a whole group over to ‘21’ for dinner – the Jack Strauses, Joanne Sayres and Tony Bliss, Carl Whitmore, the Howard Twins.”



To this day, I have no idea who any of these people are. I salute them, and their ephemeral celebrity.



But sometimes a celebrity has more – ahem – memorability.



I was strolling down the biography aisle in the library the other day when I saw H. Allen Smith’s “Low Man on a Totem Pole.” My heart leapt up. I think I may have a copy of this great classic somewhere in the house, but it’s probably buried under layers and layers of other books. So I checked it out, to give it a twentieth read.



It has all the wonderful stuff I remember. It has the interview with Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, like so: “I am a wild prize-fighting fan. I go all the time. One night the last fight is on, and I see it is just a couple palookas – that means bums, no goods – so I say to myself why should I sit there and look at these palookas playing waltz with each other and I leave and go to the Clover Club. After that someone comes to my table and says I should not have left the fight because they start throwing pop bottles and almost kill Ruby Keeler.”



(I don’t care if you know who Ruby Keeler is or not. This line almost killed me with laughter.)



Smith also interviewed John Grimek and Steve Stanko, early Mr. Americas, who insisted that they liked girls, and that they weren’t musclebound, and could scratch their backs as much as they want.



Also, best of all: Smith interviewed Jimmy Durante.



Jimmy was a vaudeville comedian, who became a stage comedian, who became a movie comedian, who became a radio comedian, who became a television comedian. He worked and worked. I remember an interview he did, probably in the 1970s, when he said he intended to work until he died. And so he did.



He was very funny, and he had a big nose and a comical way of speaking. Here he is:





Jimmy Durante is immortal. He is even more immortal than immortal, because he’s in a Cole Porter song:



You’re a rose,

You’re Inferno’s Dante;

You’re the nose

Of the great Durante.



Here’s the song.






Go watch “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with Monty Woolley and Ann Sheridan. Wait for Durante. He comes into the movie about halfway through. You can’t miss him. He’s wonderful.



Unlike poor Jinx Falkenberg, the great Durante will live forever.

He wH

About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

3 Responses to The great Durante

  1. starproms says:

    None of these names are familiar to me Loren except Cole Porter. However, they belong to a great era. I wish I’d been part of it.

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