Jimmy Durante Biography

(One of America's Most Popular Personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s)

Birthday: February 10, 1893 (Aquarius)

Born In: Manhattan, New York, United States

James Francis ‘Jimmy’ Durante was a famous American performer/entertainer, pianist, comedian, actor and singer. His flawless comic timing, the implicit use of comic language and jazzy melodious songs made him the most famous and loved stage, television, silver screen and radio artist in America. From a very early age, young Durante knew his professional talent for playing ragtime piano and therefore he joined the ‘Original New Orleans Jazz Band’, one of New York’s most famous jazz bands. From there on Durante moved to Broadway, teamed up with other artists to perform on stage or in the movies or on the radio. His catchphrases like, "Dat's my boy dat said dat!", "Dat's moral turpentine!" and "It's a catastastroke!", etc. made him extremely popular with the audience and soon Durante started getting big chunk of roles in the movies, in Broadway, radio and TV. He was also a lovely singer, who came up with a pop album of his own, titled, ‘September Songs’ which became a best-seller at the time and the songs from this album were used in popular motion pictures, like ‘The Notebook’ and ‘Sleepless in Seattle’.
Quick Facts

Nick Name: Ragtime Jimmy, Schnozzola,

Also Known As: James Francis Durante

Died At Age: 86


Spouse/Ex-: Jeane Olson, Marjorie Little

father: Bartolomeo Durante

mother: Rosa

children: CeCe Durante-Bloum

Actors Singers

political ideology: Democratic Party

Died on: January 28, 1980

place of death: Santa Monica, California, United States

Ancestry: Italian American

Cause of Death: Pneumonia

U.S. State: New Yorkers

Childhood & Early Life
Jimmy Durante was born in Lower East Side of New York to Rosa Lentino and Bartolomeo Durate. His family had immigrated to America from Salerno, Italy, and his father was a barber.
Durante dropped out of eighth grade to pursue ragtime piano. Initially he started playing with a cousin. Both of them used to perform only for the family but Durante realized the far reach of his talent.
He started playing for city’s piano bars and adopted a nickname ‘Ragtime Jimmy’. Soon enough, Durante was hired as a professional pianist by one of the first popular jazz bands of New York––Original New Orleans Jazz Band.
Continue Reading Below
Durante remained a part of the Original New Orleans Jazz Band for considerable number of years and his trademark routine of breaking into a song to deliver a joke with orchestra chord punctuation made him famous in 1920s.
By the mid-1920s, Durante became a famous performer and got himself into vaudeville entertainment and radio. He worked with two other artists, Clayton and Jackson and from-time-to-time he got together with them to do different entertainment projects.
The trio of Clayton, Jackson and Durante came together in a movie based on Dashiell Hammett’s ‘Red Harvest’, titled ‘Roadhouse Nights’ in 1930. Also, in the same year he teamed up with Jackson for Cole Porter musical ‘The New Yorkers’.
In 1934, his innovative composition ‘Inka Dinka Doo’ became a super hit record; the lyrics for which were written by Ben Ryan and Durante composed the music. ‘Inka Dinka Doo’ stuck with him as his theme song, for life.
In 1935, Duranted acted in musical Broadway, ‘Jumbo’. The most famous part of the show was when a police officer catches him leading a life with an elephant and on being questioned he says, “What elephant?”.
Next step forward for Durante was to appear in the motion pictures. For this he was paired with the silent film legend Buster Keaton and they did movies from 1932-1933, like, ‘What! No Beer?’, ‘Speak Easily’, and ‘The Passionate Plumber’.
Durante did his first major stint with the radio in 1933; he made an appearance in Eddie Cantor’s ‘The Chase and Sanborn Hour’. Later he teamed up with Garry Moore for ‘The Durante-Moore Show’.
Durante and Moore became nation’s favorite on the radio, with their catchphrases and incorporated performances by performers like Frank Sinatra. Moore left the show in 1947 and Durante came out with his own show ‘The Jimmy Durante Show’.
Now was the time for him to move on to the television and he made his debut in 1950 with ‘The Big Show’. And in the following year, he was one of the hosts on ‘4-Star Revue’.
Continue Reading Below
In 1962-63, Durante did motion movies like, ‘Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962)’, a musical film whose title came from Durante’s Broadway musical ‘Jumbo’ and ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)’ which was an epic comedy film.
Durante recorded an album of pop genre, ‘September Song’ in 1963. The album became a best-seller and Durante was re-introduced, to yet another generation, almost three decades after he was first recognized in the world of ragtime piano.
Major Work
Durante’s entertainment career stated with ‘Original New Orleans Jazz Band’ which took him to acting in Broadways and entertainment shows. His comic timing earned him a place in the movies, ‘Roadhouse Nights’, ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’.
Not Just that, his talent took him to television with ‘4-Star Revue’, to radio with ‘The Durante-Moore Show’ and later ‘The Jimmy Durante Show’. He was also a singer and his album ‘September Song’ was a hit of its time.
Personal Life & Legacy
Durante married his first wife, Jeanne in 1921 but she died in 1943, due to a heart disease that lingered on for two years.
He got married again in 1960 to a former Beauty Queen of the New Jersey State Fair, Margaret ‘Margie’ Little, when he was 67 years old and Margie was 47. The couple adopted a girl baby, Cecilia Alicia.
Durante retired from the entertainment business after suffering from a stroke that left him in the wheelchair. He died in 1980 because of severe pneumonia, in California.
His catchphrase at the end of his show on the radio, ‘Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are’ was meant for his first wife who died due to heart ailment.
He wrote foreword for a humorous book titled ‘Cockeyed Americana’.

Jimmy Durante Movies

1. New Adventures of Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1931)

  (Romance, Comedy, Crime)

2. Blondie of the Follies (1932)

  (Musical, Comedy)

3. It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

  (Adventure, Action, Comedy, Crime)

4. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

  (Romance, Comedy)

5. Roadhouse Nights (1930)


6. Carnival (1935)

  (Comedy, Romance)

7. The Last Judgment (1961)


8. Music for Millions (1944)

  (Music, Drama, Comedy)

9. Beau James (1957)

  (Biography, Drama)

10. The Milkman (1950)



Primetime Emmy Awards
1953 Best Comedian Winner
Recommended Lists:

See the events in life of Jimmy Durante in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Jimmy Durante Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com

People Also Viewed

Taylor Swift Biography
Taylor Swift
Olivia Rodrigo Biography
Olivia Rodrigo
Selena Gomez Biography
Selena Gomez
Tom Cruise Biography
Tom Cruise
Elvis Presley Biography
Elvis Presley
Dwayne Johnson Biography
Dwayne Johnson