Jimmy Durante and Donald O'Connor
starred on Texaco Star Theater
on alternate weeks
during the 1954-55 season.
fresh from successful runs hosting The
Colgate Comedy Hour, Jimmy Durante and Donald O'Connor
moved over to Saturday nights to alternate on Texaco Star
Theater, a program that in previous seasons had been headlined
by Milton Berle. On the face of it, juxtaposing these two entertainers
seemed like a study in contrasts. Durante was the elder statesman
of show business, with roots going all the way back to vaudeville.
O'Connor, buoyed by hit movies like Singin' in the Rain
and Call Me Madam (not to mention the "Francis"
films), was the fresh young face bursting with talent. But on
closer inspection, the differences between the two weren't so
stark. A professional entertainer since the age of 13 months,
O'Connor was already a seasoned veteran. And much of his act
drew on the same kind of vaudeville schtick as Durante's.
new show, both stars carried over elements from the Comedy
Hour. For O'Connor, it was the segments with Sid Miller,
in which the two played a struggling songwriting team that,
in the course of the show, ended up singing, dancing, and doing
comedy. Joyce Smight was seen as their secretary Doreen.
The Comedy Hour, Durante set his show at the Club Durant,
a real nightclub founded in 1924 and co-owned by Durante. The
setting gave him a chance to develop a story, as well as perform
his regular act. Known as "The Shnozzola" because
of his large nose, Durante had a gruff voice, heavily accented
in Brooklyn-ese. Faultlessly loyal to his old vaudeville buddies,
the Schnozz featured Eddie Jackson (of Clayton, Jackson, and
Durante), pianist Jules Buffano, drummer Jack Roth, and bandleader
Roy Bargy in almost every episode. Each show ended in the dressing
room with Durante putting on his hat and coat as he sang "goodnight,
goodnight, goodnight." Then he'd tell the audience about
the next show and close with, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash,
wherever you are." As the credits rolled, he'd walk through
a series of spotlights.
The Colgate Comedy Hour, Texaco Star Theater was
pre-empted every fourth week by a special (called a "spectacular"
in those days). O'Connor's episodes were mostly, if not all,
filmed, while Durante's were a combination of live and on film.
The two stars alternated throughout the 1954-55 season, but
in the fall of 1955, O'Connor left and Durante took over the
time slot, lasting one more season. In the summer of 1957, selected
episodes of Durante's show were rerun on CBS, sponsored by Old
Night, Mrs. Calabash
his various radio and TV shows, Jimmy Durante would always
close with, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever
you are." Despite repeated inquiries, Durante declined
to reveal the identity of this mysterious person. Some
speculated that she was an old flame; others believed
he simply made up the name. Residents of Calabash, North
Carolina believe she was a local restauranteur befriended
by Durante in 1940. The book Hollywood Trivia (Greenwich
House, 1984) by David P. Strauss makes the claim that
the lady in question was Durante's first wife Jeanne and
that Calabash was the name of a Chicago suburb she liked.
But a search on mapquest.com reveals no such place. Comedian
Sonny King, who worked with Durante, confirmed that Mrs.
Calabash was indeed Jeanne but that that was just her
quirky way of saying "Calabasas, California."
With the entertainer himself long gone, the truth will
probably never be known.