The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

8Jul/122

Book Review: Inka Dinka Doo

In Inka Dinka Doo, Jhan Robbins writes a biography of Jimmy Durante, beginning with his birth to a large immigrant family in the family’s kitchen to his early days playing dives in New York as a ragtime piano players to vaudeville success and motion picture hits and misses all the way to his death in 1980.

To Robbins, its a mystery. In the introduction, he lays out well what the mystery is, "Durante wasn't a singer like Sinatra any more than he was a comic technician like Bob Hope. He lacked the polish of Johnny Carson, the bluntness of Humphrey Bogart.  When malapropisms and errors were deliberately inserted into his scripts he would mispronounce the mispronunciations. Other entertainers squeezed laughs out of vulgarity but not he. What was his secret?"

Robbins had gotten to know Durante over more than 20 years. The book is chock full of stories that tell the tale of Durante’s uncommon decency and kindness. Robbins' book could seem one-sided but as Robbins stated, he looked desperately to find Durante detractors but couldn't find any. The secret to Durante's success was his genuine warmth and heart which spills out over the nearly 200 pages in Inka Dinka Doo. 

We learn of Durante's closest and deepest friendships with his longtime partners Lou Clayton and Eddie Jackson as well as Eddie Cantor. His rocky career during Prohibition and his even bumpier landing at MGM in the 1930s where he continually drew forgettable roles even after getting a high dollar star contract.  We learn of his career on radio and triumphant entry into the new age of television.

The book is littered with anecdotes that show Durante's heart and spirit. Durante was an extremely friendly person. In fact, Hollywood tour buses made a point to stop by his house knowing that he would run out and greet the bus, sometimes with a pitcher of lemonade to sell. It was Durante's friendliness that got him out of the speakeasy business as an undercover prohibition agent came to the door and asked for him. Durante came down and the agent greeted him by name and Durante responded warmly. Then the agent complained of not being admitted and Durante let the guy in and the agent gathered evidence and the The Club Durant was shuttered the next evening.

Robbins also wrote of Durante's loyalty and concern for others. When a fading Buster Keaton was released by MGM, Durante pleaded with Louie B Mayer on Keaton's behalf and won Keaton's reinstatement. When attending  a Dodgers' game, Durante silenced a heckler who was mocking young future Hall of Fame Catcher Roy Campanella because he was black. Durante was kind and considerate even though he pronounced Campanella's name as "Cantorbella."

The book is full of such stories and makes for a light and engaging read with chapters slice up perfectly in digestible chunks.

I'd offer two criticisms of the book. First, I think Robbins did a bit of an injustice to both Durante's first wife (who left Durante a widower in 1943) in the degree of his negative portrayal of her. Much of the source material for this information appears to be Durante's longtime friend Eddie Jackson who the first Mrs. Durante didn't get along with. What Robbins ended up with was a somewhat one side portrayal of Jeanne Durante. In addition, as Robbins stated, Durante never criticized or spoke negatively of Jeanne and so Robbins' portrayal of Jeanne wasn't quite in the spirit of Schnozolla.

In addition, the book has a somewhat uneven quality to it. For example, Robbins writes in painstaking detail about the one flop after another that MGM put Durante into. He then tells us that Durante's pictures from the mid-1940s were better, but mentions no film by name between In the Army Now (1941) and The Last Judgment (1961). The book also tells us little about Durante's latter day career as a ballad singer, a remarkable new direction for his that occurred at age 66.  Of course, Inka Dinka Doo was released before Sleepless in Seattle which created new interest in Durante's ballads with Durante's performance of "As Time   Goes By" and "Make Someone Happy" featuring prominently in the film.

Overall, there's more to Durante's life and career than this 200-page volume provides, however Robbins wrote with obvious affection for his subject and this book is not a bad place to start if you're interested in learning about one of America's best-loved entertainers. The book is out of print but may be available at your library (or through an interlibrary loan) or also as a used book through Amazon.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0 stars.

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.

24Jun/120

MP3 Download Review: The Very Best of Song

Recently, I was at a Doctor’s office and on TV was America’s Got Talent was on. Over a montage of auditions, the voice of Jimmy Durante was heard singing, “If You’re Young at Heart.”

Even though he’s been dead more than 30 years and hasn’t performed in nearly 40, Durante remains one of the most enduring and endearing characters of the golden age. His unique musical styling includes ragtime and vaudeville songs mixed with heartfelt renditions of songs such as, “As Times Goes By” which helped to set the tone for the 1990s hit, Sleepless in Seattle.

Listening to old time radio programs, you’ll stumble onto Durante singing one of his songs such as, “Inka a Dinka Doo” and many of his songs can be found on YouTube. However, I decided I wanted to have a collection of essential Durante songs on my Ipod and the best value I could find was a 2010 collection called, The Very Best Songs.

The 35 track collection does a great job of covering Durante's varied career. It includes most of Durante's most well-known recordings hits from the late 1950s and 60s including "When Time Goes By", "Make Someone Happy", "Hello Young Lovers," "Young at Heart," and "September Song."  It also includes "Inka Dinka Doo" and "Frosty the Snowman." In addition, the CD features several high quality audio encodes of radio and television appearances,  so the program also features   Jimmy singing on various tracks with Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, and his old Vaudeville partner Eddie Jackson.  In addition, the CD includes a couple of rare 1950s commercial releases that were done with Groucho Marx, Danny Kaye, and Jane Wyman singing the ever catchy "Black Strap Molasses" and "How D'ye Do And Shake Hands." These two hilariously catchy earworms are worth relistening to.

The tracks are  a showcase of Durante's warmth and talent.  Durante's interaction with Crosby was priceless and he nearly cracked Jolson up on, "The Real Piano Player." He and Bob Hope played very well off one another in, "The Boys with the Proboscis." At the same time, Durante's genuine kindness and humanity comes through and makes his performance of  "September Song"  and "Try a Little Tenderness" particularly poignant.  Others such as "Bill Bailey", "Can Broadway Do Without Me?" and "Chicabee-Ch-Ch" were stirring and delightful.

The collection is not without issues (none of which has to do with Durante's singing). Track 26 is listed as "Quick Step" but is really another version of "Bill Bailey." "Make Someone Happy" is on the CD twice and the last track while listed as, "Start Off Each Day with a Song" but is really an extended duet between Crosby and Durante including portions of three songs. ("Surrender, Bing the Well Dressed Man, and Blue Skies.") This means the CD lacks, "Start off Each Day With a Song" which was Durante theme for many years over radio.  Also MIA are, "Jimmy the Well-Dressed Man" and "Good Night." One odd track is a twenty second clip of Durante's performance on a famous episode of Command Performance as "The Mole." There's also a track with Bing Crosby singing, "Never in a Million Years" with no Durante.

Still, these are minor issues. For $8.99, the collection is a great deal and a great way to start a collection of the Schnozolla's greatest hits.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchaser.
   

Subscribers

Pages

Friends of the Show

GAR Links

Great OTR LInks

Other Old Time Radio Shows

December 2014
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Tags

Categories

Archives