Happy Birthday, Jimmy Durante!

Poetry exposes truths by expanding our vision and getting us to the crux of the matter. Since humor is often the shortest distance between two points, poetry with humor packs a serious punch.

The field of Humor Studies gives us data, analysis, theories and empirical findings about what humor is, where it comes from and why it works. Yet, from my limited perspective––an armchair outside academia––an important question is hiding in plain sight . . . right  under a  legendary nose: What produces a heart like that of comedian Jimmy Durante? Unlock the secret formula, bottle it, sell it . . . and you just might save the world.

Jimmy Durante didn’t write poetry. He was poetry. 

Born on this day in 1893, to Italian immigrants on New York’s lower east side, Durante left school at thirteen to play ragtime piano in saloons. His inimitable style took him to vaudeville; from there to Broadway, radio, motion pictures, television and the record industry. By all accounts, he was one of the kindest, most generous and most highly respected men in show business.

He retired from entertainment after a series of strokes in the 1970s, but continued his charitable work until his death in 1980. Thirty-two years later,  The Jimmy Durante Childrens’ Fund continues to provide significant grant money for child welfare. Although Durante was born in the 19th century, his memory is so much a part of our American tapestry that his voice is down-loadable as a cell phone ring-tone.

Whether you’re unfamiliar with Jimmy Durante, a dyed-in-the-wool fan, or somewhere in between, I think you’ll enjoy this short clip from the film “The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

His off-kilter, masculine-yet-sensitive-vocal performances have become the definitive renditions of several songs. This 1963 recording was featured in the soundtrack of the 1993 romantic comedy, “Sleepless in Seattle.”

2 responses

  1. Yes! If there wasn’t the expression “one of a kind,” it would have to be invented to describe Durante.

  2. He was an entertainer that lacked a great singing voice or a great stage presence, but you had to watch him and you liked him. I still like him.

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