James Francis Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) was an American comedian, actor, singer, and pianist. His distinctive gravelly speech, thick New York accent, comic language-butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and prominent nose helped to make him one of America's most familiar and popular entertainers from the 1920s through the '70s. He often referred to his nose as the schnozzola—an Italianization of the American Yiddish slang word schnoz (big nose)—and the word became his nickname.
Durante was born on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He was the youngest of four children born to Rosa (Lentino) and Bartolomeo Durante, both of whom were immigrants from Salerno, Italy. He caught the performing bug early, dropping out of school in the seventh grade to become a full-time ragtime pianist. He first played with his cousin, whose name was also Jimmy Durante. It was a family act, but he was too professional for his cousin. He continued working the city's piano bar circuit, earning the nickname "ragtime Jimmy", before joining one of the first recognizable jazz bands in New York, the Original New Orleans Jazz Band.
By the mid-1920s, Durante had become a vaudeville star and radio personality as part of a trio called Clayton, Jackson and Durante. By 1934, he had a major hit record with his own novelty composition, "Inka Dinka Doo", which became his theme song for the rest of his life.
His prolific career continued for five decades across film, stage, radio, television, and records, making such an impression that people came to instantly recognize his prominent nose and gruff voice in animated parodies, even if they couldn’t name the actor himself.
Durante retired from performing in 1972 after he became wheelchair-bound following a stroke. He died of pneumonia in Santa Monica, California on January 29, 1980, 12 days before he would have turned 87. He received Catholic funeral rites four days later, with fellow entertainers including Desi Arnaz, Ernest Borgnine, Marty Allen, and Jack Carter in attendance, and was interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.
- Roadhouse Nights (1930) as Daffy
- New Adventures of Get Rich Quick Wallingford (1931) as Schnozzle
- The Christmas Party (1931) (short subject) as Santa Claus (uncredited)
- The Cuban Love Song (1931) as O.O. Jones
- Jackie Cooper's Birthday Party (1931) (short subject)
- Hollywood on Parade: Down Memory Lane (1932) (short subject)
- Hollywood on Parade (1932) (short subject)
- The Passionate Plumber (1932) as Julius J. McCracken
- The Wet Parade (1932) as Abe Shilling
- Speak Easily (1932) as James
- Blondie of the Follies (1932) as Jimmy
- The Phantom President (1932) as Curly Cooney
- Le plombier amoureux (1932) as Tony
- Give a Man a Job (1933) (short subject)
- What! No Beer? (1933) as Jimmy Potts
- Hollywood on Parade No. 9 (1933) (short subject)
- Hell Below (1933) as Ptomaine, Ship's Cook
- Broadway to Hollywood (1933) as Himself, Hollywood Character
- Meet the Baron (1933) as Joe McGoo - the Favorite 'Schnozzle' of the Screen
- Palooka (1934) as Knobby Walsh
- George White's Scandals (1934) as Happy McGillicuddy
- Strictly Dynamite (1934) as Moxie
- Hollywood Party (1934) as Durante/Schnarzan
- Student Tour (1934) as Hank Merman, Trainer of the Crew
- Carnival (1935) as Fingers
- Land Without Music (1936) as Jonah J. Whistler
- Start Cheering (1938) as Willie Gumbatz
- Sally, Irene and Mary (1938) as Jefferson Twitchel
- Little Miss Broadway (1938) as Jimmy Clayton
- Melody Ranch (1940) as Cornelius J. Courtney
- You're in the Army Now (1941) as Jeeper Smith
- The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) as Banjo
- Two Girls and a Sailor (1944) as Billy Kipp
- Music for Millions (1944) as Andrews
- Ziegfeld Follies (1945) (scenes deleted)
- Two Sisters from Boston (1946) as Spike
- It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) as Nick Lombardi
- This Time for Keeps (1947) as Ferdi Farro
- On an Island with You (1948) as Buckley
- The Great Rupert (1950) as Mr. Louie Amendola
- The Milkman (1950) as Breezy Albright
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Premiere (1955) (short subject) as Himself
- The Heart of Show Business (1957) (short subject) as Himself
- Beau James (1957) as Himself (cameo, uncredited)
- Pepe (1960) as Himself (cameo)
- The Last Judgment (1961) as The man with the large nose
- Billy Rose's Jumbo (1962) as Anthony 'Pop' Wonder
- It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) as "Smiler" Grogan
- Frosty the Snowman (1969) as Himself, Narrator (voice)
- Catchphrase: Several, including "I got a million of 'em!", "Everybody wants to get into the act!", "Stop the music!", and "That's my boy that said that!"
- His radio and television shows ended with the cryptic Signing Off Catchphrase "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!"note
- Cover Album: In the 1960s Durante found unexpected success as a crooner of traditional pop standards on a series of bestselling albums.
- Double Act:
- Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made a brief, unsuccessful attempt to fashion one of these by pairing Durante with Buster Keaton in the early '30s.
- Durante had a much more successful one on radio with Garry Moore in the '40s.
- Everyone Has Standards: Due to the bullying he received growing up due to his nose, he made a point of never mocking anyone else's appearance or other things he imagined they were sensitive or had been ostracized over.
- Gag Nose: His schnozzola is one of the most recognizable examples from the vaudeville era.
- Ink-Suit Actor: As the narrator in Frosty the Snowman.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Durante was easily the most imitated celebrity during The Golden Age of Animation. He has been impersonated by the likes of Mickey Mouse, Popeye the Sailor and Tweety, and at least three major characters — Terrytoons' Sourpuss, Hanna-Barbera's Doggie Daddy, and Spike in the Tom and Jerry shorts — are based directly on him.
- Muppet performer Jerry Nelson also used Durante's voice as the basis for Herry Monster.
- Signature Headgear: His trademark battered fedora.