Bill Dana (October 5, 1924 – June 15, 2017) was a veteran comedian, actor and screenwriter. He often appeared on television shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show, frequently in the guise of a heavily accented Puerto Rican character named José Jiménez. Dana often portrayed the Jiménez character as an astronaut. On The Golden Girls as Sophia's brother and Dorothy's uncle Angelo Grisanti, who appeared in seven episodes from seasons 3 to 7. Dana also appeared as Sophia's father in a season 4 episode. He played Sophia's father as Don Angelo Grisanti, Sr..
Life and career
Dana was born William Szathmary in Quincy, Massachusetts. He is of Hungarian-Jewish descent. He took his stage name "Dana" after his mother's first name "Dina" as he felt "Szathmary" was unpronouncable. He served in the US Infantry during World War II. Later, he was part of the team Dana and Wood on television and in supper clubs.
Dana began his career as a page at NBC's famous Studio 6B while performing comedy in nightclubs around New York with partner Gene Wood. In the 1950s, he performed on The Imogene Coca Show, The Danny Thomas Show and The Martha Raye Show, as well as writing for and producing The Spike Jones Show.
Dana's career took a major turn when he began writing stand-up routines for the young comedian Don Adams, including the now well-known "Would you believe?" jokes popularized by Get Smart. From there, he was brought in as a writer for The Steve Allen Show, where he created the José Jiménez character for the show's "Man in the Street" segments.
On an Ed Sullivan Show appearance, Dana related a story of how a woman recognized him on the street, but only knew him as José Jiménez, and asked what his real name was. Instead of his stage name, "Bill Dana", he gave her his real name, "William Szathmary". The woman rejoined: "Wow, no wonder you changed it to Jiménez!"
In the NBC sitcom The Bill Dana Show (1963–1965), a spinoff of The Danny Thomas Show, Dana's José Jiménez character became a bumbling bellhop at a posh New York hotel. His snooty, irritable boss was played by Jonathan Harris. The cast also included Don Adams as a hopelessly inept house detective.
Before appearing in front of a television camera for the first time on The Steve Allen Show in 1959, Dana had been a prolific comedy writer, an activity he continued into the 1980s, producing material for other actors on stage and screen. Dana co-wrote the script for the Get Smart theatrical film The Nude Bomb. His brother, Irving Szathmary, wrote the famous theme for the Get Smart television series.
In 1966, Dana wrote the animated TV-movie Alice in Wonderland (or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?), in which he also supplied the voice of The White Knight (using his José Jiménez voice). That same year, the Jiménez character was animated for the Paramount cartoon I Want My Mummy, written by Dana in collaboration with Howard Post.
In May 1967, Dana hosted his own late-night talk show, The Las Vegas Show, on the new United Network. Originated live from the Hotel Hacienda in Las Vegas, Nevada, the program was cancelled by the end of May when the United Network folded.
Joey Forman's 1968 parody album about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, called The Mashuganishi Yogi ("mashugana" meaning crazy or bizarre in Yiddish), was produced by Dana, and includes a cameo of Dana as Jiménez, as well as a cover appearance. The album is a mock news conference, an extended question-and-answer session. The ersatz Puerto Rican–accented Jiménez asks the ersatz Indian-accented Yogi: "Why do you talk so funny?"
In 1970, responding to changing times, Dana stopped portraying the José Jiménez character; however, he played the character again on the 1988 revival of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. Dana wrote the script for possibly the best known episode of the hit sitcom All in the Family, entitled "Sammy's Visit", which featured Sammy Davis Jr.
The José Jiménez character was part of several scenes in the 1983 film The Right Stuff. The government officials watch The Ed Sullivan Show before recruiting the Navy pilots. Sullivan is talking to Jiménez. ("Is that your crash helmet?" "Oh, I hope not!") Later during medical testing, a large, Hispanic worker (played by NFL offensive tackle Anthony Muñoz) in the hospital observes Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) being perhaps a little too amused by the character. The hospital worker gets a measure of revenge when it comes time for Shepard to receive an enema.
Bill would also soon have a recurring role on The Golden Girls as Sophia Petrillo's brother Angelo. He also played her grandfather in a flashback. In addition, he played Wendell Balaban on Too Close for Comfort, as well as Howie Mandel's father on the series St. Elsewhere.
Dana reprised the role of Bernardo the servant on the CBS TV series Zorro and Son, but his performance was different from Gene Sheldon's silence on the 1950s live-action show. Both series were produced by Walt Disney Productions.
- Matz, Jenni. "Biography of Bill Dana". merson College. http://www.emerson.edu/academics/academic-services/library/archives/american-comedy-archives/bill-dana. Retrieved 13 April 2012.
- Nesteroff, Kliph Bill Dana Interview Classic Television Showbiz February 18, 2011
- "Writer". IMDB. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081249/fullcredits#writers. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
- "Piano Music Composed by Irving Szathmary". http://www.encoremusic.com/piano/composer_sep_Irving+Szathmary.html. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
- "Alice in Wonderland". http://www.kiddiematinee.com/a-alice66c.html. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
- "New late show to debut tonight", Rick Dubrow, Monessen Valley Independent (via UPI), 1 May 1967
- "Dana Clarifying Downfall of The Las Vegas Show", Bob Thomas, Nashua Telegraph (via AP), 7 June 1967
- "Sammy's Visit". TV.com. http://www.tv.com/all-in-the-family/sammys-visit/episode/23390/summary.html. Retrieved 24 January 2010.
- Bill Cotter: Zorro and Son
- An interview with Bill Dana, February 2011
- Bill Dana biography by Hal Erickson at allmovieguide
- Bill Dana biography at corporateartists.com, with images
- Bill Dana at the Internet Movie Database
- Bill Dana talks about All in the Family
- Bill Dana biography by the American Comedy Archives from his alma mater