Comedian, writer, and screenwriter Bill Dana (born William Szathmary), has died at the age of ninety-two.
Once again, I seem to have the Kiss of Death. I talk or think about a person whom I haven't thought about in quite a while, and soon learn that he or she has died, or then discover that he or she has recently died.
At my flea market stand, one of the items I have for sale is the album pictured below, José Jimenez in Orbit (Bill Dana on Earth). Just last Sunday, my display of this LP prompted not one, but two conversations about Bill Dana. One was with a gentleman who assumed that Mr. Dana was dead, but I promptly corrected him, informing him that the comedian, now ninety-two, was still alive. And as far as I knew, I was right; the news outlets had yet to report that Bill Dana had died on Thursday, the 15th.
Starting in 1959 and continuing throughout the 1960s, Dana appeared as José Jimenez, a somewhat simple-minded Bolivian (or Mexican, as has often been stated) character who spoke broken English and was an astronaut at one point in his fictional history. The character was warmly embraced by the real U.S. Mercury astronauts (not to mention a very young Silver Fox). Dana portrayed Jimenez until 1970, when it was decided that the character was too stereotypical, this in spite of the fact that "José" was actually relatively well-accepted by Latinos (well, depending on whose version you believe).
Early in his entertainment career, Dana had written routines for stand-up comic Don Adams. When Dana got his own show in the mid-1960s, Dana played José Jimenez as a bellhop. Adams was hired to play a hotel detective named Byron Glick. After The Bill Dana Show was cancelled, Adams took Glick's persona with him to play Maxwell Smart on Get Smart. (Bill Dana's brother Irving Szathmary wrote the Get Smart theme, yet another Don Adams connection.) Dana also co-wrote Don Adams' 1980's Get Smart movie, The Nude Bomb... which was just that, a "bomb."
Among many other credits in his long career, Dana wrote "Sammy's Visit," the well-known and incredibly popular episode of All in the Family which featured Sammy Davis, Jr. In the 1980s, Dana appeared as the father to Howie Mandel's character of Dr. Wayne Fiscus on St. Elsewhere. (Odd that I found out about Mr. Dana's passing on the same day that I heard about the death of Stephen Furst, who appeared on St. Elsewhere as a regular.) Dana later played Estelle Getty's brother on The Golden Girls.
With Danny Thomas.
With Ed Sullivan.
In a cameo appearance as José Jimenez on Batman.
Sorry I couldn't find a shot that actually included Batman!
With Steve Allen.
With buddy Don Adams on The Bill Dana Show.
As Bernardo in Walt Disney Television's Zorro and Son,
a comical sequel to their 1950s Zorro series, which premiered
in 1983. Dana is flanked by Paul Regina and Henry Darrow.
With Adams, Jonathan Harris (later of Lost in Space), and Maggie Peterson.
With "son" Howie Mandel on St. Elsewhere.
With Estelle Getty on The Golden Girls.
Now, I have to wonder, who's next? Celebrities who've been running through my mind one way or another lately are Carl Reiner (who's ninety-five), Norman Lear (who's ninety-four), and yet another St. Elsewhere alumnus, Norman Lloyd (who's 102)! Watch this space.
Thanks for your time.