; born Dominic Felix Amici
; May 31, 1908 – December 6, 1993)
was an American actor, comedian and vaudevillian. After playing in college shows, stock
, and vaudeville
, he became a major radio star in the early 1930s, which led to the offer of a movie contract from 20th Century Fox
As a handsome, debonair leading man
in 40 films over the next 14 years, he starred in comedies, dramas, and musicals. In the 1950s he worked on Broadway and in television, and was the host of NBC's International Showtime
from 1961 to 1965. Returning to film work in his later years, Ameche enjoyed a fruitful revival of his career beginning with his role as a villain in Trading Places
(1983) and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
for his performance in Cocoon
Don Ameche was born as Dominic Felix Amici
on May 31, 1908, in Kenosha, Wisconsin
. His father, Felice Amici, was a bartender from Montemonaco
, Ascoli Piceno
, Marche, Italy
. His mother, Barbara Etta Hertel, was of Scottish
, and German
He had three brothers, Umberto (Bert), James (Jim Ameche
), and Louis, and four sisters, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary and Anna.
Ameche attended Marquette University
, Loras College
, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison
, where his cousin Alan Ameche
played football and won the Heisman Trophy
Ameche had intended to study law, but he found theater more interesting and decided on a stage career.
Ameche had done well in college dramatics at Marquette University, and when a lead actor for a stock company production of Excess Baggage
did not turn up, a friend persuaded him to stand in for the missing actor. He enjoyed the experience and got a juvenile lead in Jerry For Short
in New York, followed by a tour in vaudeville
with Texas Guinan
until she dropped him from the act, dismissing him as "too stiff".
20th Century Fox
Ameche made his film debut in an uncredited bit part in Dante's Inferno
(1935) produced by Fox Corporation. Fox then turned into 20th Century Fox
with the studio placing Ameche under long-term contract.
The Story of Alexander Graham Bell
Back at Fox, Ameche played the title character
in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell
(1939). It led to the use of the word, "ameche", as slang for telephone in common catchphrases, as noted by Mike Kilen in the Iowa City Gazette
(December 8, 1993): "The film prompted a generation to call people to the telephone with the phrase: 'You're wanted on the Ameche.'"
In the film Go West
(1940), Groucho Marx
proclaims, "Telephone? This is 1870, Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet." While in Ball of Fire
(1941), Barbara Stanwyck
's character discusses the "ameche" slang usage, "Do you know what this means: I'll get you on the Ameche."
Ameche was Faye's leading man in Hollywood Cavalcade
(1939), then played another real-life figure, Stephen Foster
, in Swanee River
(1939). He did a third biopic, Lillian Russell
(1940) with Faye, and was top billed in a war film, Four Sons
(1940), and a musical, Down Argentine Way
(1940), which helped make a star of Betty Grable
and Carmen Miranda
. In 1940, he was voted the 21st-most-popular star in Hollywood.
Ameche in 1946
Ameche played so many roles based on real people that on one of his radio broadcasts, Fred Allen
joked, "Pretty soon, Don Ameche will be playing Don Ameche." Soon afterwards, in It's in the Bag!
(1945), which starred Allen, Ameche indeed played himself in a bit part.
Ameche was a major radio entertainer, heard on such shows as Empire Builders
, The First Nighter Program
, Family Theater
, and the Betty and Bob
soap opera. Following his appearances as announcer and sketch participant on The Chase and Sanborn Hour
, he achieved memorable success during the late 1940s playing opposite Frances Langford
in The Bickersons
, the Philip Rapp
radio comedy series about a combative married couple. It began on NBC
in 1946, moving to CBS
the following year. He also had his own program, The Old Gold Don Ameche Show
, on NBC Red in the early 1940s.
Ameche starred in Silk Stockings
(1955–56) on Broadway, which ran for 478 performances. Holiday for Lovers
(1957) ran for 100 performances. Both were turned into films but Ameche did not reprise his stage performance. He was in Goldilocks
(1958–59) which went for 161 performances.
Ameche as the host of International Showtime in 1962
Ameche's best-known television role came between 1961 and 1965, when he traveled throughout Europe with a television videotape unit and camera crew to cover a different European resident circus or ice show that was taped for presentation on a weekly series titled International Showtime
on NBC television. Ameche was present at each circus or ice show taped for the series, and was seen as host and commentator. His "anchor position" was in the grandstands at the particular show being taped. Sometimes, when one of the star acts of a particular show spoke English, Ameche would interview him or her and the interview would appear during the program.
He was also a frequent panelist on the 1950s version of To Tell The Truth,
often alternating with his future Trading Places
co-star, Ralph Bellamy.
Trading Places and Cocoon
Ameche and fellow veteran actor Ralph Bellamy
were eventually cast in John Landis
's Trading Places
(1983), playing rich brothers intent on ruining an innocent man for the sake of a one-dollar bet. In an interview some years later on Larry King Live
, co-star Jamie Lee Curtis
said that Ameche, a proper old-school actor, went to everyone on the set ahead of time to apologize when he was called to start cursing in the film. In addition, he only agreed to say "Fuck him!" when referring to Randolph, Bellamy's character, having a heart attack in the climatic part of the movie if they could get it in one take, as he refused to say the line again. (It was the only time he ever said the f-bomb in a movie in his life.)
He earned good reviews for the David Mamet and Shel Silverstein-penned Things Change
(1988); The New York Times
said that he showed "the kind of great comic aplomb that wins actors awards for other than sentimental reasons."
He returned to Broadway to appear in a revival of Our Town
Despite his advancing age, Ameche remained busy. He had credited roles in a feature film every year for the last decade of his life except 1986 (although he starred in the TV movie A Masterpiece of Murder
with Bob Hope
that year) and attributed his continued productivity to an active lifestyle, which included regular six-mile walks. He said in a 1988 interview, "How many actors in their 20s and 30s do you know that have two pictures being released by major studios in one year?" (referring to Cocoon
and Things Change
Ameche was married to Honore Prendergast from 1932 until her death in 1986.
They had six children.
One, Ron Ameche, owned a restaurant, "Ameche's Pumpernickel" in Coralville, Iowa
. He had two daughters, Connie and Bonnie. Ameche's younger brother, Jim Ameche
, also a well-known actor, died in 1983 at the age of 67.
His brother Bert was an architect who worked for the U.S. Navy in Port Hueneme, California, and then the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles, California.
- Screen Snapshots: Stars at the Tropical Ice Gardens (1939)
- Weekend in Hollywood (1947)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Night at 21 Club (1952)
In popular culture
- ^ "Ameche, Don". Who Was Who in America, 1993–1996, vol. 11. New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 5. ISBN 0-8379-0225-8.
- ^ Parker, John. "Who's who in the Theatre". Pitman. Retrieved 16 December 2018 – via Google Books.
- ^ Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times.
- ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2012-04-06.
- ^ 1930 U.S. Federal Census; Kenosha, Kenosha, Wisconsin; Roll: 2577; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0017; Image: 716.0; FHL microfilm: 2342311
- ^ "Ancestry.com". content.ancestry.com. Retrieved 2010-03-23.[permanent dead link]
- ^ Ian Herbert, ed. (1981). "AMECHE, Don". Who's Who in the Theatre. 1. Gale Research Company. p. 15. ISSN 0083-9833.
- ^ Palmer, R. Barton. "Don Ameche" in Thomas, Nicholas ed. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Vol. 3: Actors and Actresses, Detroit: St. James Press, 1992. p. 9.
- ^ Kilen, Mike. "Ameche's son in Iowa City recalls dad's legacy of joy". Iowa City Gazette. 8 December 1993.
- ^ "FILM WORLD". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 14 February 1941. p. 16. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
- ^ "Don Ameche's $246,677". Weekly Variety. 5 July 1944. p. 3.
- ^ "Friday's Highlights" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. 14 (3): 52. July 1940. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
- ^ Canby, Vincent. Things Change (1988)October 21, 1988 Review/Film; Mamet's Unwiseguys", New York Times movie review.
- ^ Crowe, Jerry (2006-09-13). "The Dons of L.A. Pro Sports". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- ^ "AAFC Chronology" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-17. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- ^ "The Coffin Corner Vol. 25 No. 6: Welcome To L.A." (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- ^ a b Myrna Oliver (1993-12-08). "From the Archives: Don Ameche, Dapper Film Star, Dies at 85". latimes.com. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
- ^ By Peter B. Flint (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
- ^ By AP (1993-12-08). "Jim Ameche Dies at 68; First 'Jack Armstrong'". nytimes.com. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
- ^ Ebert, Roger. "'Things Change' for Don Ameche - Interviews - Roger Ebert". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
- ^ Critchlow, Donald T. (2013-10-21). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. ISBN 9781107650282.
- ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
- ^ Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer. BNET. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
- ^ Heise, Kenan (1993-12-08). "Oscar-winning Actor Don Ameche, 85". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-11-07.
- ^ Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-07.
- ^ Wilson, Scott (19 August 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476625997. Retrieved 16 December 2018 – via Google Books.
- ^ "Coming to America Full Cast and Crew". Internet Movie Database.
- ^ "5 Best Cameos in Film History". What Culture Ltd.
- ^ Tara Aquino (16 April 2016). "10 Royal Facts About 'Coming to America'". New York City: Mental Floss, Inc.
- ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 37 (1): 32. Winter 2011.
- ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.
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