Don Ameche (//; 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 in 1935.
Dominic Felix Amici
May 31, 1908
|Died||December 6, 1993 (aged 85)|
|Resting place||Resurrection Cemetery|
Asbury, Iowa, US
|Alma mater||University of Wisconsin|
(m. 1932; died 1986)
|Relatives||Jim Ameche (brother)|
Alan Ameche (cousin)
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 (1985).
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, Irish, and German ancestry. Ameche was the second-oldest of eight children; 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 in 1954.
Ameche had done well in college dramatics at the University of Wisconsin, 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".
According to one biography, Ameche then moved to Chicago, where "he began a radio career in 1930 on Empire Builders, a program broadcast from the Merchandise Mart. By 1932, Ameche had become the leading man on two other Chicago-based programs: the dramatic anthology First Nighter and Betty and Bob, considered by many to be the forerunner of the soap-opera genre."
Brought to Hollywood by 20th-Century Fox producer Darryl Zanuck, Ameche played mostly romantic leads paired with many of the top female stars of the era. In 1939, Ameche played the title character in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939). It led to the use of the word "ameche" as juvenile slang for a telephone, 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.'" Such an identity between Ameche and the telephone was forged, that in the 1940 film Go West, Groucho Marx proclaims, "Telephone? This is 1870, Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet."
Ameche was Alice 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 stars of Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda. In 1940, he was voted the 21st-most-popular star in Hollywood.
Ameche did Happy Land (1943), Wing and a Prayer (1944), and Greenwich Village (1944). In 1944, he reportedly earned $247,677 for 1943, making him the second highest earner at 20th Century Fox after Spyros Skouras.
Following his appearances as announcer and sketch participant on The Chase and Sanborn Hour, Ameche 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.
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."
From 1946 to 1949, Ameche, with other Los Angeles entertainment figures including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, was a co-owner of the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference, a rival to the National Football League. He was instrumental in forming and leading the ownership group the year before play began and initially served as team president.
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.
Ameche was Roman Catholic. A Republican, he supported the campaign of Thomas Dewey in the 1944 United States presidential election and Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election.
On December 6, 1993, Ameche died at his son Don, Jr.'s house in Scottsdale, Arizona of prostate cancer at age 85. He was cremated and his ashes are buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa.
Film / TVEdit
|1935||Clive of India||Prisoner in the Black Hole||Uncredited|
|1935||Dante's Inferno||Man in Stoke-Hold||Uncredited|
|1936||Sins of Man||Karl Freyman / Mario Signarelli|
|1936||Ladies in Love||Dr. Rudi Imre|
|1936||One in a Million||Bob Harris|
|1937||Love Is News||Martin J. Canavan|
|1937||Fifty Roads to Town||Peter Nostrand|
|1937||You Can't Have Everything||George Macrae|
|1937||Love Under Fire||Tracy Egan|
|1938||In Old Chicago||Jack O'Leary|
|1938||Happy Landing||Jimmy Hall|
|1938||Alexander's Ragtime Band||Charlie Dwyer|
|1938||Josette||David Brassard Jr.|
|1939||The Three Musketeers||D'Artagnan|
|1939||The Story of Alexander Graham Bell||Alexander Graham Bell|
|1939||Hollywood Cavalcade||Michael Linnett 'Mike' Connors|
|1939||Swanee River||Stephen Foster|
|1940||Lillian Russell||Edward Solomon|
|1940||Four Sons||Chris Bern|
|1940||Down Argentine Way||Ricardo Quintana|
|1941||That Night in Rio||Impersonator Larry Martin / Baron Manuel Duarte|
|1941||Moon Over Miami||Phil O'Neil (Credits) / Phil 'Mac' McNeil (in Film)|
|1941||Kiss the Boys Goodbye||Lloyd Lloyd|
|1941||The Feminine Touch||Prof. John Hathaway|
|1941||Confirm or Deny||'Mitch' Mitchell|
|1942||The Magnificent Dope||Dwight Dawson|
|1942||Girl Trouble||Pedro Sullivan|
|1943||Something to Shout About||Ken Douglas|
|1943||Heaven Can Wait||Henry Van Cleve|
|1943||Happy Land||Lew Marsh|
|1944||Wing and a Prayer||Flight Cmdr. Bingo Harper|
|1944||Greenwich Village||Kenneth Harvey|
|1945||It's in the Bag!||Don, A Singing Waiter||(cameo appearance)|
|1945||Guest Wife||Joseph Jefferson 'Joe' Parker|
|1946||So Goes My Love||Hiram Stephen Maxim|
|1947||That's My Man||Joe Grange|
|1948||Sleep, My Love||Richard W. Courtland|
|1949||Slightly French||John Gayle|
|1954||Phantom Caravan||Lawrence Evans|
|1961||A Fever in the Blood||Senator Alex S. Simon|
|1966||Rings Around the World||Himself|
|1966||Picture Mommy Dead||Edward Shelley|
|1970||The Boatniks||Commander Taylor|
|1970||Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came||Col. Flanders|
|1971||Columbo||Frank Simpson||Episode: "Suitable for Framing"|
|1983||Trading Places||Mortimer Duke|
|1985||Cocoon||Art Selwyn||Won Oscar for Best Supporting Actor|
|1986||A Masterpiece of Murder||Frank Aherne||TV movie|
|1987||Pals||Art Riddle / Arthur James Van Pelt||TV movie|
|1987||Harry and the Hendersons||Dr. Wallace Wrightwood|
|1988||Coming to America||Mortimer Duke||Cameo|
|1988||Cocoon: The Return||Art Selwyn|
|1990||Oddball Hall||G. Paul Siebriese|
|1990||The Golden Girls||Brother Martin||Episode: "Once in St. Olaf"|
|1993||Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey||Shadow||Voice|
|1994||Corrina, Corrina||Grandpa Harry||(final film role)|
- Screen Snapshots: Stars at the Tropical Ice Gardens (1939)
- Weekend in Hollywood (1947)
- Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Night at 21 Club (1952)
- Hazel Flagg (1954)
- Silk Stockings (1955)
- Holiday for Lovers (1957)
- Goldilocks (1958)
- 13 Daughters (1961)
- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1966)
- Henry, Sweet Henry (1967)
- The Moon Is Blue (1972)
- No, No, Nanette (1972)
- Never Get Smart with an Angel (1977)
- Mame (1978)
- Life With Father (1979)
- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1981)
- Our Town (1989) (replacement for Spalding Gray)
|1940||Lux Radio Theatre||Manhattan Melodrama|
|1947||Family Theater||"Flight from Home"|
- "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.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
- Critchlow, Donald T. (2013). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. ISBN 9781107650282.
- Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, p. 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Don Ameche.|