George Givot

George David Givot (February 18, 1903 – June 7, 1984) was a Russian-born American comedian and actor on Broadway and in vaudeville, movies, television and radio. He was known for speaking in a comedic fake Greek dialect and was styled the "Greek Ambassador of Good Will".[1][2] His best known movie role may be as the voice of Tony in the Disney film Lady and the Tramp (1955).

George Givot
George Givot.jpg
Born
George David Givot

(1903-02-18)February 18, 1903
Ekaterinoslav, Russian Empire (now Dnipro, Ukraine)
DiedJune 7, 1984(1984-06-07) (aged 81)
OccupationComedian, actor

Early lifeEdit

Givot stated that he actually did not know who his parents are; he was adopted by a French family when he was three.[3] According to official documents, he was born on 18 February 1903 in Ekaterinoslav[4] (now Dnipro, Ukraine), Russian Empire, to Walf Givistinsky[5] - later William Wolf Givot[6](1875-1955) and Sofya - later Sarah - Givistinsky (née Garber[7]) (1875-1930).[7]

According to the 1910 census,[5] the family emigrated to the US in 1906 and settled in Omaha, Nebraska. They later moved to Chicago, where Givot went to high school and college.[3] His night school journalism instructor became fed up with the class clown and sent him to see the man in charge of the midnight to 3 am broadcasts at a radio station, who hired him.[8] Paul Ash heard Givot perform and gave him his start in vaudeville.[3][8]

Dialect comedianEdit

Givot was one of the earliest, perhaps the earliest,[9] of the Greek dialect comedians, working in vaudeville, nightclubs, film and radio from the 1920s on.[10][11] He had learned some Greek working in a Greek candy store in Omaha as a soda jerk.[3] In 1949, Billboard magazine reviewer Bill Smith panned his performance in one East Side venue ("saw him take the prize for dullness"), but praised him for the same routines in "Billy Rose's mauve decade nitery":[12]

Givot's act is made up of tolerable singing and corn. The latter, dressed up with his Greek dialect, takes on a certain kind of freshness. That, plus Givot's appearance and salesmanship, won him yocks upon yocks. ... Givot is a natural with his Greek malaprops and situation gags.

In 1926, 16-year-old student Helen Britt was taken into custody for trying to blackmail the vaudeville entertainer, but was released when police were satisfied she was just joking.[13]

BroadwayEdit

When Mae West wrote the play The Constant Sinner, she wanted to cast African-American Lorenzo Tucker as her character's black lover.[14] This would have been extremely controversial in the segregation-era United States of the 1930s, so she reluctantly agreed to have Givot perform in blackface instead.[14] The producers insisted that Givot remove his wig at the end of every performance to show the audience he was white.[14] The Constant Sinner ran on Broadway for 64 performances from September to November 1931.

George and Ira Gershwin were hired to showcase English music hall star Jack Buchanan in Pardon My English. When Buchanan was unable to convincingly play half of his double role (the lower-class German thug Golo Schmidt), he was replaced by Givot. Givot and Josephine Huston introduced the Gershwin song "Isn't It a Pity?" in the 1933 Broadway musical.[15] Pardon My English was a flop and soon closed.

He had much better success as one of the stars of the 1944 Cole Porter musical Mexican Hayride.[16] Here he met his future second wife, co-star Dorothy Durkee. Al Hirschfeld drew a caricature of Givot and others in the cast.[17]

FilmEdit

Givot appeared in a number of Big V Comedies, comedy shorts produced by Warner Bros. and Vitaphone in the 1930s. With the 1934 short Roast-Beef and Movies, MGM tried to create its own version of the Three Stooges, with Givot as the Moe Howard-like leader, and Curly Howard – an actual Stooge – in the role normally played by Larry Fine.[18][19]

Givot played supporting roles not only in comedies and musicals, but also in dramas, from his debut in The Chief (1933) to the war movie China Gate (1957). Givot did star in the 1942 musical Flying with Music. As the voice of Tony in the animated Disney film Lady and the Tramp (1955), he sang "Bella Notte".[20]

TelevisionEdit

Givot was the original host of the Bonnie Maid Versa-Tile Varieties television series, which began airing in 1949 at 9 pm on Fridays on NBC.[21] The September 10, 1949 Billboard issue gave him a moderately good review:

The veteran comic handled his emcee chores with the ease of vast experience and moved the standard vaude format along at a bright, brisk pace. His jokes and "Greek ambassador" routine were pretty stale, but his warm, show-wise personality televised well, and he undoubtedly helped imbue the show's talented but largely untried acts with a professional air.[22]

Nonetheless, he was replaced after two months.

He also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice in 1958, on May 11 and July 27.[23]

RadioEdit

Givot had his own radio show at different times.[24][25] He was one of the panelists on Stop Me If You've Heard This One when it was revived in 1947. The April 20, 1946 issue of Billboard referred to him as a "one-time radio biggie".[26]

Personal lifeEdit

He married actress Maryon Curtis in 1937.[27] According to his advance man, Givot planned to retire and become a "gentleman farmer ... on his estate in Tarzana, Calif.", but marital problems drained his finances, forcing him to continue working.[28][29] The couple divorced in 1941. On December 1, 1945, he married Dorothy Durkee.[30] The two had become acquainted when they both starred in the musical Mexican Hayride; in fact, Durkee's character chased Givot's.[31]

According to newspaper gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel was a friend of Givot's and once inadvertently saved his life. Siegel persuaded the comedian to stay an extra day in Chicago; the plane he was going to take crashed, with the loss of 17 lives.[32]

DeathEdit

George Givot died of a heart attack on June 7, 1984, in Palm Springs, California. He was interred in California.

Broadway creditsEdit

Complete filmographyEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ A. D. S. (April 29, 1933). "Movie Review". The New York Times. George Givot, the unofficial Greek Ambassador, focuses his hilarious dialect on some of the questions of the day.
  2. ^ Dan Georgakas. "The Greek American Image in American Cinema" (PDF). p. 23. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2015. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d S. H. Steinhauser (February 5, 1935). "Givot Has Himself So Mixed Up That He Doesn't Know Who He Is". Pittsburgh Press.
  4. ^ Draft details about George givot. "Ancestry.com".
  5. ^ a b "1910 census about givistinsky family".
  6. ^ Bio details about William Givot. "Ancestry.com".
  7. ^ a b Details about Sarah Givot. "Ancestry.com".
  8. ^ a b "Scribe Gave Givot Start". Pittsburgh Press. April 22, 1934.
  9. ^ Moskos, Peter C.; Moskos, Charles C. (November 27, 2013). Greek Americans: Struggle and Success. Transaction Publishers. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-4128-5310-1. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  10. ^ Erickson, Hal (May 28, 2014). From Radio to the Big Screen: Hollywood Films Featuring Broadcast Personalities and Programs. McFarland. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-7864-7757-9. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  11. ^ "Live at the Lawndale". Retrieved September 26, 2015. George Givot, a dialect comedian and singer who appeared with the Kaufman troupe in December 1927, became known as 'The Greek Ambassador of Goodwill' as a radio performer in the 1930s.
  12. ^ Smith, Bill (April 23, 1949). "Follow-Up Review". Billboard: 48. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  13. ^ "Merely Joking; Girl Freed". Reading Eagle. February 23, 1926.
  14. ^ a b c Watts, Jill (August 23, 2001). Mae West: An Icon in Black and White. Oxford University Press. pp. 189–. ISBN 978-0-19-028971-3. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  15. ^ Green, Stanley (April 30, 2009). Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre. Da Capo Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-7867-4684-2. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  16. ^ Bloom, Ken (April 15, 2013). Broadway: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 567. ISBN 978-1-135-95020-0. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  17. ^ "Drawings: 1940s". alhirschfeld.com. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  18. ^ Lenburg, Jeff; Maurer, Joan Howard; Lenburg, Greg (2012). The Three Stooges Scrapbook. Chicago Review Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-61374-085-9. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  19. ^ Stuart Galbraith IV (November 30, 2014). "Classic Shorts from the Dream Factory, Volume 3, Featuring Howard, Fine and Howard (The Three Stooges)". dvdtalk.com. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  20. ^ "Oliver Wallace – Lady And The Tramp (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". Discogs. September 2015.
  21. ^ "George Givot Signed For Bonafide Show". Billboard. July 30, 1949.
  22. ^ "Bonnie Maid Versa-Tile Varieties". Billboard. September 10, 1949.
  23. ^ ""The Ed Sullivan Show": Season 10 (CBS)(1957–58)". Classic TV Archive. Retrieved September 26, 2015.
  24. ^ Erickson, Hal. From Radio to the Big Screen: Hollywood Films Featuring Broadcast Personalities and Programs, pg. 87
  25. ^ "Givot's Radio Circus Gets New Talent". Chicago Tribune. July 12, 1936.
  26. ^ "Music Indies Swinging Hard; Pop With Plenty New Ideas; Hustle All Along The Line". Billboard. April 20, 1946.
  27. ^ "George Givot profile". NNDB. Retrieved September 25, 2015.
  28. ^ "Buck" Herzog (April 10, 1940). "George Givot, Famed Greek Ambassador, Attempting to Surmount Troubles to Regain Pinnacle". Milwaukee Sentinel.
  29. ^ "George Givot Applies For Job Insurance". Pittsburgh Press. United Press. February 15, 1940.
  30. ^ "Comedian George Givot Reveals Dec. 1 Wedding". Lewiston Daily Sun. Associated Press. January 9, 1946.
  31. ^ Glenn Hasselrooth (September 4, 1944). "Dorothy Durkee Of Eugene Starred In Broadway Musical". Eugene Register-Guard.
  32. ^ Hedda Hopper (December 21, 1942). "Looking At Hollywood". Toledo Blade.

External linksEdit