Don Ameche

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Don Ameche
Don Ameche 1964.JPG
Ameche on the set of International Showtime in 1964
Dominic Felix Amici

(1908-05-31)May 31, 1908
DiedDecember 6, 1993(1993-12-06) (aged 85)
Resting placeResurrection Cemetery
Asbury, Iowa, US
Alma mater University of Wisconsin
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • vaudevillian
Years active1935–1993
Honore Prendergast
(m. 1932;died 1986)
Relatives Jim Ameche (brother)
Alan Ameche (cousin)

Don Ameche ( /əˈmi/ ; born Dominic Felix Amici; May 31, 1908 – December 6, 1993) [1] 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.


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).

Early life

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. [2] [3] [4] 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. [5] [6] 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. [7]


Ameche and Carmen Miranda in That Night in Rio (1941) Carmen Miranda em Uma Noite no Rio 1941.jpg
Ameche and Carmen Miranda in That Night in Rio (1941)

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". [8]

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." [4]

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.'" [9] 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. [10]

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. [11]

Ameche in 1946 Don Ameche -1946.jpg
Ameche in 1946

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. [12]

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." [13]

Personal life

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. [14] He was instrumental in forming and leading the ownership group the year before play began [15] and initially served as team president. [16]

Ameche was married to Honore Prendergast from 1932 until her death in 1986. [17] They had six children. [17] [18] 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. [19]

Ameche was Roman Catholic. [20] A Republican, he supported the campaign of Thomas Dewey in the 1944 United States presidential election [21] and Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election. [22]


On December 6, 1993, Ameche died at his son Don, Jr.'s house in Scottsdale, Arizona of prostate cancer [23] at age 85. [24] [25] He was cremated and his ashes are buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa. [26]


Ameche in the 1938 film Alexander's Ragtime Band Don ameche ragtime1.jpg
Ameche in the 1938 film Alexander's Ragtime Band
Ameche in Down Argentine Way (1940) Don Ameche in Down Argentine Way.jpg
Ameche in Down Argentine Way (1940)

Film / TV

1935 Clive of India Prisoner in the Black HoleUncredited
1935 Dante's Inferno Man in Stoke-HoldUncredited
1936 Sins of Man Karl Freyman / Mario Signarelli
1936 Ramona Alessandro
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.
1938 Gateway Dick Court
1939 The Three Musketeers D'Artagnan
1939 Midnight Tibor Czerny
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
1954Phantom CaravanLawrence Evans
1961 A Fever in the Blood Senator Alex S. Simon
1966Rings Around the WorldHimself
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 SimpsonEpisode: "Suitable for Framing"
1983 Trading Places Mortimer Duke
1985 Cocoon Art SelwynWon Oscar for Best Supporting Actor
1986 A Masterpiece of Murder Frank AherneTV movie
1987PalsArt Riddle / Arthur James Van PeltTV movie
1987 Harry and the Hendersons Dr. Wallace Wrightwood
1988 Coming to America Mortimer DukeCameo [27] [28] [29]
1988 Things Change Gino
1988 Cocoon: The Return Art Selwyn
1990 Oddball Hall G. Paul Siebriese
1990 The Golden Girls Brother MartinEpisode: "Once in St. Olaf"
1991 Oscar Father Clemente
1992 Folks! Harry Aldrich
1993 Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey ShadowVoice
1994 Corrina, Corrina Grandpa Harry(final film role)

Short subjects

Jack Haley (left), Alice Faye (center), Don Ameche and Tyrone Power (right) in a trailer for Alexander's Ragtime Band. Alexanders ragtime band3.jpg
Jack Haley (left), Alice Faye (center), Don Ameche and Tyrone Power (right) in a trailer for Alexander's Ragtime Band.

Stage work

Radio appearances

1940 Lux Radio Theatre Manhattan Melodrama [30]
1947 Family Theater "Flight from Home" [31]

See also

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