Ever Heard of Mrs. Calabash? [PHIL-OSOPHY]
Please don't ask me why one of our regular callers, "Dirty Deb," happened to bring up Jimmy Durante's schnozz, the Yiddish word for nose. Actually Durante, who was an American singer with a gravelly voice, was known as "The Great Schnozzola" in a time that political correctness wasn't even a pipe dream.
Durante referred to his nose as the schnozzola, and the word became his nickname. He was great in the movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and you've probably heard him narrating Frosty the Snowman. But the reason for writing this piece is to find out what was a mystery for years.
Durante would end his shows with the classic, "Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." Everyone started asking who Mrs. Calabash was, and that's where I found myself discovering a lot of different theories.
According to one legend, Jimmy and his troupe stopped at a little restaurant in Calabash, N.C., and while there made friends with the young, attractive restaurant owner. Her name was Lucy Coleman. Soon after this, Durante adopted his trademark sign-off. According to some historians and Coleman family members, it was Durante's anonymous tip of the hat to her.
Not everyone buys this theory, though. Sheryl Hardee of Calabash maintains that it was her mother, Ella High. Others say she was a woman from Meridien, Connecticut. Some say she was his family's caretaker who nurtured him and brought him. Internet Movie Database says he was honoring his first wife, Jeanne Olsen, and supposedly, Calabash was an in-joke for the Chicago suburb they both loved. Still others say it was a comic mispronunciation of Calabasas, California.
But his loyal fans maintain Durante started using the "Mrs. Calabash" line about the time his first wife died in 1943. And there are other theories, but you can see why this story needed clarity and a period at the end of the chapter.
Ted Hackett was at a National Press Club meeting in 1966 and broadcast on NBC's Monitor program. He says that Durante finally revealed that it was indeed a tribute to his first wife. While driving across the country, they stopped in a small town called Calabash, which name she had loved. "Mrs. Calabash" became his nickname for her, and so he ended his radio program with "Good night, Mrs. Calabash." He added "wherever you are" after her death.
Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.