By Debbie Gregory.
Many knew Bill Dana as “José Jiménez” the popular character he created on The Steve Allen Show in the 1950s and continued to perform throughout his career. Dana died June 15th at his home in Nashville, Tennessee at the age of 92.
Born William Szathmary and a Massachusetts native of Hungarian-Jewish descent, Dana first appeared as Mexican immigrant Jimenez in a 1959 edition of “The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, where he also worked as an Emmy-nominated head writer.
Many people don’t know is that in addition to being a successful writer, author, cartoonist, producer, director, recording artist, inventor and stand-up comedian, Dana was also an Army veteran..
Dana enlisted at age 18, and was awarded a Bronze Star Medal in WWII.
He attended college on the GI Bill, and began his career as an NBC page.
On Garry Moore’s variety T.V. show, Dana appeared as Jose the Astronaut.
Dana and his alter ego became part of U.S space history on May 5, 1961, when the first words spoken to Alan Shepard after liftoff from fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton on the ground were: “O.K., José, you’re on your way. ”
Dana said he got the idea for the José Jiménez character and the accent after talking with a Puerto Rican local while on vacation years earlier.
Dana’s “José Jiménez” was initially embraced by the Latino community. But changing standards and criticisms of stereotyping in the late 1960s forced him to retire the character.
“It was people I met in this country who would tell me ‘Boy, shore love it when you play the dumb Mexican’ that made me want to drop the character,” Dana said in a 1970 interview.
He is survived by his wife of 36 years, Evelyn Shular.
Donations in his name may be made to the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College.