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Ameche on the set of International Showtime in September 1964
|Born||Dominic Felix Amici
May 31, 1908
Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States
|Died||December 6, 1993
Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.
|Cause of death||Prostate cancer|
|Resting place||Resurrection Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa|
|Other names||Dominic Felix Amici|
|Alma mater||University of Wisconsin-Madison|
|Occupation||Actor, voice artist, and comedian|
|Spouse(s)||Honore Prendergast (m. 1932–86)|
After touring in vaudeville, he featured in many biographical films, including The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939). He continued to appear on Broadway, as well as on radio and TV, where he was host and commentator for International Showtime, covering circus and ice-shows all over Europe. Ameche was married to his wife Honore for 54 years, and they had six children.
Ameche was born Dominic Felix Amici in Kenosha, Wisconsin on May 31, 1908. His father, Felice Amici, was a bartender from Italy from Montemonaco, Ascoli Piceno, Marche. His mother, Barbara Etta Hertel, was of Scottish, Irish, and German ancestry. He had three brothers, Umberto (Bert), James (Jim Ameche), and Louis, and three sisters. Ameche attended Marquette University, Loras College, and the University of Wisconsin, where his cousin Alan Ameche played football and won the Heisman Trophy in 1954. Ameche had intended to study law, but he found theatricals more interesting and decided on a stage career.
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, was also a well-known actor. His brother Bert was an architect who worked for the U.S. Navy in Port Hueneme, California, and then the US Postal Service in Los Angeles, California.
Vaudeville and films
Ameche had done well in college dramatics at Marquette University, 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". He made his film debut in 1935, and by the late 1930s, had established himself as a major actor in Hollywood. He appeared in such films as Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), and as the title character in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939). It led to the use of the word, "ameche", as slang for telephone in common catchphrases, 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.'" In the 1940 film Go West, Groucho Marx proclaims, "Telephone? This is 1870, Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet". While in the 1941 film Ball of Fire, Barbara Stanwyck's character discusses the "ameche" slang usage, "Do you know what this means: I'll get you on the Ameche." Another highlight was co-starring with Gene Tierney in Ernst Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait in 1943, a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 1940, he was voted the 21st-most-popular star in Hollywood.
Ameche played so many roles based on real people that on one of his radio broadcasts, Fred Allen joked, "Pretty soon, Don Ameche will be playing Don Ameche." Soon afterwards, in It's in the Bag! (1945), which starred Allen, Ameche indeed played himself in a bit part.
Ameche and fellow veteran actor Ralph Bellamy were eventually cast in John Landis' Trading Places in 1983, playing rich brothers intent on ruining an innocent man for the sake of a one-dollar bet. In an interview some years later on Larry King Live, co-star Jamie Lee Curtis said that Ameche, a proper old-school actor, went to everyone on the set ahead of time to apologize when he was called to start cursing in the film. The film's success and their comedic performances brought them both back into the Hollywood limelight. Ameche's next role, in Cocoon (1985), won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He continued working for the rest of his life, including in the sequel, Cocoon: The Return. He earned good reviews for the David Mamet and Shel Silverstein-penned Things Change; the New York Times said that he showed "...the kind of great comic aplomb that wins actors awards for other than sentimental reasons." In 1990, Ameche appeared in an episode of The Golden Girls as Rose Nylund's father. His last films were Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) and Corrina, Corrina (1994), completed only days before his death.
Radio and television
Ameche was a major radio entertainer, heard on such shows as Empire Builders, The First Nighter Program, Family Theater, and the Betty and Bob soap opera. Following his appearances as announcer and sketch participant on The Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy Show, he 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.
Ameche's best-known television role came between 1961 and 1965, when he traveled throughout Europe with a television videotape unit and camera crew to cover a different European resident circus or ice show that was taped for presentation on a weekly series titled International Showtime on NBC television. Ameche was present at each circus or ice show taped for the series, and was seen as host and commentator. His "anchor position" was in the grandstands at the particular show being taped. Sometimes, when one of the star acts of a particular show spoke English, Ameche would interview him or her and the interview would appear during the program.
He also guest featured in many television series, including NBC's The Polly Bergen Show and ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom and Jack Palance's circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth, which was broadcast during the 1963–1964 season. In the latter 1960s and early 1970s, Ameche directed the NBC television sitcom Julia, featuring Diahann Carroll. He was also a frequent panelist on the 1950s version of To Tell The Truth.
After the release of two 1970 comedies The Boatniks and Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came, Ameche was absent from theatrical movies for the next 13 years. His only appearance in cinema during that time was in F For Fake, Orson Welles' documentary on hoaxes, when 20th Century-Fox mistakenly sent Welles newsreel footage of Ameche misidentified as footage of Howard Hughes. Ameche also appeared in an early episode of Columbo entitled "Suitable For Framing" (1971).
Despite his advancing age, Ameche remained busy. He had credited roles in a feature film every year for the last decade of his life except 1986 (although he starred in the TV movie A Masterpiece of Murder with Bob Hope that year) and attributed his continued productivity to an active lifestyle, which included regular six-mile walks. He said in a 1988 interview, "How many actors in their 20s and 30s do you know that have two pictures being released by major studios in one year?" (referring to Cocoon and Things Change).
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.
|1935||Clive of India||Prisoner in the Black Hole (uncredited) (unconfirmed)|
|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||In Old Chicago||Jack O'Leary|
|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||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: Suitable for Framing||Frank Simpson|
|1983||Trading Places||Mortimer Duke|
|1987||Pals||Art Riddle / Arthur James Van Pelt|
|1987||Harry and the Hendersons||Dr. Wallace Wrightwood|
|1988||Coming to America||Mortimer Duke|
|1988||Cocoon: The Return||Art Selwyn|
|1990||Oddball Hall||G. Paul Siebriese|
|1993||Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey||Shadow (voice)|
|1994||Corrina, Corrina||Grandpa Harry|
- 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)
|1947||Family Theater||"Flight from Home"|
In popular culture
In Season 7, episode 12 of The Simpsons, "Team Homer", Haing S. Ngor's Best Supporting Actor Oscar, for his role in the movie The Killing Fields, had appeared with Ngor's name being crossed out and replaced with Homer's name. About a month after “Team Homer” aired in 1996, Ngor was murdered just outside his home in L.A. animators changed the Oscar in question to that of Don Ameche in subsequent reruns.
- "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.
- 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.
- Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times.
- "Ancestry.com". content.ancestry.com. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Ian Herbert, ed. (1981). "AMECHE, Don". Who's Who in the Theatre 1. Gale Research Company. p. 15. ISSN 0083-9833.
- 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. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- "The Coffin Corner Vol. 25 No. 6: Welcome To L.A." (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
- 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.
- Canby, Vincent. Things Change (1988)October 21, 1988 Review/Film; Mamet's Unwiseguys", New York Times movie review.
- "Friday's Highlights" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror 14 (3): 52. July 1940. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
- Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer (BNET). Retrieved 2009-06-16.
- "Don Ameche (1908–1993) – Find a Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.
- Ohmart, Ben (2007). Don Ameche: The Kenosha Comeback Kid. Albany: BearManor Media. ISBN 1-59393-045-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Don Ameche.|
- Don Ameche at the Internet Movie Database
- Don Ameche at the Internet Broadway Database
- Don Ameche at the TCM Movie Database
- Don Ameche at AllMovie
- Don Ameche at Find a Grave