Thursday, October 19, 2006

GOOD NIGHT, Mrs. Calabash

You have to love radio bios like this. Jimmy Durante started originally a saloon piano player. How great is that? Durante received his first radio job when the creators of Eddie Cantor's popular The Chase and Sanborn Hour contacted him to fill in for Cantor. He'd been a pretty successful vaudeville man and was considered a pretty safe pick. He turned out to be a little more than that. Durante was such a hit he was offered his own show. It was syndicated on NBC Saturday Nights for a little more than two years running 1954 - 1956. More here.

"Good night, Mrs. Calabash wherever you are!" For years, Jimmy Durante ended his radio and television shows with that mysterious tag line. Some people thought Mrs. Calabash was a fictional character, but others were convinced she was real. Among those were the residents of Calabash, North Carolina believe otherwise. The folks in this town will tell you she was a real person, that Mrs. Calabash was really a local woman named Lucille "Lucy" Coleman. Here's the story... all apocryphal of course.

In 1940, Lucy was 28 years old and running a restaurant in Calabash, then a tiny seaside community bordering South Carolina. Durante and his touring vaudeville group supposedly stopped in for dinner. It may have been the genuine homespun friendliness of the young restaurant owner that prompted the gregarious Jimmy Durante to beckon Lucy over to his table for some short chitchat. "I'm going to make you famous," said Durante. It wasn't long afterward that this popular entertainer began signing off his radio shows with a similar message.

For years, audiences enjoyed this rather lighthearted farewell mystery. By the time of Durante's
Lucy Coleman died in 1989, nearly 50 years after meeting Jimmy Durante and nine years after Jimmy passed on. Calabash residents claim that Lucy had no desire to claim credit as the real Mrs. Calabash.
Their are other claimants of course... But I like that story best.