Ameche on the set of International Showtime in September 1964
Dominic Felix Amici
May 31, 1908
Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Died||December 6, 1993 (aged 85)|
Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.
|Resting place||Resurrection Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa|
|Alma mater||University of Wisconsin|
(m. 1932; died 1986)
Don Ameche (; born Dominic Felix Amici; May 31, 1908 - December 6, 1993) was an American actor and comedian. 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 was a popular star 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).
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. He had three brothers, Umberto (Bert), James (Jim Ameche), and Louis, and four sisters, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary and Anna. 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. Ameche had intended to study law, but he found theater more interesting and decided on a stage career.
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".
Ameche graduated to leading roles relatively quickly appearing in Sins of Man (1936) playing the son of Jean Hersholt. He was Loretta Young's leading man in Ramona (1936), the studio's first film in color.
In Love Is News (1937) Ameche was teamed with Young and Tyrone Power. He was top billed in Fifty Roads to Town (1937) with Ann Sothern then made You Can't Have Everything (1937) with Alice Faye and The Ritz Brothers.
Back at Fox Ameche played 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."
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 a star of Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda. In 1940, he was voted the 21st-most-popular star in Hollywood.
Ameche made That Night in Rio (1941) with Faye and Miranda and Moon Over Miami (1941) with Grable and Robert Cummings. He did some straight comedies: Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1941) with Mary Martin, and The Feminine Touch (1941) at MGM with Rosalind Russell.
Ameche did a drama, Confirm or Deny (1942) with Joan Bennett, then did The Magnificent Dope (1942) with Henry Fonda, Girl Trouble (1942) with Joan Bennett, and Something to Shout About (1943) at Columbia.
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.
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.
He did Guest Wife (1945) with Colbert, So Goes My Love (1946) with Myrna Loy and Will Tomorrow Ever Come? (1947). Ameche followed this with Sleep, My Love (1948) with Colbert, and Slightly French (1949) with Dorothy Lamour.
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.
He co-hosted The Frances Langford-Don Ameche Show (1951-52). Ameche's one feature film in the 1950s was Phantom Caravan (1954). He concentrated on stage or TV: Fire One (1954), a TV adaptation of High Button Shoes (1956), Goodyear Playhouse, a musical adaptation of Junior Miss for The DuPont Show of the Month, and Climax!.
Ameche starred in Silk Stockings (1955-56) on Broadway, which ran for 478 performances. Holiday for Lovers (1957) ran for 100 performances. Both were turned into films but Ameche did not reprise his stage performance. He was in Goldilocks (1958-59) which went for 161 performances.
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 was also a frequent panelist on the 1950s version of To Tell The Truth, often alternating with his future Trading Places co-star, Ralph Bellamy.
After the release of two 1970 comedies, Disney's The Boatniks and Blake Edwards' 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 (1975), 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). He did a TV movie Shepherd's Flock (1971) and episodes of Ellery Queen, Good Heavens, McCloud, Quincy M.E., The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. He was in an unsold TV pilot, The Chinese Typewriter (1979).
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 was teamed with Bob Hope in A Masterpiece of Murder (1986) and George C. Scott in Pals (1987). He had a lead role in Harry and the Hendersons (1987) and he and Bellamy reprised their Trading Places roles with a cameo in Coming to America (1988).
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."
He returned to Broadway to appear in a revival of Our Town in 1989.
He did a pilot that was not picked up, Our Shining Moment (1991), an episode of Pros and Cons and the TV movie 209 Hamilton Drive. He co starred with Tom Selleck in Folks! (1992) and supported Jane Seymour in Sunstroke (1992).
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).
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, died in 1983 at the age of 68. His brother Bert was an architect who worked for the U.S. Navy in Port Hueneme, California, and then the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles, California.
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|
|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||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.|
|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||Frank Simpson||Episode: "Suitable for Framing"|
|1983||Trading Places||Mortimer Duke|
|1986||A Masterpiece of Murder||Frank Aherne||TV movie|
|1987||Pals||Art Riddle / Arthur James Van Pelt||TV movie|
|1987||Harry and the Hendersons||Dr. Wallace Wrightwood|
|1988||Coming to America||Mortimer Duke||Cameo|
|1988||Cocoon: The Return||Art Selwyn|
|1990||Oddball Hall||G. Paul Siebriese|
|1990||The Golden Girls||Brother Martin||Episode: "Once in St. Olaf"|
|1993||Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey||Shadow||Voice|
|1994||Corrina, Corrina||Grandpa Harry||(final film role)|
|1940||Lux Radio Theatre||Manhattan Melodrama|
|1947||Family Theater||"Flight from Home"|
In the 1941 Merrie Melodies cartoon Hollywood Steps Out by Warner Bros, Don Ameche appears with several other famed stars in the Ciro's nightclub. In the 1995 The Simpsons (season 7) episode 12, "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 Los Angeles. Animators changed the Oscar in question to that of Don Ameche in subsequent reruns.