Posts Tagged ‘Bill Dana’

Sammy Smooches Archie: All in the Family’s “Sammy’s Visit” Turns 40

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

It’s been called “the kiss of infamy.” Sure, there have been many great on-screen kisses over the years — Scarlett and Rhett in Gone with the Wind, Milton and Karen in From Here to Eternity, Winnie and Kevin on The Wonder Years … but the most unexpected and down-right hilarious kiss of all time, at least on the small-screen, has to be that between Sammy Davis Jr. and Archie Bunker on the “Sammy’s Visit” episode of All in the Family.

The February 19, 1972 show featured Archie Bunker moonlighting as a cab driver who had Sammy Davis Jr. as a passenger in his cab one night. Davis left his briefcase in the car and Archie arranges for Davis to come to the Hauser Street house to retrieve the case. The two discuss how Archie’s daughter and son-in-law think he’s prejudiced, and the exchange ends with Davis wanting a picture with Archie. On the count of three, Davis kisses Archie on the cheek, garnering one of the biggest laughs and most memorable moments in TV history:

According to director John Rich, Davis’ appearance on the show stems from Davis expressing an interest in coming on All in the Family during a guest spot on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Writer Bill Dana pitched to All in the Family co-creator Norman Lear a plausible way for Davis to end up in Archie Bunker’s house, but Lear was originally wary, not wanting a big-name entertainer to shift the emphasis of the show. Dana’s premise was believable, though, and his script ultimately highlighted both Archie’s bigotry and the show’s clever sense of sarcasm:

Davis was worried about having to memorize the dialogue for his part and wanted to use cue cards, but Rich wanted Davis to act under the same conditions as the other cast members:

Thanks to all involved with the episode for bringing the “Ace of Spades” and the “whitest man he knows” together for a truly genius Kodak moment. Smile, Archie!

Read more about the famous episode, which placed 13th on TV Guide’s list of “The 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time,” at our “Sammy’s Visit” show page.

- by Adrienne Faillace

Would you believe… Bill Dana is 87!

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The Archive wishes a very happy birthday to comedy legend Bill Dana, born October 5, 1924 as William Szathmary in Quincy, MA. Bill Dana is best-known for his alter-ego, José Jiménez: a character he played from 1959 until 1969 which garnered him international attention. What few may recall is that Bill first gained prominence as a writer  and producer for Steve Allen, Garry Moore, Milton Berle, Martha Raye and other comedy greats.

After graduating Emerson College in Boston in 1950 on the GI Bill, Dana began his career as a page at NBC’s famous Studio 6B while performing comedy in nightclubs around New York with partner Gene Wood. Sidelined from performing due to an injury, his career career took a major turn when he began writing stand-up routines for the young comedian Don Adams. The two developed a character that would later premiere on The Bill Dana Show as “Byron Glick”, the bumbling hotel detective. Glick’s lines like “Would you believe” and “missed it by that much” were first tested in Adams’ stand-up act, and would later become popular catchphrases by Adams’ “Maxwell Smart” on Get Smart.

On writing for Don Adams:

In the mid-50s his career got underway as he performed on The Imogene Coca Show and wrote for  The Martha Raye Show and the Spike Jones Show. A major turn came when Steve Allen hired him as a writer on The Steve Allen Show in 1956. working with Tom Poston, Don Knotts, Pat Harrington, Louis Nye, and many others.

On working with Steve Allen:

It was on The Steve Allen Show, in a bit with Pat Harrington in November, 1959 that Bill first introduced his character with “My name — José Jiménez.” In the clip below he describes how it came about:

On how he came up with José’s accent:

He starred in and produced The Bill Dana Show on NBC (1963-65). In this clip he discusses how he came to have his own show:

His comedy albums, as both José and as Bill Dana, were top-sellers in the 1960s. As “José” he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. The first words from Earth to a man entering outer space were on May 5, 1961 from Deke Slayton to Alan Shepard in his Mercury –Redstone 3:  “OK, José, you’re on your way!” which thereafter entered the national lexicon. Although Dana retired the character in 1969, he continues to defend Jose as comedy “with dignity” and a character that was good at heart and full of innocence which he described as a “combination Robin Hood and Bilko”.

Dana went on to write for  many other television shows, including an episode of All in the Family which continues to rate by TV Guide as one of the Top 100 comedy episodes of all time – “Sammy’s Visit” featuring guest-star Sammy Davis, Jr.:

Dana is also known for his recurring role as “Uncle Angelo” on The Golden Girls, described in this clip:

In 2005, Dana co-founded the American Comedy Archives in effort to preserve the first-person stories of his fellow comedy pals, from Betty White to Jonathan Winters. He was honored by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters in 2006, and received the Great American Comedy Festival’s Comedy Legend Award in 2009.

On his advice to young comedians:

For Bill Dana’s complete 2007 interview, visit  emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/bill-dana

For more information about Bill Dana, visit bill-dana.com