Sunday, July 19, 2015


Below, two versions of "The Bill Dana Show" theme. The music's a bit more fun than the show, which does not hold up all that well, despite three great stars: grimacing Jonathan Harris as Jose's boss, squinty Don Adams as the hotel detective, and Dana himself as "lovable" bellhop Jose.

For those who don't remember (probably 90% of anyone reading this), at one time Bill Dana's record albums were best-sellers. A comedy writer (born William Szathmary), Dana (his mother's name) was working for Steve Allen when he came up with a mild gag for a quick sketch: a Latino Santa Claus. It was keyed to Santa's "ho ho ho" and the confusing "J as H" of Latino names, such as Jose Jimenez.

Dana ended up playing Jose on Steve's show, and the rest is jistory. Er, history. Dana was amused that a "Jungarian Hew" was now a superstar. If you listen to those classic albums, it was good jokes, not just the funny voice that made them successful. Bill's routine as a hapless astronaut was even released as a single. He got a lot of attention when it was played by astronauts at Cape Canaveral.

Dialect comedy has gone in and out of fashion over the years. A hundred years ago, every ethnic accent was a big laugh in vaudeville and on 78 rpm discs. Dutch, Italian, Jewish, "Negro," rural Southerner, Scotsman…nobody was left out. Moving on to radio, and there was "The Mad Russian" and "Parkyakarkus" and the entire "Allen's Alley" roster of rube Titus Moody, Irishman Ajax Cassidy, Jewish Mrs. Nussbaum and noisy Southerner Senator Claghorn. And yes, Amos and Andy. And lots more.

In the late 50's and early 60's, ethnic comedy was still a howl, and "Amos and Andy" re-runs (with an all black cast) were not yet banned. Desi Arnaz was famous thanks to his comical Cuban accent, Mel Blanc portrayed a Mexican named Cy who said "Si" and, yes, Bill Dana made a living as Jose Jimenez. He kept trying to make that character less and less a part of his act. One of his albums had Jose on one side, Bill on the other.

By the early 70's, Dana officially declared Jose "dead," to the cheers of Chicanos, Latinos and Hispanics. He put out "Hoo Hah," a Jewish-comedy parody of "Hee Haw." Funny, "Hee Haw" was fine with Southerners despite the heavy reliance on stereotypes. Why? Because Southerners were comfortable with it, while Latinos somehow thought "Jose" was an insult. If Dana wasn't a Jew, maybe the character would've been considered ok. What is comedy? Comedy can be recognition laughter (which would be corny Southerners laughing at their own redneck traits on "Hee Haw," and later in Jeff Foxxworthy's "You might be a redneck" routines.) Comedy, more often, is simply not pretty. There's the shock comedy of sadism, rudeness, slapstick and insults. "The little guy" from Chaplin's tramp to Harry Langdon, Lou Costello, George Gobel even to Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean and beyond, is often socially inept, foolish and caught in embarrassing situations. The problem with Little Jose Jimenez was that there weren't many other Latino characters on TV, and at least Desi Arnaz had a hot wife. And was actually Latino.

While Bill Dana explored other ways of making a living (he wrote the famous "All in the Family" episode guest-starring Sammy Davis Jr.) ethnic comedy in the 70's was alternately praised and panned. Think about the confusion when Bill Cosby's non-racial humor was sneered at in favor of Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. Replacing Dana, the Hungarian Jew, was Freddie Prinze, hal Hungarian-Jew and half Puerto Rican. When he played a Chicano on "Chico and the Man," he drew howls of protest because he wasn't Mexican. Why didn't that guy just put a gun to his head?

Today, ethnic humor is only tolerated if the perp is of the same ethnic group and is making so much money nobody dares to say a word (hello, Tyler Perry). However if the ethnic group isn't too loud, then it might be ok (recall "Miss Swann" on "MAD TV," as played by Alex Borstein). But be careful: Sarah Silverman did some Asian jokes and was hounded by publicity seeking Japanese avenger Guy Aoki until she nearly lost her mind. Good thing he wasn't around when Judy Tenuta was doing that Yoko Ono imitation.

Bill Dana, now over 90, is on Facebook but rarely posts anything. Nostalgic fans still find laughs in the well-constructed jokes that made those early Jose Jimenez albums big hits, but "PC" considerations have destroyed his legacy. Ironically, haters of Jose seem to love Guillermo Rodriguez.

Guillermo, the porcine sidekick on Jimmy Kimmel's show, exhibits every Latin stereotype there is: nasal voice, pudgy face, obese body, happy ignorance of anything cultural, and the habit of being drunk. His best known bit is to show up at red carpet events and interview stars with bribes of Tequila shots. Guillermo is not all that far removed from the banned "Frito Bandito" character of TV commercials, but there are now enough Latinos on TV that nobody can say "oh, they're ALL fat, nasal and homely." Not Jennifer Lopez. Not Sofia Vergara.

The PC police do stay vigilant, and sometimes they need to be. Paula Dean, the doyenne of fatty cooking and Southern racism, was way out of line in taking a photo as "Lucy" with her son as "Ricky," when it involved actually using "brownface." Neither Dana, Prinze, or any other Latino comedy character from the past ever did that, and Desi Arnaz's complexion was hardly even tan.

Did Desi care too much if his Ricky Ricardo character sometimes lapsed into excited Spanish? Probably not. It was something Gregory Sierra's character of Chano did on "Barney Miller" a generation later. Desi probably had a good sense of humor about his trademark accent, and such sure-fire gags as arguing with Lucy ("I dun't!" "You DUN'T?" "No, I dun't!") As for Dana, he's a lovely guy. He once mentioned to me how fiercely devoted he was to his alter ego. He turned down a car ad that would've brought him in tons of money, because the ad agency thought it would be funny to have Jose pulled over by a cop. The cop would realize Jose wasn't speeding, it was just a smooth-riding car. Bill: "I wasn't gonna let a cop lay a hand on Jose."

Musically speaking, Dana's theme song was intended to echo the spirit of Don Quixote, the valiant tilter of windmills. It had the stereotypical trumpet which, only a few years later, another fucking Jew (Herb Alpert) would use while fronting his Tijuana Brass. I assume that Latinos who hate Bill Dana and loathed Freddie Prinze will try to ban Herb's music, next. That Jew made money by exploiting Mexicans! As head of A&M records, he surely didn't do enough to promote real Latino Sergio Mendez. And let's not even discuss Julius Wechter and his Baja Marimba Band.

All seriousness aside, enjoy the two versions of the theme song. One is from Carl Brandt, who was a veteran arranger at Warner Bros., and also worked with Spike Jones. The other is by Raymond Antonini, better known as Ray Anthony. The big band trumpet star is 93 now, and you can find out more about him by visiting



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