The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘Jimmy Durante’


Some of my younger readers may be unfamiliar with Jimmy Durante.  That is unfortunate as he was one of the more important comics and radio personalities of his era.  But beyond his professional career he was much more – a truly charitable and loving human being.

Durante was born in New York in 1893 and passed away in 1980.  He was the youngest of four children born to immigrant Italian parents and dropped out of school in the eighth grade to become a full-time ragtime pianist.

He was active in vaudeville and wrote a song which became his theme song, “Inka Dinka Doo.”  That, together with the nickname, “The Schnozolla” because of his oversized proboscis and his television signoff “Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are,” (as he admitted years later, a tribute to his first wife who had passed away), were his signature trademarks.  As were his gravelly voice and unique punctuation of speech.  He was, during his time, an American icon.

Jimmy Durante never had children of his own, which was unfortunate since he loved kids so much.  But he found an outlet for this love by raising money for children who needed medical help or were abused.

A devout Roman Catholic, in 1958 on the Feast of the Assumption, he was presented with a three foot tall cup by the Al Bahr Shriners Temple.  The inscription read, “JIMMY DURANTE THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS COMEDIAN.  It’s bigger than your nose, but smaller than your heart.”

Durante was actively involved in raising money through the Fraternal Order of Eagles for “his kids”.  He regularly appeared at Eagles’ conventions and fundraisers, performing for free and refusing reimbursement for travel expenses.  When he made a plea for contributions, he would say, “It’s for da kids.”

So why would Jimmy Durante never had made it as a candidate for President of the United States?  If the current climate and thinking prevailed during his lifetime, his very acts of charity might have undermined his election to the White House.  Or so it appears to this writer based on the unfortunately irrelevant buzz over candidate Romney’s tax returns.

Let me be honest, I had hoped but didn’t expect, that this campaign would be about substance.  Well, my hopes might have been dashed but my expectations are intact.

So, since so many of the (very, very many) ads which camp Obama has been airing point to Mitt Romney’s tax returns as a reason that people should not vote for him, I thought it might be interesting to put this whole income tax business in perspective.

Implicit in the ads is the suggestion that by paying 14% of his income, there is something nefarious going on with Mr. Romney’s responsibility as a taxpaying citizen.  Of course, that is never said in the ads – but that is certainly the clear implication – at least to this viewer.

There is something definitely wrong with our tax code.  We’ve discussed this in numerous posts.  The President thinks we can “fix” it by raising the amount we charge upper income tax payers.  This is roughly the equivalent of trying to stem the catastrophe that befell New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina by having a few thousand people stand outside in the downpour, each of them holding a thimble to collect the waters.

The system is convoluted and unfair in many ways to many taxpayers.  It should be scrapped and something that is equitable and understandable should replace it.  Just think of the supernumeraries at the IRS whose jobs could be eliminated and the consequent reduction we would experience in bloated bureaucratic salaries – a great first step toward balancing a budget.  But that may be then and this is now.

As long as we have to deal with the framework of tax payments under the current law, let’s look at the reason that Mitt Romney pays at such a comparatively low rate.  Most of the discussions I’ve heard on this subject deal with his paying at lower capital gains rates, a form of income which holds a preferred status under the current law.  That is in part true.  And the reason that capital gains are so treated is that they represent a return on investment, a return on risk capital, the risk capital that catapulted America into the greatest economic dynamo on planet Earth.

But setting aside that economic argument, there is one other thing that “distorts” Mitt Romney’s income tax rate.  That is the amount of his charitable contributions.  By my math, if Romney chose not to give away a penny each year rather than the $3 Million or so that appears on his returns, his effective income tax rate would just about double to 28%.  But that would still leave him and his wife with well more than $2 Million in their pockets – even after paying taxes on this money.

When Jimmy Durante appeared without accepting any fees for entertaining during his fundraising events, he “Did it for da kids.”

While I don’t have any special insight into Mitt Romney’s mind, perhaps the reason that he and his wife are so generous is that it is for the pure and wholesome virtue of giving for the sake of giving.  Would that we had more citizens who were like-minded.


Mine was the first generation to be raised on television.   In many ways, this new invention signaled the end of imagination.  We didn’t have to use our minds to picture what was happening as the story unfolded.  We merely had to stare ahead at the picture in front of us.

One day dad came home with a present for the family.  One of his friends who was a big radio buff had taped a large collection of old-time radio shows on his reel to reel recorder.  He had made copies of many of these and dad came home with a shopping bag full of these tapes.   He wanted me to experience the joy he and his family had when they had originally listened to them.

I don’t remember all of them but there were episodes of “Burns and Allen,”  “Fibber McGee and Molly,” “Jimmy Durante,” “The Green Hornet,” “Dragnet,” “Jack Benny,” to name just a few.

That night after dinner dad pulled out our tape recorder, turned off the lights and lit a candle in order to re-create the atmosphere he knew when he first heard the shows and his family sat around their radio.  We began listening to the invisible voices of comedy and drama.

The quality of the recordings was poor.  We had to pay close attention to hear the voices that came to us from the ether of a past day.  As we heard these entertainers on a now-obsolete technology, we had the opportunity to apply our imaginations to the lines the actors spoke.

I’m sure that each of us had a different image of the way that Fibber McGee and Molly’s house was arranged.  Or what the city where the Green Hornet did his good works looked like.  We were free to imagine as we would.

It was a wonderful experience and began a tradition.  Once a week we would regularly spend a few hours together and continue to play through all the tapes dad’s friend had recorded.  These were magical moments – an experience of art and family.

Today the golden days of radio have passed.

We sit in a movie and are disappointed if there isn’t enough action, car chases, buildings being blown to smithereens and a sufficient number of killings.  We don’t have to imagine anything as our senses are overloaded with visual images and an appropriate amount of offensive language all conveyed to us at a far higher level of volume than is necessary other than for those of us with hearing problems.

Well, that’s probably what today’s public craves – and Hollywood doesn’t disappoint it’s audience.  “Give the people what they want” is their mantra.

I found an excellent source for old-time radio shows and ordered ten of them.  They arrived yesterday.  Tonight I’m going to snuggle up with Gracie and begin listening to them.  Rather than curse the drivel that is on television or the big screen I’m going to light a candle and start enjoying them.

Imagine that.

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