Don Ameche

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Don Ameche
Don Ameche 1964.JPG
Ameche on the set of International Showtime in September 1964
BornDominic Felix Amici
(1908-05-31)May 31, 1908
Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedDecember 6, 1993(1993-12-06) (aged 85)
Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.
Cause of death
Prostate cancer
Resting place

Resurrection Cemetery

Asbury, Iowa
Other namesDominic Felix Amici
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison
OccupationActor, voice artist, and comedian
Years active1935–1993
Spouse(s)Honore Prendergast (m. 1932–86)
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Don Ameche
Don Ameche 1964.JPG
Ameche on the set of International Showtime in September 1964
BornDominic Felix Amici
(1908-05-31)May 31, 1908
Kenosha, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedDecember 6, 1993(1993-12-06) (aged 85)
Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.
Cause of death
Prostate cancer
Resting place

Resurrection Cemetery

Asbury, Iowa
Other namesDominic Felix Amici
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin-Madison
OccupationActor, voice artist, and comedian
Years active1935–1993
Spouse(s)Honore Prendergast (m. 1932–86)

Don Ameche (/əˈmi/; May 31, 1908 – December 6, 1993)[1] was an American actor, voice artist, and comedian,[2][3] with a career spanning almost 60 years.

After touring in vaudeville, he featured in many biographical films, including The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939). He continued to appear on Broadway, as well as on radio and TV, where he was host and commentator for International Showtime, covering circus and ice-shows all over Europe. Ameche remained married to his wife Honore for fifty-four years, and they had six children.

Early life[edit]

Ameche was born Dominic Felix Amici in Kenosha, Wisconsin on May 31, 1908. His father Felice Amici was a bartender from Italy from Montemonaco, Ascoli Piceno, Marche. His mother Barbara Etta Hertel was of Scottish, Irish, and German ancestry.[4][5][6] He had three brothers, Umberto (Bert), James (Jim Ameche), and Louis, and three sisters.[7] Ameche attended Marquette University, Loras College, and the University of Wisconsin, where his cousin Alan Ameche played football and won the Heisman Trophy in 1954.[8] Ameche had intended to study law, but he found theatricals more interesting and decided on a stage career.

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.[9] He was instrumental in forming and leading the ownership group the year before play began[10] and initially served as team president.[11]

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. His brother Bert was an architect who worked for the U.S. Navy in Port Hueneme, California and then the US Postal Service in Los Angeles, California.

Vaudeville and films[edit]

Ameche and Carmen Miranda in That Night in Rio (1941)

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."[12] He made his film debut in 1935 and by the late 1930s, had established himself as a major actor in Hollywood. He appeared in such films as Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), as 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.'"[13] 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." Another highlight was co-starring with Gene Tierney in Ernst Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait in 1943, a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. He later claimed that this was his favourite film of his own.[14] In 1940, he was voted the 21st most popular star in Hollywood.[15]

Ameche in 1946

Ameche played so many roles based on real people that on one of his radio broadcasts Fred Allen joked that "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.

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's next role, in Cocoon (1985), won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He continued working for the rest of his life, including in the sequel, Cocoon: The Return. He earned good reviews for the David Mamet / Shel Silverstein penned Things Change; the New York Times said that he showed "...the kind of great comic aplomb that wins actors awards for other than sentimental reasons."[16] In 1990, Ameche appeared in an episode of The Golden Girls as Rose Nylund's father. His last films were Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) and Corrina, Corrina (1994), completed only days before his death.

Radio and television[edit]

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 enjoyed a substantial Broadway career, with roles in Silk Stockings, Goldilocks, Holiday for Lovers, Henry, Sweet Henry, and Our Town.

Ameche as the host of International Showtime in 1962

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 also guest featured in many television series, including NBC's The Polly Bergen Show and ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom and Jack Palance's circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth, which was broadcast during the 1963-1964 season. In the latter 1960s and early 1970s, Ameche directed the NBC television sitcom Julia, featuring Diahann Carroll. He was also a frequent panelist on the 1950s version of To Tell The Truth.

After the release of two 1970 comedies The Boatniks and 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, 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).

For his contribution to radio, Ameche received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6313 Hollywood Boulevard and a second star at 6101 Hollywood Boulevard for his television work.


On December 6, 1993, Ameche died at his son Don, Jr.'s house in Scottsdale, Arizona of prostate cancer[17] at age 85. He was cremated and his ashes are buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa.[18]


Ameche in the 1938 film Alexander's Ragtime Band


1935Clive of IndiaPrisoner in the Black Hole (uncredited) (unconfirmed)
1935Dante's InfernoMan in Stoke-Hold (uncredited)
1936Sins of ManKarl Freyman/Mario Signarelli
1936Ladies in LoveDr. Rudi Imre
1936One in a MillionBob Harris
1937In Old ChicagoJack O'Leary
1937Love Is NewsMartin J. Canavan
1937Fifty Roads to TownPeter Nostrand
1937You Can't Have EverythingGeorge Macrae
1937Love Under FireTracy Egan
1938Happy LandingJimmy Hall
1938Alexander's Ragtime BandCharlie Dwyer
1938JosetteDavid Brassard Jr.
1938GatewayDick Court
1939The Three MusketeersD'Artagnan
1939MidnightTibor Czerny
1939The Story of Alexander Graham BellAlexander Graham Bell
1939Hollywood CavalcadeMichael Linnett 'Mike' Connors
1939Swanee RiverStephen Foster
1940Lillian RussellEdward Solomon
1940Four SonsChris Bern
1940Down Argentine WayRicardo Quintana
1941That Night in RioImpersonator Larry Martin/Baron Manuel Duarte
1941Moon Over MiamiPhil O'Neil (Credits) / Phil 'Mac' McNeil (in Film)
1941Kiss the Boys GoodbyeLloyd Lloyd
1941The Feminine TouchProf. John Hathaway
1941Confirm or Deny'Mitch' Mitchell
1942The Magnificent DopeDwight Dawson
1942Girl TroublePedro Sullivan
1943Something to Shout AboutKen Douglas
1943Heaven Can WaitHenry Van Cleve
1943Happy LandLew Marsh
1944Wing and a PrayerFlight Cmdr. Bingo Harper
1944Greenwich VillageKenneth Harvey
1945It's in the Bag!Don, A Singing Waiter (cameo appearance)
1945Guest WifeJoseph Jefferson 'Joe' Parker
1946So Goes My LoveHiram Stephen Maxim
1947That's My ManJoe Grange
1948Sleep, My LoveRichard W. Courtland
1949Slightly FrenchJohn Gayle
1954Phantom CaravanLawrence Evans
1961A Fever in the BloodSenator Alex S. Simon
1966Rings Around the WorldHimself
1966Picture Mommy DeadEdward Shelley
1970The BoatniksCommander Taylor
1970Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody CameCol. Flanders
1971Columbo: Suitable for FramingFrank Simpson
1983Trading PlacesMortimer Duke
1985CocoonArthur "Art" Selwyn
1987PalsArt Riddle / Arthur James Van Pelt
1987Harry and the HendersonsDr. Wallace Wrightwood
1988Coming to AmericaMortimer Duke
1988Things ChangeGino
1988Cocoon: The ReturnArthur "Art" Selwyn
1990Oddball HallG. Paul Siebriese
1991OscarFather Clemente
1992Folks!Harry Aldrich
1993Homeward Bound: The Incredible JourneyShadow (voice)
1994Corrina, CorrinaGrandpa Harry

Short subjects[edit]

Jack Haley (left), Alice Faye (center), Don Ameche and Tyrone Power (right) in a trailer for Alexander's Ragtime Band.

Stage Work[edit]


  1. ^ "Ameche, Don". Who Was Who in America, 1993-1996, vol. 11. New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 5. ISBN 0-8379-0225-8. 
  2. ^ Heise, Kenan (1993-12-08). "Oscar-winning Actor Don Ameche, 85". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
  3. ^ Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-07. 
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  8. ^ Ian Herbert, ed. (1981). "AMECHE, Don". Who's Who in the Theatre 1. Gale Research Company. p. 15. ISSN 0083-9833. 
  9. ^ Crowe, Jerry (2006-09-13). "The Dons of L.A. Pro Sports". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  10. ^ "AAFC Chronology". Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  11. ^ "The Coffin Corner Vol. 25 No. 6: Welcome To L.A.". Professional Football Researchers Association. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  12. ^ Palmer, R. Barton. Don Ameche in Thomas, Nicholas ed. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Vol. 3: Actors and Actresses, Detroit: St. James Press, 1992. p. 9.
  13. ^ Kilen, Mike. "Ameche's son in Iowa City recalls dad's legacy of joy". Iowa City Gazette. 8 December 1993.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "FILM WORLD.". The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 14 February 1941. p. 16. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  16. ^ Canby, Vincent. Things Change (1988)October 21, 1988 Review/Film; Mamet's Unwiseguys", New York Times movie review.
  17. ^ Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer (BNET). Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  18. ^ "Don Ameche (1908 - 1993) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2010-03-23. 


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