Comedian Bill Dana died last week. Dana, a Jew of Hungarian descent, rose to fame in the early 1960s by portraying a bumbling Latino immigrant called Jose Jimenez. His trademark line — “My name Jose Jiminez,” uttered with a thick accent — was enough to produce gales of laughter from live television audiences. I was never sure why.
Before he “culturally appropriated” Jimenez, Bill Dana appropriated Dana. His real name was Bill Szathmary.
Szathmary served as an infantryman in World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star.
After the war, and after graduating from college, Dana began his career in comedy. It was then that he changed his name.
Adopting Anglo sounding names was a common show business practice, especially among Jews. Indeed, for Jews the practice extended beyond Hollywood.
My uncle changed his name one day during the depression while standing in line looking for a job. One of the guys ahead of him reported that no Jews were being picked. At that moment, he stopped being Mirengoff. He got the job.
How did the Latino community take to Dana’s cultural appropriation? Very well, at the time. According to one television historian, the Hispanic community embraced it. He was honored by the Hispanic Media Coalition.
Some might call this an example of “false consciousness” — the most absurd concept in the left’s arsenal until “cultural appropriation.” Others might call it evidence of a healthy ability to laugh at oneself.
In the late 60s, Dana became concerned that his Jose Jimenez act was being perceived as a negative stereotype. He abandoned it. Later, he regretted the decision, and revived the character.
For me, ethnic jokes are the funniest. Ethnic caricatures like Jose Jimenez amuse me less. However, they are funnier, and in a rational world less offensive, than much of what passes for comedy these days — “saying nasty and naughty things about people liberal audiences are told to hate” (to use Susan Vass’ description).
RIP, Bill Dana.