BOSTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--It is with great sadness that Emerson College announces the death of
comedy pioneer and alumnus Bill Dana ’50. Dana passed away at his
home in Nashville, Tennessee on Thursday, June 15, 2017 with his wife of
36 years Evelyn (Evy) Shular Dana by his side. He was 92 years old.
Biographical information provided by Evy Dana and biographer Jenni
Bill Dana was a successful writer, author, cartoonist, producer,
recording artist, inventor, and stand-up comedian. Many will remember
him as “José Jiménez,” a classic character he created on The Steve
Allen Show and continued to perform throughout his career.
Born William Szathmary in 1924, Bill was the youngest of six children to
parents Dena and Joseph (of Hungarian-Jewish descent). He grew up in the
midst of the Great Depression in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Bill volunteered for the Army at age 18, and later earned a Bronze Star
Medal in WWII as a combat infantryman. After graduating from Emerson
College on the GI Bill, he entered show business, beginning his career
as an NBC page at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. His career took a major turn
when he began writing for comedian Don Adams, including penning the
famous “Would You Believe?” jokes. Hired as a writer on the original Tonight
Show, Bill eventually became head writer on The Steve Allen Show,
hiring a legendary stable of comedy writers: Buck Henry, Bill Persky,
and Sam Denoff. His creation of the popular José Jiménez character in
1959 resulted in his own NBC series, The Bill Dana Show (1963-1965).
His comedy albums, as both José and Bill Dana, were top-sellers. He
helped launch the careers of comedic greats such as Don Knotts, Jackie
Mason, and Jim Nabors. A major career highlight was writing the All
in the Family episode, “Sammy’s Visit,” featuring Sammy Davis, Jr.-
consistently rated in TV Guide’s “Top 100 Television Episodes of All
Time” and for which he received a Writers Guild Award.
Adopted by the original seven Mercury astronauts, Dana became part of
U.S space history on May 5, 1961 when the first words from planet Earth
spoken by Deke Slayton to Alan Shepard blasting into space were, “OK,
José, you’re on your way!” Bill was proudly named America’s
first “Honorary Astronaut” by the Aerospace Society, and is honored by
inclusion in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Astronaut Hall
of Fame. Appearances at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, The London
Palladium, and a show-stopping performance at the John F. Kennedy
Inaugural Gala are just some career highlights. He received Lifetime
Achievement Awards from the Pacific Pioneer Broadcaster Association, the
Boston Comedy Festival, the American Comedy Festival, and Emerson
College, among others.
The National Hispanic Media Coalition endorsed the José Jiménez
character and Bill continued to serve on their Advisory Board throughout
his life. In 1970, he honored Earth Day by creating America’s first
syndicated cartoon panel devoted to the environment, Ecolo/Jest.
Bill continued to work in film and television through the ‘90s,
including producing The Milton Berle Show, writing Alice in
Wonderland (1966) and appearing on numerous television
shows—notably as “Uncle Angelo” on The Golden Girls.
In 2005, Bill and his dear friend, philanthropist, Emerson Trustee
Emeritus, and fellow Emerson alumnus, the late Ted Cutler, founded the American
Comedy Archives at Emerson College, fulfilling a lifelong goal to
honor the study and appreciation of the comedic arts.
Bill is survived by his best friend and cherished wife Evelyn Shular
Dana of Walden’s Creek, Tennessee.
Donations may be made in memory of Bill to the American Comedy
Archives at Emerson College. Please contact: Robert_Fleming@emerson.edu.
Full obituary and quotes from Norman Lear, George Schlatter, and more
Photos, copyright Bill Dana Enterprises, available for download: http://tinyurl.com/BillDanaPhotos