We’ve lost another of those familiar TV faces that baby boomers grew up with: Bill Dana passed away last week at his Nashville home at 92. Dana was both a familiar comic character actor and a writer who helped create some of the most beloved comedy bits of the past half-century-plus. He’s best known for a character that became a phenomenon in the ‘60s but could never exist in today’s PC age: Jose Jimenez.
Jose was a nervous Mexican immigrant with a humorously tenuous grasp of English who started every bit by declaring, “My name Jose Jimenez!” While Jose might be considered a dialect humor stereotype now, at the time, Latino groups honored Dana for creating a positive portrayal of a patriotic Mexican immigrant, and he was careful not to do any jokes he thought would seem offensive.
Beginning with his first appearance on the classic Steve Allen show (where Dana was head writer), his catchphrase swept the country. The Mercury 7 astronauts played his records so much that the first words spoken to an American in space came in 1961 when Deke Slayton told Alan Shepherd on blast-off, “Okay, Jose, you’re on your way!” Dana became friends with the astronauts, made a comedy record called “Jose the Astronaut” that was later included in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and he was named the first “honorary astronaut.”
But while Jose Jimenez was his most famous creation, it was only a tiny part of Bill Dana’s career. He played many roles, such as Sophia’s brother Angelo on “Golden Girls,” but stage fright made him prefer writing. He created many classic jokes for “Get Smart” star Don Adams (the “Would you believe?... bit was Dana’s) and wrote the most famous episode ever of “All in the Family,” where Archie Bunker meets Sammy Davis Jr. Surprisingly for someone who made millions laugh for over seven decades, Dana suffered from severe depression, and he wrote a book about the curative powers of laughter.
All this is only scratching the surface of his astonishing career. If you’d like to see an obituary that reads like a crash course in comedy history over the second half of the 20th century, click the link. I guarantee that if you don’t know Bill Dana, after you read about his life and see his face, you’ll say, “Oh, THAT guy! I loved him!”