Don Ameche was the dapper, debonair, devilish leading man of such quality 1930s hits as "Midnight" and "The Story of Alexander Graham Bell" who dazzled audiences anew and won an Academy Award in "Cocoon" half a century later.
After he appeared in a student production of "The Devil's Disciple," a stock company manager hired him to replace an actor injured in a car accident. Ameche spent half a year with the company and then headed for New York, where he worked in vaudeville. He learned the trouper's skills — singing, dancing, acting and moving—and honed them elegantly to glide between comedy and drama for six decades.
Ameche also discovered radio, and was soon starring in weekly serials, including "Betty and Bo," "Grand Hotel" and "Mr. First Nighter," which spread his smooth, soothing voice across America.
It was an easy step to Hollywood, where he debuted in "The Sins of Man" in 1936 and had his first success opposite Loretta Young that same year in "Ramona." He became a workhorse star in Darryl Zanuck's stable at 20th Century Fox.
The year 1939 brought two of Ameche's best-remembered films, the witty "Midnight" with John Barrymore and Claudette Colbert, and "The Story of Alexander Graham Bell," the biography of the inventor of the telephone. Ameche's identification in the role was so encompassing that for years, the phrase "you're wanted on the Ameche" meant that you had a phone call.
Ameche's personal favorite was the 1943 film by Ernst Lubitsch, "Heaven Can Wait." Ameche portrayed an 1890s playboy who went to Hades and reviewed his sins for Satan who, in a grand satirical gesture, packed him off to heaven. War-weary audiences loved it.
Two of Ameche's most popular musicals were "Down Argentine Way," which introduced Carmen Miranda and costarred Betty Grable in 1940, and "Moon Over Miami," also with Grable, in 1941.
He remained active in radio, voicing occasional classics like the short-lived but well-remembered "The Bickersons" with Frances Langford as his ever-warring wife. Developed as a skit on "The Charlie McCarthy Show," the couple's sniping at each other grew into a Sunday-night NBC series in 1946. Despite support from Pinky Lee, Danny Thomas and Carmen Dragon's orchestra, the show ran only two seasons, the second on CBS.
When his film career dimmed in the late 1940s, Ameche turned to Broadway for "Silk Stockings" and "Henry Sweet Henry," and worked regularly in touring companies, dinner theater and television.
His modern screen success took off in 1983 with "Trading Places" starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. "Cocoon," about a Florida retirement community which discovers an extraterrestrial fountain of youth, came along in 1985.
In his later years, Ameche also starred in "Harry and the Hendersons" in 1987; the sequel "Cocoon II," "Coming to America" and "Things Change," all in 1988; "Oscar" in 1991; and "Folks!" in 1992.
Points of interest
|1985||Best Supporting Actor||Cocoon||Win|