Don Ameche

Don Ameche (/əˈmi/; born Dominic Felix Amici; May 31, 1908 – December 6, 1993)[1] was an American actor and comedian.[2][3] After playing in college shows, stock, and vaudeville, he became a major radio star in the early 1930s, which led to the offer of a movie contract from 20th Century Fox in 1935.

Don Ameche
Ameche on the set of International Showtime in September 1964
Dominic Felix Amici

(1908-05-31)May 31, 1908
DiedDecember 6, 1993(1993-12-06) (aged 85)
Resting placeResurrection Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa
Alma materUniversity of Wisconsin
OccupationActor, comedian
Years active1929–1993
Honore Prendergast
(m. 1932; died 1986)

As a handsome, debonair leading man in 40 films over the next 14 years, he was a popular star in comedies, dramas, and musicals. In the 1950s he worked on Broadway and in television, and was the host of NBC's International Showtime from 1961 to 1965. Returning to film work in his later years, Ameche enjoyed a fruitful revival of his career beginning with his role as a villain in Trading Places (1983) and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Cocoon (1985).

Early life

Don Ameche was born as Dominic Felix Amici on May 31, 1908, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His father, Felice Amici, was a bartender from Montemonaco, Ascoli Piceno, Marche, Italy. 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 four sisters, Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary and Anna.[7][8] Ameche attended Marquette University, Loras College, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where his cousin Alan Ameche played football and won the Heisman Trophy in 1954.[9] Ameche had intended to study law, but he found theater more interesting and decided on a stage career.


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".[10]

20th Century Fox

Ameche made his film debut in 1935, with an uncredited bit in Dante's Inferno (1935) produced by Fox Corporation. Fox then turned into 20th Century Fox who put Ameche under long term contract.

Ameche graduated to leading roles relatively quickly appearing in Sins of Man (1936) playing the son of Jean Hersholt. He was Loretta Young's leading man in Ramona (1936), the studio's first film in color.

Ameche was reunited with Young in Ladies in Love (1936) and he supported Sonja Henie in One in a Million (1936).

In Love Is News (1937) Ameche was teamed with Young and Tyrone Power. He was top billed in Fifty Roads to Town (1937) with Ann Sothern then made You Can't Have Everything (1937) with Alice Faye and The Ritz Brothers.

Fox put Ameche in a drama, Love Under Fire (1937) with Young. More popular were the two films he made with Faye and Power, In Old Chicago (1938) and Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938).

Ameche was reunited with Henie in Happy Landing (1938) and made Josette (1938) with Simone Simon and Robert Young, and Gateway (1938) with Arleen Whelan.

He played D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (1939) alongside the Ritz Brothers. He went to Paramount to play Claudette Colbert's leading man in Midnight (1939).

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell

Back at Fox Ameche played 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.'"[11] 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."

Ameche was Faye's leading man in Hollywood Cavalcade (1939), then played another real-life figure, Stephen Foster, in Swanee River (1939).

He did a third biopic, Lillian Russell (1940) with Faye, and was top billed in a war film, Four Sons (1940), and a musical, Down Argentine Way (1940), which helped make a star of Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda. In 1940, he was voted the 21st-most-popular star in Hollywood.[12]

Ameche made That Night in Rio (1941) with Faye and Miranda and Moon Over Miami (1941) with Grable and Robert Cummings. He did some straight comedies: Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1941) with Mary Martin, and The Feminine Touch (1941) at MGM with Rosalind Russell.

Ameche did a drama, Confirm or Deny (1942) with Joan Bennett, then did The Magnificent Dope (1942) with Henry Fonda, Girl Trouble (1942) with Joan Bennett, and Something to Shout About (1943) at Columbia.

Ameche starred with Gene Tierney in Ernst Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait in 1943, a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Ameche did Happy Land (1943), Wing and a Prayer (1944), and Greenwich Village (1944). In 1944 he reportedly earned $247,677 for 1943, making him the second highest earner at 20th Century Fox after Spyros Skouras.[13]

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


He did Guest Wife (1945) with Colbert, So Goes My Love (1946) with Myrna Loy and Will Tomorrow Ever Come? (1947). Ameche followed this with Sleep, My Love (1948) with Colbert, and Slightly French (1949) with Dorothy Lamour.

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 had his own program, The Old Gold Don Ameche Show, on NBC Red in the early 1940s.[14]


Ameche's most recent films had not been successful. He began appearing on television on shows such as The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre and Family Theatre .

He co-hosted The Frances Langford-Don Ameche Show (1951–52). Ameche's one feature film in the 1950s was Phantom Caravan (1954). He concentrated on stage or TV: Fire One (1954), a TV adaptation of High Button Shoes (1956), Goodyear Playhouse, a musical adaptation of Junior Miss for The DuPont Show of the Month, and Climax!.

Ameche starred in Silk Stockings (1955–56) on Broadway, which ran for 478 performances. Holiday for Lovers (1957) ran for 100 performances. Both were turned into films but Ameche did not reprise his stage performance. He was in Goldilocks (1958–59) which went for 161 performances.


Ameche returned to features with A Fever in the Blood (1961) and did a short-lived musical 13 Daughters (1961).

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, Burke's Law, The Christophers.

Ameche made a horror movie Picture Mommy Dead (1966) and a TV film Shadow Over Elveron (1968). In between he returned to Broadway for Henry, Sweet Henry (1967) which ran for 80 performances.

He guest starred on Petticoat Junction. In the latter 1960s and early 1970s, Ameche directed the NBC television sitcom Julia, featuring Diahann Carroll. He also guest starred on the show.

He was also a frequent panelist on the 1950s version of To Tell The Truth, often alternating with his future Trading Places co-star, Ralph Bellamy.


After the release of two 1970 comedies, Disney's The Boatniks and Blake Edwards' 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 (1975), 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). He did a TV movie Shepherd's Flock (1971) and episodes of Ellery Queen, Good Heavens, McCloud, Quincy M.E., The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island. He was in an unsold TV pilot, The Chinese Typewriter (1979).

Trading Places and Cocoon

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 starred in a TV movie with Katherine Helmond, Not in Front of the Kids (1984). He did a pilot for a TV show, Fathers and Other Strangers.

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.

Ameche was teamed with Bob Hope in A Masterpiece of Murder (1986) and George C. Scott in Pals (1987). He had a lead role in Harry and the Hendersons (1987) and he and Bellamy reprised their Trading Places roles with a cameo in Coming to America (1988).

He earned good reviews for the David Mamet and Shel Silverstein-penned Things Change (1988); the New York Times said that he showed "...the kind of great comic aplomb that wins actors awards for other than sentimental reasons."[15]

He returned to Broadway to appear in a revival of Our Town in 1989.

Final films

In 1990, Ameche appeared in an episode of The Golden Girls as Rose Nylund's father. He made a film with Burgess Meredith, Oddball Hall (1990) and did another for John Landis, Oscar (1991).

He did a pilot that was not picked up, Our Shining Moment (1991), an episode of Pros and Cons and the TV movie 209 Hamilton Drive. He co starred with Tom Selleck in Folks! (1992) and supported Jane Seymour in Sunstroke (1992).

His last films were Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) and Corrina, Corrina (1994), completed only days before his death.

Despite his advancing age, Ameche remained busy. He had credited roles in a feature film every year for the last decade of his life except 1986 (although he starred in the TV movie A Masterpiece of Murder with Bob Hope that year) and attributed his continued productivity to an active lifestyle, which included regular six-mile walks. He said in a 1988 interview, "How many actors in their 20s and 30s do you know that have two pictures being released by major studios in one year?" (referring to Cocoon and Things Change).

In 1960, 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.

Personal life

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.[16] He was instrumental in forming and leading the ownership group the year before play began[17] and initially served as team president.[18]

Ameche was married to Honore Prendergast from 1932 until her death in 1986.[19] They had six children.[19][20] 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, died in 1983 at the age of 68.[21] His brother Bert was an architect who worked for the U.S. Navy in Port Hueneme, California, and then the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles, California.

Ameche was Roman Catholic.[22] A Republican, he supported the campaign of Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election.[23]


On December 6, 1993, Ameche died at his son Don, Jr.'s house in Scottsdale, Arizona of prostate cancer[24] at age 85. He was cremated and his ashes are buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa.[25]


Film / TV

1935Clive of IndiaPrisoner in the Black HoleUncredited
1935Dante's InfernoMan in Stoke-HoldUncredited
1936Sins of ManKarl Freyman / Mario Signarelli
1936Ladies in LoveDr. Rudi Imre
1936One in a MillionBob Harris
1937Love Is NewsMartin J. Canavan
1937Fifty Roads to TownPeter Nostrand
1937You Can't Have EverythingGeorge Macrae
1937Love Under FireTracy Egan
1938In Old ChicagoJack O'Leary
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
1971ColumboFrank SimpsonEpisode: "Suitable for Framing"
1983Trading PlacesMortimer Duke
1985CocoonArt Selwyn
1986A Masterpiece of MurderFrank AherneTV movie
1987PalsArt Riddle / Arthur James Van PeltTV movie
1987Harry and the HendersonsDr. Wallace Wrightwood
1988Coming to AmericaMortimer DukeCameo[26][27][28]
1988Things ChangeGino
1988Cocoon: The ReturnArt Selwyn
1990Oddball HallG. Paul Siebriese
1990The Golden GirlsBrother MartinEpisode: "Once in St. Olaf"
1991OscarFather Clemente
1992Folks!Harry Aldrich
1993Homeward Bound: The Incredible JourneyShadowVoice
1994Corrina, CorrinaGrandpa Harry(final film role)

Short subjects

  • Screen Snapshots: Stars at the Tropical Ice Gardens (1939)
  • Weekend in Hollywood (1947)
  • Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Night at 21 Club (1952)

Stage work

Radio appearances

1940Lux Radio TheatreManhattan Melodrama[29]
1947Family Theater"Flight from Home"[30]

In the 1941 Merrie Melodies cartoon Hollywood Steps Out by Warner Bros, Don Ameche appears with several other famed stars in the Ciro's nightclub. In the 1995 The Simpsons (season 7) episode 12, "Team Homer", Haing S. Ngor's Best Supporting Actor Oscar (for his role in the movie The Killing Fields) had appeared with Ngor's name being crossed out and replaced with Homer's name. About a month after "Team Homer" aired in 1996, Ngor was murdered just outside his home in Los Angeles. Animators changed the Oscar in question to that of Don Ameche in subsequent reruns.

See also

  • Biography portal


  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. Parker, John. "Who's who in the Theatre". Pitman. Retrieved 16 December 2018 via Google Books.
  5. Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times.
  6. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2012-04-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. 1930 U.S. Federal Census; Kenosha, Kenosha, Wisconsin; Roll: 2577; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0017; Image: 716.0; FHL microfilm: 2342311
  8. "". Retrieved 2010-03-23.
  9. Ian Herbert, ed. (1981). "AMECHE, Don". Who's Who in the Theatre. 1. Gale Research Company. p. 15. ISSN 0083-9833.
  10. 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.
  11. Kilen, Mike. "Ameche's son in Iowa City recalls dad's legacy of joy". Iowa City Gazette. 8 December 1993.
  12. "FILM WORLD". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 14 February 1941. p. 16. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
  13. "Don Ameche's $246,677". Weekly Variety. 5 July 1944. p. 3.
  14. "Friday's Highlights" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. 14 (3): 52. July 1940. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  15. Canby, Vincent. Things Change (1988)October 21, 1988 Review/Film; Mamet's Unwiseguys", New York Times movie review.
  16. Crowe, Jerry (2006-09-13). "The Dons of L.A. Pro Sports". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  17. "AAFC Chronology" (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-08-17. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  18. "The Coffin Corner Vol. 25 No. 6: Welcome To L.A." (PDF). Professional Football Researchers Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-05-11. Retrieved 2011-09-08.
  19. By Myrna Oliver (1993-12-08). "From the Archives: Don Ameche, Dapper Film Star, Dies at 85". Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  20. By Peter B. Flint (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  21. By AP (1993-12-08). "Jim Ameche Dies at 68; First 'Jack Armstrong'". Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  22. Ebert, Roger. "'Things Change' for Don Ameche - Interviews - Roger Ebert". Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  23. Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, page 34, Ideal Publishers
  24. Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer. BNET. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  25. Wilson, Scott (19 August 2016). "Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed". McFarland. Retrieved 16 December 2018 via Google Books.
  26. "Coming to America Full Cast and Crew". Internet Movie Database.
  27. "5 Best Cameos in Film History". What Culture Ltd.
  28. Tara Aquino (16 April 2016). "10 Royal Facts About 'Coming to America'". New York City: Mental Floss, Inc.
  29. "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 37 (1): 32. Winter 2011.
  30. "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. 39 (1): 32–41. Winter 2013.


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