February 25, 2020

Bill Dana, created Jose Jimenez, dies at 92

Bill Dana

Bill Dana, whose English-mangling character Jose Jimenez made him one of the most famous comedians of the 1960s, died June 15 at his home in Nashville, Tenn. He was 92.

The Emmy-nominated writer, who was of Hungarian-Jewish descent, was born William Szathmary on Oct. 5, 1924, in Quincy, Mass. He served in the infantry in Europe during World War II and returned home to attend Emerson College in Boston. He graduated with a degree in speech and drama.

He had been writing for television and performing stand-up comedy for a decade when he created the character of Jimenez, a Mexican immigrant who first appeared in a sketch on “The Steve Allen Show” in 1959. The character took on a series of eclectic professions: an Olympic skier, dancer, animal trainer, deep-sea diver and astronaut, the latter making him a “mascot” of the Mercury astronauts as the space race was heating up.

Dana, as Jimenez, performed at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural gala, which also featured Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Gene Kelly.

As Jimenez, Dana appeared as an elevator operator on “The Danny Thomas Show,” which spawned the sitcom “The Bill Dana Show” that ran from 1963 to 1965.

Dana recorded several comedy albums, and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show” and the “The Andy Williams Show.” He also appeared on numerous TV series, sometimes playing dramatic roles.

But many people saw Jose Jimenez as a negative stereotype, and over the course of the 1960s the character became the target of protests. By 1970, Dana stopped performing as Jimenez.

Dana wrote a 1972 episode of “All in the Family” that featured an appearance by Sammy Davis Jr., playing himself. In it, Davis famously kisses bigoted Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O’Connor) on the cheek. In 1997, TV Guide ranked the episode 13th on its list of the “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.”

Dana is survived by his wife of 36 years, Evelyn Shular.