Bill Dana

Comedian / Writer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his nearly three-hour Archive interview, Bill Dana (1924-2017) talks about growing up during the Depression, his interest in comedy, and his stint as an NBC page. He discusses teaming up for a comedy act with Gene Wood, before joining The Steve Allen Show, where he became head writer. He details some of the show's recurring sketches, including "The Question Man," "Man on the Street," and the "Nutley-Hinkley Report." He then chronicles the creation of his famous character, "Jose Jimenez" which began on Allen's show. Dana describes "Jimenez's" character's traits, his many appearances, his retirement, the response of the Latino community to the character, and the culmination of "Jimenez's" fame on The Bill Dana Show. He discusses his work as a producer on The Milton Berle Show, his roles on St. Elsewhere and The Golden Girls, and his writing of the famous All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," featuring Sammy Davis, Jr. Finally, he talks about his then-current work with Emerson College and his creation of the American Comedy Archives. Jeff Abraham conducted the interview on February 10, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA.

"Bill Dana was 'Jose Jimenez.' The line between was invisible... I love that character, because he was just so sweet -- there was a Pollyanna aspect to him. That everything's going to be all right. It never was a caricature. He's not a Latin character. He's a universal character."

Highlights
Bill Dana on the birth of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show in 1959
08:46
Bill Dana on his recurring role as "Uncle Angelo" on The Golden Girls and the biggest laugh he ever got, which was on that show
Bill Dana on how he came to write the classic All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," and how he and producer Norman Lear invented the show's premise
02:32
Bill Dana on how he'd like to be remembered
00:21
Bill Dana on his proudest moment: being associated with the NASA astronauts
02:03
Bill Dana on breaking in new material on live television
01:08
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood in Quincy, MA; on his brother Irving Szathmary, on growing up during the Depression; on finding humor in difficult situations
09:03
On his brother Arthur who taught him an awareness of language, which would play a great role in his comedic writing, malaprops, and the dialects he would use in characters such as "Jose Jimenez"; on other early influences; his education; meeting Gene Wood
07:15
On his Army service during WWII; on realizing the power of language; on the Leopoldville disaster; on being sent to witness the Dachau concentration camp by President Eisenhower
05:01
On the G.I. Bill, which enabled him to go to Emerson College; on forming a comedy duo with Gene Wood; on heading to California to pursue work in the early 1950s
05:46

Chapter 2

On early odd jobs as a layout electrician and how he wound up (by a misunderstanding) as head of equipment at Douglas Aircraft base on the Nike Missile project
03:37
On getting a job as an NBC page on Date in Manhattan with Ed Herlihy and Broadway Open House at Studio 8H; on his comedy partner, Gene Wood, and their comedy routines such as "What would have happened if..."; on changing his last name to "Dana" from "Szathmary"
10:41
On his managers; on starting a career in comedy writing
03:22
On a bit he wrote for Don Adams, which got him noticed by Steve Allen and hired as head writer, and for a time, the only writer, on the Steve Allen Tonight show
09:20

Chapter 3

On Don Hinkley; on memorable comedy sketches: "The Question Man" and "The Nutley-Hinkley-Butley-Winkly Report"; on the Martha Raye Show; on Steve Allen
09:11
On the genesis of the "Man on the Street" segments on The Steve Allen Show; on working with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye on those sketches; on the difference in format between the Steve Allen Primetime show and the "Plymouth" show on ABC; on hiring Buck Henry
12:36
On the birth of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show in 1959
08:46

Chapter 4

On "Jose the Astronaut," who first appeared on The Garry Moore Show; on Mickey Kapp's recording of "Jose Jimenez" at the Hungry i; on the relationship of the fictional "Jose" and the real Bill to the NASA Apollo program; on some memorable "Jose the Astronaut" lines
04:20
On his proudest moment: being associated with the NASA astronauts
02:03
On the huge popularity of his character "Jose"; on transforming his alter ego into a "real flesh and blood character"; on Make Room for Daddy with Danny Thomas
01:22
On The Bill Dana Show getting greenlit without a pilot or a script; on the premise of the show with "Jose" as a bellman at the Park Central Hotel; on the cast with Jonathan Harris, Gary Crosby, Maggie Peterson, Don Adams
10:08
On The Bill Dana Show being cancelled, but being happy for Don Adams to continue on Get Smart
03:57
On writing for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and the Spike Jones Show
03:34

Chapter 5

On first appearing on variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show as "Jose Jimenez"
04:22
On "Discover America with Jose Jimenez," and the NBC special series which he wrote with Al Wasserman
01:02
On some of the initial backlash to the "Jose Jimenez" character, while he was a member of the National Hispanic Media Coalition
03:53
On retiring his "Jose Jimenez" character
04:01
On how he came to produce The Milton Berle Show, which he compared to "choreographing a typhoon"
11:29
On how he came to write the classic All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" with Sammy Davis, Jr.
04:13

Chapter 6

On the All in the Family episode where Sammy Davis, Jr. kisses "Archie Bunker"
03:17
On No Soap, Radio breaking the "fourth wall"
01:08
On St. Elsewhere, on which he played "Jonas Fiscus," Howie Mandel's father on the show
02:29
On his recurring role as "Uncle Angelo" on The Golden Girls; on working with Bea Arthur, Betty White, Estelle Getty, Susan Harris
05:32
On reflecting back on the character that made him famous, "Jose Jimenez" and his feelings about him now
01:27
On founding the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College; on the challenges of being a comedian
03:04
On co-writing "The Laughter Prescription" with Dr. Lawrence Peter about the healing power of laughter
01:17
On advice to aspiring writers; on how he would like to be remembered
01:35
Shows

All in the Family

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Bill Dana on how he came to write the classic All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," and how he and producer Norman Lear invented the show's premise
02:32
Bill Dana on how, due to a mistake, he was not put up for an Emmy Award for the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit"
00:29
Bill Dana on John Rich not acknowledging his writing of the "Sammy's Visit," episode of All in the Family when Rich won the Emmy Award for Best Directing in Comedy in 1972
01:36
Bill Dana on John Rich not acknowledging his writing of the "Sammy's Visit," episode of All in the Family when Rich won the Emmy Award for Best Directing in Comedy in 1972
00:31
Bill Dana on Carroll O'Connor's "compliment" of Dana's writing on the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit"
00:40

All in the Family: "Sammy's Visit"

View Show Page
Bill Dana on how he came to write the classic All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," and how he and producer Norman Lear invented the show's premise
02:32
Bill Dana on how, due to a mistake, he was not put up for an Emmy Award for the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit"
00:29
Bill Dana on John Rich not acknowledging his writing of the "Sammy's Visit," episode of All in the Family when Rich won the Emmy Award for Best Directing in Comedy in 1972
01:36
Bill Dana on the famous kiss between "Archie Bunker" and Sammy Davis Jr. on the All in the Family episode he wrote
00:46
Bill Dana on the kiss scene in the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit"
00:46
Bill Dana on John Rich not acknowledging his writing of the "Sammy's Visit," episode of All in the Family when Rich won the Emmy Award for Best Directing in Comedy in 1972
00:31
Bill Dana on Carroll O'Connor's compliment of Dana's writing on the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit"
00:40

Bill Dana Show, The

View Show Page
Bill Dana on getting a call from Sheldon Leonard that NBC had greenlit The Bill Dana Show without a pilot or a script
03:02
Bill Dana on replacing Gary Crosby with Don Adams on The Bill Dana Show, as "Byron Glick," the hotel inspector
05:11
Bill Dana on the relationship between his character "Jose Jimenez" and Don Adam's "Byron Glick" on The Bill Dana Show
04:06
Bill Dana on why The Bill Dana Show was cancelled after 42 episodes
01:46

Danny Thomas Show, The aka Make Room for Daddy

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Bill Dana on how "Jose Jimenez" came to be a regular character on Make Room for Daddy (The Danny Thomas Show)
01:07

Ed Sullivan Show, The aka Toast of the Town

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Bill Dana on appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show as "Jose Jimenez"

Garry Moore Show, The

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Bill Dana on breaking in new comedic material, live, on The Garry Moore Show as part of the comedy team "Dana and Wood"
01:08
Bill Dana on his character "Jose Jimenez" who first appeared  as "Jose the Astronaut" on The Garry Moore Show
06:39

Get Smart

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Bill Dana on his brother Irving Szathmary's musical career, including writing the theme song for Get Smart, among many other shows
00:42

Golden Girls, The

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Bill Dana on his recurring role as "Uncle Angelo" on The Golden Girls and the biggest laugh he ever got, which was on that show

Martha Raye Show, The

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Bill Dana on Gloria Lockerman and her appearance on The Martha Raye Show with Tallulah Bankhead
02:00
Bill Dana on some memorable sketches he wrote for The Martha Raye Show with Don Hinkley
01:33

Milton Berle Show, The (1966-67)

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Bill Dana on how he came to produce The Milton Berle Show and working with the star

No Soap, Radio

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Bill Dana on No Soap, Radio breaking the fourth wall
01:08

Spike Jones

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Bill Dana on writing and producing for Spike Jones
02:24

St. Elsewhere

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Bill Dana on his recurring role on St. Elsewhere and working with Howie Mandel
02:30

Steve Allen Show, The (1956-61)

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Bill Dana on becoming the head writer on The Steve Allen Show in 1956 and a sample from a routine he wrote for Don Adams to perform on that show, which got him discovered by Steve and hired as a writer
06:22
Bill Dana on moving from Steve Allen's Tonight show to the Primetime Plymouth show
00:44
Bill Dana on writing the memorable sketches "The Nutley-Hinkley-Butley-Winkley Report" and "The Question Man" with Don Hinkley and Leonard Stern
04:48
Bill Dana on the genesis of the "Man on the Street" segments on The Steve Allen Show, and working with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye on those sketches
10:28
Bill Dana on the "letters to the editor" sketches on The Steve Allen Show
01:29
Bill Dana on the difference in format between The Steve Allen Primetime show and the "Plymouth" show on ABC
02:08
Bill Dana on the birth of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show in 1959
08:46

Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme Show, The

View Show Page
Bill Dana on writing for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme
01:10

Tonight

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Bill Dana on becoming the head writer on The Steve Allen Show in 1956 and a sample from a routine he wrote for Don Adams to perform on that show, which got him discovered by Steve and hired as a writer
06:22
Bill Dana on his role on the Tonight Show with Steve Allen and the other writers on the show
02:52
Bill Dana on writing the memorable sketches "The Nutley-Hinkley-Butley-Winkley Report" and "The Question Man" with Don Hinkley and Leonard Stern
06:17
Bill Dana on the genesis of the "Man on the Street" segments on The Steve Allen Show, and working with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye on those sketches
10:28
Bill Dana on the "letters to the editor" sketches on The Steve Allen Show
01:29
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

View Topic
Bill Dana on how "Jose Jimenez" became an astronaut, based on a comment by Neil Simon 
01:50
Bill Dana on the birth of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show in 1959
08:46
Bill Dana on his character "Jose Jimenez" who first appeared  as "Jose the Astronaut" on The Garry Moore Show
06:39
Bill Dana on the perceived backlash to "Jose Jimenez"
00:52
Bill Dana on retiring his "Jose Jimenez" character

Classic TV series episodes

View Topic
Bill Dana on how he came to write the classic All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," and how he and producer Norman Lear invented the show's premise
02:32
Bill Dana on guest star Sammy Davis, Jr. calling him from the set of the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" to compliment him on the script
00:50

Comedy

View Topic
Bill Dana on how he came to write the classic All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," and how he and producer Norman Lear invented the show's premise
02:32
Bill Dana on guest star Sammy Davis, Jr. calling him from the set of the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" to compliment him on the script
00:50

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Bill Dana on being influenced by Danny Kaye and music in general

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Bill Dana on being sent to witness the concentration camp at Dachau by President Eisenhower
07:08
Bill Dana on the Leopoldville disaster, the "Cheshire Cats," and visiting Dachau concentration camp
Bill Dana on the relationship of the fictional "Jose Jimenez "and the real Bill to the NASA Apollo program - Alan Shepard's code name was "Jose"
00:47

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Bill Dana on the famous kiss between "Archie Bunker" and Sammy Davis Jr. on the All in the Family episode he wrote
00:46

Moon Landing

View Topic
Bill Dana on the relationship of the fictional "Jose Jimenez "and the real Bill to the NASA Apollo program - Alan Shepard's code name was "Jose"
00:47

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Bill Dana on being influenced by Danny Kaye and music in general

Pop Culture

View Topic
Bill Dana on how in the early days of burlesque there would be a sign posted backstage with the "dirty words" you could not say or else be jailed
00:41
Bill Dana on writing the memorable sketches for The Steve Allen Show: "The Nutley-Hinkley-Butley-Winkley Report" and "The Question Man" with Don Hinkley and Leonard Stern
04:48
Bill Dana on the genesis of the "Man on the Street" segments on The Steve Allen Show and working with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louis Nye on those sketches
10:28
Bill Dana on how "Jose Jimenez" became an astronaut, based on a comment by Neil Simon 
01:50
Bill Dana on the birth of his character "Jose Jimenez" on The Steve Allen Show in 1959
08:46
Bill Dana on the perceived backlash to "Jose Jimenez"
00:52
Bill Dana on the perceived backlash to "Jose Jimenez"
00:52
Bill Dana on retiring his "Jose Jimenez" character
Bill Dana on how he came to write the classic All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit," and how he and producer Norman Lear invented the show's premise
02:32
Bill Dana on guest star Sammy Davis, Jr. calling him from the set of the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit" to compliment him on the script
00:50

TV's Golden Age (1940s & '50s)

View Topic
Bill Dana on breaking in new material on live television
01:08

War

View Topic
Bill Dana on being sent to witness the concentration camp at Dachau by President Eisenhower
07:08
Bill Dana on the Leopoldville disaster, the "Cheshire Cats," and visiting Dachau concentration camp

We Laughed

View Topic
Bill Dana on the famous kiss between "Archie Bunker" and Sammy Davis Jr. on the All in the Family episode he wrote
00:46

World War II

View Topic
Bill Dana on being sent to witness the concentration camp at Dachau by President Eisenhower
07:08
Bill Dana on the Leopoldville disaster, the "Cheshire Cats," and visiting Dachau concentration camp
Professions

Comedian

View Profession
Bill Dana on advice to aspiring writers and comedians
01:14
Bill Dana on founding the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College and on the challenges of being a comedian
03:06

Performers

View Profession
Bill Dana on advice to aspiring writers and comedians
01:14
Bill Dana on founding the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College and on the challenges of being a comedian
03:06

Writers

View Profession
Bill Dana on what writers made in the 1960s compared to today
02:15
Bill Dana on why he hated performing and loved being a writer
00:40
Bill Dana on writing for the voice of Don Adams and the birth of "would you believe" jokes
01:06
Bill Dana on writing the memorable sketch "The Question Man" with Don Hinkley and Leonard Stern on The Steve Allen Show, and his favorite, Chicken Teriyaki
03:24
Bill Dana on writing the parody "The Nutley-Hinkley-Butley-Winkley Report"
04:48
Bill Dana on writing for The Golden Girls, where the script was bible, versus other shows where the writers could adapt a script, such as his own Bill Dana Show on NBC
01:04
Bill Dana on advice to aspiring writers and comedians
01:14
People

Don Adams

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Bill Dana on writing for comedian Don Adams in the voice that would later surface as "Maxwell Smart" inspired by William Powell, brought to him by his manager Mace Neufeld
01:45
Bill Dana on replacing Gary Crosby with Don Adams on The Bill Dana Show, as "Byron Glick," the hotel inspector
05:11

Steve Allen

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Bill Dana on working with Steve Allen
05:44

Milton Berle

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Bill Dana on working for Milton Berle, an experience he describes as "choreographing a typhoon"

Sammy Davis, Jr.

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Bill Dana on Sammy Davis Jr.'s reaction to the episode of All in the Family he wrote
00:51

Jonathan Harris

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Bill Dana on Jonathan Harris
00:31

Buck Henry

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Bill Dana on hiring Buck Henry when he was head writer on the Steve Allen Plymouth show on ABC
00:35

Don Hinkley

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Bill Dana on Don Hinkley, who was his writing partner on The Steve Allen Show
02:54

Spike Jones

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Bill Dana on working with Spike Jones, Sr.
01:00

Sheldon Leonard

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Bill Dana on getting a call from Sheldon Leonard that NBC had greenlit The Bill Dana Show without a pilot or a script
03:02
Bill Dana on Sheldon Leonard not liking Don Adam's voice as "Byron Glick" on The Bill Dana Show
05:22

Howie Mandel

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Bill Dana on working with Howie Mandel while appearing as his father on St. Elsewhere

Carroll O'Connor

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Bill Dana on Carroll O'Connor's "compliment" of Dana's writing on the All in the Family episode "Sammy's Visit"
00:40

Elvis Presley

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Bill Dana on Elvis Presley's appearance on The Steve Allen Show singing "Hound Dog" prior to his Ed Sullivan Show appearance
03:05

Neil Simon

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Bill Dana on how "Jose Jimenez" became an astronaut, based on a comment by Neil Simon
01:50

Irving Szathmary

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Bill Dana on his brother Irving Szathmary, who was an arranger for Paul Whiteman and later composed the theme for Get Smart and many other TV shows
03:47

Gene Wood

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Bill Dana on meeting writing partner Gene Wood - later they became "Dana and Wood"
Bill Dana on comedy partner Gene Wood and examples of their comedy routine
04:32

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