Monday, November 07, 2005
"Jerry was born Gerardo Colonna in Boston on September 17, 1904, of Italian immigrant parents. As a little boy he admired his grandfather's enormous moustache ("You could see it from the back!") so much that he often painted one on his upper lip with axle grease. As soon as he could manage it, he grew a "baffi" of his own. Jerry was extremely gifted musically, and he loved jazz, beginning as a drummer then finding his metier in the trombone.
Moving to New York, he became a fixture in orchestras on major radio shows and in the top big bands. At one point he was named one of the five best trombonists in the country.
In 1930 he married Florence Purcell, a pretty flapper he met on a blind date in New York who turned out to be a Boston girl. They would stay in love for the next 56 years, adopting a baby son, Robert, in 1941.
In the late 30's Jerry's career took an unexpected turn. Comedian Minerva Pious, who played Mrs. Nussbaum on the Fred Allen show, loved Jerry's off-stage antics (he had received so many warnings from CBS for his pranks that he was finally put on perpetual notice. But they never actually fired him -- he was too good a trombonist). Pious decided that Fred Allen, a workaholic, needed a laugh, so she convinced him that Jerry was a brilliant operatic tenor and that Fred should give him an audition. When Jerry gave out with an ear-splitting "You're My Everything," Fred literally fell to the floor laughing and gave him a few guest spots on the show. These led to movie roles, and to the Kraft Music Hall, hosted by Bing Crosby. Bing took Minerva Pious' in-house joke to new lengths by announcing publicly that Giovanni Colonna, one of the greatest living baritones (!) would make his American radio debut on the show. After that broadcast, a number of classical music critics stopped talking to Bing altogether. The following summer, following an appearance at the Del Mar racetrack clubhouse, Jerry was approached by Bob Hope, and radio history was begun.
Jerry's recordings ("I have destroyed many beautiful songs.") are collected today by connoisseurs of madcap comedy. He is probably best known for his hysterical versions of "On The Road To Mandalay" and "Ebb Tide" (where most recordings of the latter began with the sounds of surf and seagulls, Colonna's also includes chickens)."
Jerry Colonna - Big Fat Minnie
Jerry Colonna - Bowzer
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