1961 José Jiménez – The Astronaut
Bill Dana grew up in Massachusets. His parents were Hungarian Jews, but Bill is best known for playing the Bolivian character José Jiménez.
Bill worked as a page at NBC studios and performed at comedy clubs in the fifties. He also wrote comedy stand-up for Don Adams, long before either of them appeared on television. Bill originated the “Would you believe?” jokes that were later used on Get Smart.
He became a writer for the Steve Allen Show (which aired between 1956 and 1960). He developed the character of José Jiménez and appeared on the show as part of the Man On The Street interviews.
Beginning in 1960, Bill appeared as Jose on The Spike Jones television show. A year later, he began appearing on the Danny Thomas show as well. On the show, he played an inept bellhop at a New York hotel. As a result of the audience response to those appearances, The Bill Dana Show was spun off in 1963 and lasted for two years. Bill appeared on the show as José and Don Adams played the inept hotel detective – a role that eventually morphed into Maxwell Smart when the Bill Dana Show ended.
Bill recorded a number of comedy albums, only one of which was exclusively José Jiménez. A cut from the album, The Astronaut, was released as a single in 1961. It got a lot of airplay for a comedy single, and peaked at #19 on the Hot 100.
He even appeared in an astronaut costume on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Bill appeared in character on the 1966 Batman television show as one of the celebrity cameo window events.
Over time, the jokes began to wear thin. The use of a thick Spanish accent and the overall characterization of José as dim-witted led to protests. Bill attended a Mexican-American cultural pride festival in 1970 and announced, “after tonight, José Jiménez is dead.” He abandoned playing the character, although he did appear as José Jiménez on the 1988 revival of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Bill continued writing for television and appeared on dozens of television shows, including a recurring role on The Golden Girls. Perhaps his most famous script was the episode where Sammy Davis Jr. visited with Archie Bunker on All In The Family.
Bill was 92 years-old when he died in 2017.
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