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

(1908-05-31)May 31, 1908
DiedDecember 6, 1993(1993-12-06) (aged 85)
Resting placeResurrection Cemetery
Asbury, Iowa, U.S.
Alma materLoras College
Marquette University
University of Wisconsin
  • Actor
  • comedian
  • vaudevillian
Years active1928–1993
Political partyRepublican
Honore Prendergast
(m. 1932; died 1986)
RelativesJim Ameche (brother)
Alan Ameche (cousin)

Don Ameche (/əˈmi/; born Dominic Felix Amici; May 31, 1908 – December 6, 1993)[1] was an American actor, comedian and vaudevillian. After playing in college shows, repertory theatre, 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.

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). He 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.[2][3][4] Ameche was the second-oldest of eight children, the others being: brothers Umberto (Bert), James (Jim Ameche), and Louis, and sisters Elizabeth, Catherine, Mary and Anna.[5][6] 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.[7]


Ameche and Carmen Miranda in That Night in Rio (1941)

Ameche had done well in college dramatics at the University of Wisconsin, 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".[8]

Ameche then moved to Chicago, where "he began a radio career in 1930 on Empire Builders, a program broadcast from the Merchandise Mart. By 1932, Ameche had become the leading man on two other Chicago-based programs: the dramatic anthology First Nighter, and Betty and Bob, the latter considered by many to be the forerunner of the soap-opera genre."[4]

Brought to Hollywood by 20th-Century Fox producer Darryl Zanuck, Ameche played mostly romantic leads paired with many of the top female stars of the era. In 1939, he played a lead character in comedy film Midnight (1939). He also played the title character in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939) which led to the use of the word "ameche" as juvenile slang for a telephone. 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.'"[9] Such an identity between Ameche and the telephone was forged, that in the 1940 film Go West, Groucho Marx proclaims, "Telephone? This is 1870, Don Ameche hasn't invented the telephone yet."

Ameche was Alice 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). He also starred in two popular musicals, Down Argentine Way (1940), which helped make stars of Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda, and Moon Over Miami (1941), also with Grable. In 1940, he was voted the 21st-most-popular star in Hollywood.[10]

Ameche did Heaven Can Wait (1943), 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.[11]

Ameche in 1946

Following his appearances as announcer and sketch participant on The Chase and Sanborn Hour, Ameche 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.[12]

In 1950 Ameche became the star of Holiday Hotel, on ABC-TV.[13]

Ameche appeared regularly in films until 1970, as he shifted to television and the stage. He returned to films after thirteen years with Trading Places (1983), where he was cast when director John Landis had someone in mind from the 1930s and 1940s who had not played many villainous roles and came upon Ameche (after Ray Milland was passed over due to not being able to pass the insurance physical). After having to track him down in Santa Monica, California due to not being able to reach him through the Screen Actors Guild, who said that his royalty payments were going to his son in Arizona, Ameche took on the role. This started a comeback where Ameche would appear more regularly in films,[14] including Cocoon (1985, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Coming to America (1988), and Cocoon: The Return (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] His later credits included an episode of The Golden Girls (1990), the films Oscar (1991), Folks! (1992), and the voice of Shadow in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993). His final appearance was in the film Corrina, Corrina (1994), which was released posthumously.

Personal life

From 1946 to 1949, together with other Los Angeles entertainment figures including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Ameche owned 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 of their sons, Ron Ameche, owned a restaurant, "Ameche's Pumpernickel" in Coralville, Iowa. They had two daughters, Connie and Bonnie. Ameche's younger brother, Jim Ameche, also a well-known actor, died in 1983 at the age of 67.[21]

Ameche was Roman Catholic[22] and a Republican who supported the campaign of Thomas Dewey in the 1944 United States presidential election[23] and Dwight Eisenhower during the 1952 presidential election.[24]


On December 6, 1993, Ameche died at his son Don Jr.'s house in Scottsdale, Arizona, of prostate cancer[25] at age 85.[26][27] He was cremated and his ashes are buried at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery in Asbury, Iowa.[28]


Ameche in the 1938 film Alexander's Ragtime Band
Ameche in Down Argentine Way (1940)

Film / TV

Year Title Role Notes
1935 Clive of India Prisoner in the Black Hole Uncredited
1935 Dante's Inferno Man in Stoke-Hold Uncredited
1936 Sins of Man Karl Freyman / Mario Signarelli
1936 Ramona Alessandro
1936 Ladies in Love Dr. Rudi Imre
1936 One in a Million Bob Harris
1937 Love Is News Martin J. Canavan
1937 Fifty Roads to Town Peter Nostrand
1937 You Can't Have Everything George Macrae
1937 Love Under Fire Tracy Egan
1938 In Old Chicago Jack O'Leary
1938 Happy Landing Jimmy Hall
1938 Alexander's Ragtime Band Charlie Dwyer
1938 Josette David Brassard Jr.
1938 Gateway Dick Court
1939 The Three Musketeers D'Artagnan
1939 Midnight Tibor Czerny
1939 The Story of Alexander Graham Bell Alexander Graham Bell
1939 Hollywood Cavalcade Michael Linnett 'Mike' Connors
1939 Swanee River Stephen Foster
1940 Lillian Russell Edward Solomon
1940 Four Sons Chris Bern
1940 Down Argentine Way Ricardo Quintana
1941 That Night in Rio Impersonator Larry Martin / Baron Manuel Duarte
1941 Moon Over Miami Phil O'Neil (Credits) / Phil 'Mac' McNeil (in Film)
1941 Kiss the Boys Goodbye Lloyd Lloyd
1941 The Feminine Touch Prof. John Hathaway
1941 Confirm or Deny 'Mitch' Mitchell
1942 The Magnificent Dope Dwight Dawson
1942 Girl Trouble Pedro Sullivan
1943 Something to Shout About Ken Douglas
1943 Heaven Can Wait Henry Van Cleve
1943 Happy Land Lew Marsh
1944 Wing and a Prayer Flight Cmdr. Bingo Harper
1944 Greenwich Village Kenneth Harvey
1945 It's in the Bag! as himself (cameo appearance)
1945 Guest Wife Joseph Jefferson 'Joe' Parker
1946 So Goes My Love Hiram Stephen Maxim
1947 That's My Man Joe Grange
1948 Sleep, My Love Richard W. Courtland
1949 Slightly French John Gayle
1954 Phantom Caravan Lawrence Evans
1961 A Fever in the Blood Senator Alex S. Simon
1966 Rings Around the World Himself
1966 Picture Mommy Dead Edward Shelley
1970 The Boatniks Commander Taylor
1970 Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came Col. Flanders
1971 Columbo Frank Simpson Episode: "Suitable for Framing", Season 1
1983 Trading Places Mortimer Duke
1985 Cocoon Art Selwyn Won Oscar for Best Supporting Actor
1986 A Masterpiece of Murder Frank Aherne TV movie
1987 Pals Art Riddle / Arthur James Van Pelt TV movie
1987 Harry and the Hendersons Dr. Wallace Wrightwood
1988 Coming to America Mortimer Duke Cameo[29][30][31]
1988 Things Change Gino
1988 Cocoon: The Return Art Selwyn
1990 Oddball Hall G. Paul Siebriese
1990 The Golden Girls Brother Martin Episode: "Once in St. Olaf"
1991 Oscar Father Clemente
1992 Folks! Harry Aldrich
1992 Sunstroke Jake
1993 Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey Shadow Voice
1994 Corrina, Corrina Grandpa Harry Posthumous release

Short subjects

Jack Haley (left), Alice Faye (center), Don Ameche and Tyrone Power (right) in a trailer for Alexander's Ragtime Band.

Stage work

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1940 Lux Radio Theatre Manhattan Melodrama[32]
1947 Family Theater "Flight from Home"[33]

See also


  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. ^ Parker, John (1981). Who's who in the Theatre. Pitman. ISBN 9780810302358. Retrieved 16 December 2018 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b " Ameche - Actors - Hall of Fame". Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2012-04-06.
  5. ^ 1930 U.S. Federal Census; Kenosha, Kenosha, Wisconsin; Roll: 2577; Page: 8A; Enumeration District: 0017; Image: 716.0; FHL microfilm: 2342311
  6. ^ "". Retrieved 2010-03-23.[permanent dead link]
  7. ^ Herbert, Ian, ed. (1981). "AMECHE, Don". Who's Who in the Theatre. Vol. 1. Gale Research Company. p. 15. ISSN 0083-9833.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Kilen, Mike. "Ameche's son in Iowa City recalls dad's legacy of joy". Iowa City Gazette. 8 December 1993.
  10. ^ "FILM WORLD". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 14 February 1941. p. 16. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
  11. ^ "Don Ameche's $246,677". Weekly Variety. 5 July 1944. p. 3.
  12. ^ "Friday's Highlights" (PDF). Radio and Television Mirror. Vol. 14, no. 3. July 1940. p. 52. Retrieved 6 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Packard Signs Ameche for Fall Show". Billboard. August 12, 1950. p. 11. Retrieved July 30, 2022.
  14. ^ "'80s heroes: John Landis". Empire. July 17, 2016.
  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. ^ a b Oliver, Myrna (1993-12-08). "From the Archives: Don Ameche, Dapper Film Star, Dies at 85". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  20. ^ Peter B. Flint (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  21. ^ AP (1993-12-08). "Jim Ameche Dies at 68; First 'Jack Armstrong'". Retrieved 2019-11-26.
  22. ^ Ebert, Roger. "'Things Change' for Don Ameche". Retrieved 16 December 2018.
  23. ^ Critchlow, Donald T. (2013). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107650282.
  24. ^ Motion Picture and Television Magazine, November 1952, p. 34, Ideal Publishers
  25. ^ Henkel, John (December 1994). "Prostate Cancer: New Tests Create Treatment Dilemmas". FDA Consumer. BNET. Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  26. ^ Heise, Kenan (1993-12-08). "Oscar-winning Actor Don Ameche, 85". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2010-11-07.
  27. ^ Flint, Peter B. (1993-12-08). "Don Ameche Is Dead at 85; Oscar Winner for 'Cocoon'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-11-07.
  28. ^ Wilson, Scott (19 August 2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. ISBN 9781476625997. Retrieved 16 December 2018 – via Google Books.
  29. ^ "Coming to America Full Cast and Crew". Internet Movie Database.
  30. ^ "5 Best Cameos in Film History". What Culture Ltd. 27 March 2013.
  31. ^ Aquino, Tara (16 April 2016). "10 Royal Facts About 'Coming to America'". New York City: Mental Floss, Inc.
  32. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 37, no. 1. Winter 2011. p. 32.
  33. ^ "Those Were the Days". Nostalgia Digest. Vol. 39, no. 1. Winter 2013. pp. 32–41.