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Jerry Colonna

The mustachioed comedian with the popping eyes and siren voice was a great favorite of Bob Hope's radio show during the 1930's and 40's. As "Professor Colonna" he needled Hope every week with cutting insults and insane gags:

(Phone Ring)

Bob: Hello?

Jerry: (way off mike) Hello, Hope.

50 Bob: Colonna, I can't hear you, get

closer to the phone.

Jerry: I can't. The drugstore's closed!

Bob: Colonna, how did you get out

of the nuthouse?

Jerry: Don't you remember? I stood

on your shoulders!"

Jerry became a mainstay on the Bob Hope junkets to entertain the U.S. military during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. His appearances were always a highlight of the famous televised Christmas shows. He often turned up in the audience, in the uniform of whatever branch Bob was entertaining:

Bob: Say, sailor, you look familiar to me.

What were you before you were in the Navy?

Jerry: Happy!

Jerry and Bob Hope somewhere near the front, WWII

The boys are clowning but the bunker is real.

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.

Jerry playing his beloved trombone -

"The Horn" as he called it.

After his stroke, he gave the instrument to the Bandmaster at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California.

"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.

Flo and Jerry

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's hobbies included riding his cowponies, collecting guns (he was a crack shot with a Colt .45) and composing music ("Along The Dixie Hi-Fi-Way," an album of his tunes, was released in 1956).

Jerry and Flo with Jerry's favorite horse, "White Sun".

Jerry left the Bob Hope show as a regular around 1950, although he continued to join Bob for the Christmas shows and occasional TV specials. In the mid-50's he achieved yet another sort of immortality by recording the voice of the March Hare50 in Disney's "Alice In Wonderland," with Ed Wynn as the Mad Hatter. He continued to record, and appeared in British Vaudeville and top Nevada night clubs until a partial paralytic stroke in 1966 left him virtually unable to perform, although Bob Hope generously found ways to work him into TV specials without his disability becoming obvious. In 1979 a heart attack sent him to the Motion Picture and Television Hospital, where he spent the final seven years of his life. Though unable to use his voice, he was fully alert and communicative, sometimes writing messages but usually expressing his thoughts with Italianate hand gestures and, of course, those astonishing eyes. His devoted Flo spent every day with him until he passed on in 1986. She would follow him eight years later, in the same hospital.

50 Jerry's son Bob is now in his early sixties, and is still approached by fans who remember the enormous eyes and moustache and the siren voice. They always say the same thing: "My goodness, how he made us laugh!"


Last updated 12/01/02

Favorite LINKS

Publish America
Publisher of Zoe's Vaudeville Act and other Stories by Bob Colonna.

Burt's Place

The place to go for rabbit and cat lovers.


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