Bill Dana 2009 “Comedy Legend” award recipient03-20-2009 10:00 am
BILL DANA TO RECEIVE 2009 GACF "COMEDY LEGEND" AWARD
Bill Dana — whose television and comedic career has spanned almost 60 years — will be this year’s “Comedy Legend” award recipient at the Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk.
“Bill is honored to be recognized in this way,” said Eddie Brill, the talent coordinator for the “Late Show with David Letterman” and the festival’s executive producer.
When trying to recount all of Dana’s show business accomplishments, it’s difficult to know where to begin, Brill said.
He was the original head writer for the first-ever “Tonight Show” when Steve Allen was its host in 1955. He was part of an acting troupe that featured Louis Nye, Don Knotts and Tom Poston.
Dana made many guest appearances on “The Tonight Show” when Johnny Carson served as its host and he also was a popular guest on the Ed Sullivan show.
His character Jose Jimenez gained him nationwide fame; he hosted his own show on NBC for two years in the 1960s; and he later was a regular on “The Golden Girls” television series on NBC.
Brill said Dana also wrote an “All in the Family” episode featuring Sammy Davis Jr., that has been hailed by Television Guide as one of the top 100 television episodes of all time.
“Norman Lear called it the best-ever first draft of a situation comedy script,” Brill added.
As this year’s “Comedy Legend” honoree, Dana will be on hand during the festival’s final performance on Saturday, June 20, at the Johnny Carson Theatre to receive the award. His wife, Evy, will be accompanying him to Norfolk.
Dana also will serve as a judge for the stand-up comedy competition finals set for Friday, June 19, at the theater. Tentative plans also are for Dana to be the guest at a question-and-answer session open to the public on Saturday afternoon.
He will be the second recipient of the “Comedy Legend” award, which is an annual feature of the festival designed to honor those who embody the comedic spirit of the late Johnny Carson. Last year’s recipient was Nebraska native Dick Cavett.
In 1959, when the prime time “Steve Allen Show” moved west to open the new NBC Burbank Studios, Bill not only became head writer, but his heavily accident character of José Jimenéz also made him an instant national hit. He was the star of “The Bill Dana Show” on NBC from 1963 to 1965.
His comedy albums were top-sellers in the 1960s. He helped launch the careers of comedic greats such as Jackie Mason, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors. He was nominated for several Emmy awards for his comedy writing.
Informally adopted by the original seven Mercury astronauts, Dana became part of U.S. space history on May 5, 1961, when the first words from NASA to Al Shepard, America's first man in space were, "OK, José, you're on your way." Dana has been honored by inclusion in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
In 2005, Dana founded the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College. With colleague Jenni Matz, Dana interviewed over 60 living legends of comedy for the archives.
He recently received Lifetime Achievement Awards from Emerson College (his alma mater), The Boston Comedy Festival, and The American Radio and Television Society.
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Want to learn more?
To find out more about this summer’s Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, go to www.greatamericancomedyfestival.com. Ticket information also is available at the Web site or by contacting the Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 402-371-2932.