Bill Dana, former head writer of the Steve Allen Show and host of the Bill Dana Show, will speak at Maryville College at 7 p.m., Feb. 19 in Lawson Auditorium of Fayerweather Hall.
The event, part of the College’s ongoing Community Conversations Series, is free and open to the public. Dana has titled his talk “Humor: The Closest Distance Between Two Points.”
“Among television’s earliest comedy writers and comedians, Bill Dana still knows how to get a laugh,” said Dr. Lee Davis, instructor of English at MC and a personal friend of Dana. “In his presentation, Bill will reminisce about the early years of TV comedy and draw parallels between what was funny then, what is funny now and what is funny always.”
Known and loved for his above-the-belt humor, Dana, now 83, is most famous for the “José Jimenéz” character he created on the Steve Allen Show in 1959. In the 1950s and 1960s, he performed in major U.S. nights clubs and abroad, and his comedy albums became best-sellers. At the John F. Kennedy Inaugural Gala in 1961, he teamed with Milton Berle for a show-stopping “José the Astronaut” bit.
Adopted by the original seven Mercury astronauts, Dana became part of U.S. Space history on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo), 1961, when the first words from planet Earth to Al Shepard, America’s first man in space, were “OK, José, you’re on your way.” Dana and José were honored by inclusion in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
From 1963 until 1965, Dana achieved NBC stardom through “The Bill Dana Show.” As a writer-producer-performer throughout his career, he helped launch the careers of comedic greats such as Don Adams, Jackie Mason, Don Knotts and Jim Nabors.
Dana was nominated for several Emmy awards for his comedy writing. His “The Laughter Prescription,” co-authored with Dr. Laurence Peter will be followed this year with “The Laughter Prescription: Refill One.” Dana was the writer behind the “All in the Family” episode featuring Sammy Davis, Jr. “Sammy’s Visit” is consistently rated in TV Guide’s “Top 100 Television Episodes of All Time.”
Over the last two decades, Dana has guest-starred in many television sitcoms including “The Smothers Brothers Show” and “The Golden Girls” and has upcoming appearances on ABC’s “American Country Countdown” with Kix Brooks.
A 1950 graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., Dana founded the American Comedy Archives at Emerson in 2005. According to the Emerson College web site, the project aims “to acquire, preserve and make available primary source material that documents the professional activities of the groundbreaking individuals who have written, produced or performed comedy for radio, television, motion pictures or live performance.”
In 2007, Dana was recognized by his alma mater with Emerson’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Pacific Pioneer Broadcaster in Los Angeles.
The comedian now lives in Nashville with his beloved wife, Evelyn Shular Dana, (a Sevier County native), who is also his best friend and business partner.