Bill Dana's comic creation José Jiménez first appeared on Steve Allen's TV show, and swiftly became extremely popular. Jimenez was a Mexican immigrant, somewhat bemused by life in the U.S.A. but eager to join in. Dana got so much mileage from this one character that he became one of those performers - other examples are Paul Rubens (Pee Wee Herman) and Don Novello (Father Guido Sarducci) - entirely known to the public in the guise of one fictional character, rather than in his own right. Inevitably, there were some complaints (from Latinos in general and Mexicans in particular) that Jose Jimenez is an ethnic stereotype. This is simply unfair. Jose Jimenez is honest, hard-working. He has some trouble speaking English, but he is naive and uneducated rather than stupid or gormless. In many ways, Jose Jimenez is a south-of-the-border version of Gomer Pyle.
Jose Jimenez's origins were in brief skits and spoof 'man in the street' interviews on Steve Allen's show. 'The Bill Dana Show' was an attempt to place the popular Jimenez character at the centre of a weekly sitcom. This series had some genuine potential, with a good premise and a splendid supporting cast, and might have succeeded if it had possessed better scripts. Each episode began promisingly, with a marimba band playing the show's theme tune in rapid three-quarter time.
Bill Dana remained firmly in character as Jose Jimenez, who for purposes of this sitcom was a bellboy in a California hotel. Working on the same shift was his bellboy buddy Eddie. There was some good interplay between the naive, trusting Jose and the cynical Eddie, with Eddie always trying to recruit Jose into his schemes and always eager to explain to Jose the 'right' way to do things in America. Pop singer Gary Crosby showed real acting talent in his role as Eddie.
For modern viewers, the most intriguing aspect of 'The Bill Dana Show' is that the supporting cast featured dry runs for two characters who later became fixtures in their own respective series. Don Adams (a longtime friend of Dana) played the hotel's house detective Glick. Adams played this character with the same crotchets and vocal delivery that he would later employ so successfully as Maxwell Smart in 'Get Smart'. The hotel's pompous manager, Mr Phillips, was played by Jonathan Harris in the same snooty supercilious mode that he later used as the villainous Dr Zachary Smith in 'Lost in Space'.
There were no surprises in 'The Bill Dana Show'. One episode, absolutely typical, began with bellboys Jose and Eddie making a mistake that threatened to make trouble for the hotel. Jose was in favour of confessing their error to manager Phillips, but fast-talking Eddie convinced Jose that they should lie their way out of it. Of course, the lie gets out of hand and grows to unmanageable proportions. Eventually, Jose and Eddie discover that their original mistake had unexpected dividends: if they had only been truthful from the beginning, they would have come up trumps. This prompted Eddie to tell Jose: "You be honest Abe Lincoln, and I'll be George Washington who never told a lie." When Jose agreed to this, Eddie added: 'Now you get ready to kick me across my bridge.' The episode ended with Eddie bent over and Jose about to kick him. This sort of strained dialogue and unfunny humour was absolutely typical of this series, unfortunately.
To vary the monotony of Jose in a bellhop's uniform, working in a hotel, there were occasional episodes in which Jose would daydream that he had some other, more glamorous (and more dangerous) job of work, such as a deep-sea diver or an astronaut. (Dana had already released a successful comedy album featuring an astronaut routine.) This daydream device was later copied by "Gilligan's Island", giving Gilligan occasional chances to vary the castaway scripts by fantasising that he was a spy or somesuch.
It might be interesting to release one episode of 'The Bill Dana Show' on home video - mostly for its curiosity value, and to give us a glimpse of Don Adams and Jonathan Harris before their stardom - but this series as a whole was poorly written and unfunny.
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