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Dennis Day Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trivia (23)

Overview (4)

Born in The Bronx, New York, USA
Died in Bel Air, California, USA  (Lou Gehrig's disease)
Birth NameOwen Patrick Eugene McNulty
Height 5' 8" (1.73 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Always bright and beaming from ear to ear, Irish singer Dennis Day's name and career remains synonymous with that of Jack Benny's, working with the star comedian on radio and TV for the entire duration. It was Jack who gave him his break in 1939 and Jack who kept him employed as a singer and naive comic sidekick (his "Gee, Mr. Benny!" became a well-known catchphrase on the show). Dennis in fact would play second-banana to the comedian until Benny's death in 1974.

Dennis was christened Owen Patrick McNulty on May 21, 1917 in Bronx, New York, the son of an Ireland-born stationary engineer. The strength and promise of his lilting tenor was first discovered while performing with his glee club at St. Patrick's Cathedral High School. Graduating from Manhattan College, he first had designs on a law career and starting singing in order to earn money for tuition. By himself, he recorded "I Never Knew Heaven Could Speak" and distributed the song out to various radio producers, one of whom presented it to Mary Livingston, Benny's wife. She was so taken that she insisted he be considered for her husband's popular radio show "The Jack Benny Show". When the show's then-tenor Kenny Baker objected to being a featherbrained foil to Benny on the show and gave notice, Dennis auditioned and won a regular spot, and the idea of law school became a thing of the past. Making his debut on the Benny show on October 8, 1939, Dennis' innocent-eyed teenager (he was actually 21 at the time) often drew more laughs than Benny himself in their rapport together. His career was interrupted by World War II when he served with the Navy. He was discharged in 1946.

His cherry-cheeked, wide-eyed charm delighted scores of radio fans and the fame Dennis received from the show drew invitations to other radio programs, and eventually his own radio show "A Day in the Life of Dennis Day" in 1946. Here he played (naturally) a naive soda jerk. But he never left Benny, staying true-blue to the comedian when The Jack Benny Program (1950) transferred to TV and became an institution for a decade and a half. Dennis also showed great flair as a mimic, impersonating a number of illustrious stars such as Ronald Colman, Jimmy Durante and James Stewart on the Benny program. Dubbed "America's Favorite Irish Tenor", The Dennis Day Show (1952) took life just two years after the Benny program went on the air. It enjoyed two seasons on TV before it was canceled.

Dennis also appeared in support of Benny on film. Buck Benny Rides Again (1940), marked Dennis' movie debut and in it he sang "My Kind of Country." Other sporadic filming emphasizing his vocal prowess were for the most part "B"-level musical entertainment. He co-starred with Judy Canova in the cornball comedy Sleepy Lagoon (1943); Anne Shirley in the romantic Music in Manhattan (1944); June Haver and Gloria DeHaven in I'll Get By (1950), in which he sang "McNamara's Band" and "There Will Never Be Another You", and; the Civil War-themed Golden Girl (1951) headlining Mitzi Gaynor as entertainer Lotta Crabtree in which Dennis crooned "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" and "California Moon." Despite these agreeable outings, he never came close to becoming a musical film star perhaps because he was too identified with his cheery, naive image on radio and TV. Once he finished The Girl Next Door (1953) which again starred Ms. Haver, Dennis was nowhere to be seen on celluloid for at least another two decades. Walt Disney also welcomed Dennis' sunny tenor in his animated features The Legend of Johnny Appleseed (1948), in which Dennis sang the title song, and Melody Time (1948).

Best known for his recording of Irish tunes, including such novelty songs as "Clancy Lowered the Boom", Dennis won over the ladies with his romantic covers of such ballads as "Mam'selle," "Dear Hearts and Gentle People" and "Mona Lisa." Occasionally he was given dramatic work on TV but nothing really came of it, coming off much better as a guest in musical variety shows.

Dennis legally adopted his professional name in 1944 against his family's wishes. The strict Irish-Catholic married Peggy Almquist in 1948 and the couple had ten children (six daughters, four sons). Dennis and his family settled in Los Angeles where he became an honorary mayor of Mandeville Canyon. He and his wife also owned an antique shop in Santa Monica for a time. He continued to perform at conventions and fairs throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was seen only occasionally in film and TV parts as he refused any work he deemed objectionable. He died at age 72 in Los Angeles from Lou Gehrig's disease.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (1)

Peggy Almquist (1948 - 22 June 1988) ( his death) ( 10 children)

Trivia (23)

Profiled in "Old Time Radio Memories" by Mel Simons (BearManor Media).
As Eugene McNulty, graduated from Manhattan College in 1938.
In his senior year at college, he was president of the college Glee Club.
Sang in the choir at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
His debut was on Jack Benny's radio program on October 8, 1939, when he was 21 years old.
Had two brothers and three sisters.
His brother James was married to Ann Blyth.
Was a tenor singer.
Was Irish.
Had ten children.
Was associated with Jack Benny from 1939 to Benny's death in 1974.
Never sang professionally before the The Jack Benny Program (1950).
Served as a Lieutenant (j.g.) in the Navy during World War II from 1944-1946.
He was voted one of the top five most popular tenors on radio during his first year on the Jack Benny Program (1939).
Had his own radio show, "A Day in the Life of Dennis Day", from 1946-1952.
Started singing when he was a small boy.
On the The Jack Benny Program (1950), his character's mother was a tyrant who intimidated Jack, and her name was Lucrezia Day. She was played by Verna Felton.
Spoke fluent Spanish.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives." Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 240-242. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
His last TV appearance was less than a year before his death, in September, 1987, on the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon. With tears in his eyes, he spoke of his recent diagnosis of Lou Gehrig's Disease, and pleaded with viewers to help support medical research for that and other neuromuscular diseases via their donations.
He was awarded 2 Stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Radio at 7048 Hollywood Boulevard and for Television at 6646 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
Sang the song 'Never in a Million Years' at Jack Haley's funeral. The song is from the movie 'Wake Up and Live' which starred Jack Haley and Alice Faye.
He was a staunch conservative Republican.

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