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Born William Szathmary in Quincy, MA, on October 5, 1924, Dana began his career as a writer after a severe back injury temporarily derailed his performing aspirations. After creating gags for the likes of George Gobel and Don Adams throughout the first half of the 1950s, in 1956 he joined the staff of The Steve Allen Show, where his backstage impression of a Latin-American character named Jose Jimenez so impressed host Allen that Dana was invited to appear as Jose on the program's 1959 Christmas special. The sketch proved immediately popular with audiences, and soon Dana graduated from the writing staff to the role of featured performer; although he created a number of characters of varying ethnic backgrounds, the naïve, good-natured Jose -- complete with the trademark opening line "My name...Jose Jimenez" -- remained the program's consensus favorite.
Given that Dana himself was of Hungarian Jewish descent, there was considerable controversy over the perceived stereotyping of his characterization, but in actuality Jose Jimenez was about not ethnic humor so much as satirizing American culture on the whole. Dana made his recording debut in 1960 with My Name...Jose Jimenez, an album split between clips from The Steve Allen Show and a sketch built around a press conference. Following his success on television and on record, Dana graduated to nightclubs; his first shows at San Francisco's famed Hungry i club formed the basis for 1961's Jose Jimenez the Astronaut, which lampooned the current American fascination with the space race. When the record became a favorite on the grounds of NASA's Cape Canaveral, it received considerable media attention, and when the comedy routine "The Astronaut" was eventually issued as a single, it reached the Top 20.
After the record's success, subsequent LPs placed Jose in similarly outlandish situations; Jose Jimenez the Submarine Officer reprised routines from The Steve Allen Show and The Spike Jones Show, while 1962's Jose Jimenez in Orbit returned the character to the space program. After a flurry of releases including 1962's Jose Jimenez Talks to Teenagers of All Ages and the following year's Our Secret Weapon and Jose Jimenez in Jollywood, he received his own sitcom, The Bill Dana Show, in 1963. The program, which cast Jose as a hotel bellhop, ran through 1965, at which point it was clear its star wanted to move on to new projects; the 1964 LP Bill Dana in Las Vegas, while featuring some Jose material, also included routines not performed from the character's perspective.
As the Jose Jimenez craze gradually ceased, Dana largely receded from view, signing on as a producer and occasional performer for the last few seasons of The Milton Berle Show during the mid-'60s. He returned in 1970 with the album Hoo Hah! Direct from Noshville, a parody of the series Hee Haw steeped in his Jewish background. For the next several decades, Dana focused primarily on writing and directing, making a number of guest appearances in television and film roles and occasionally dragging Jose Jimenez out of mothballs; after the 1991 compilation The Best of Jose Jiminez, Dana returned to the studio to record a collection of all-new material titled Jose Can You See. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi