Comedian Bill Dana, creator of ‘José Jiménez,’ dead at 92
Comedian and comedy writer Bill Dana, who became famous through his “José Jiménez” character in the 1950s and 1960s, died June 15 at the age of 92. The Jiménez character, a stereotyped cowardly astronaut, was a favorite performer with television audiences and with the “Original Seven” Mercury astronauts.
Famous in more ways than one
A man of many talents, Dana’s official website described him as “a successful writer, author, cartoonist, producer, director, recording artist, inventor, and stand-up comedian.” Born William Szathmary, after serving as a combat infantryman in World War II, Dana turned to stand-up comedy and then TV comedy.
In 1956, Dana applied his comedic talents to writing as well as performing, becoming a writer and then head writer for The Steve Allen Show, where his José Jiménez character came to life. Eventually, he got his own situation comedy show on NBC, which ran from 1963 to 1965.
José Jiménez often appeared in an interview format, taking questions from a straight-man interviewer who would ask him questions about his life as an astronaut. The Spanish-accented Jiménez would answer in fearful fashion about his fate. Dana’s approach to the space program provided comic relief during a tense and uncertain space race with the Soviet Union. He was a particular favorite of the United States’ first Mercury astronaut, Alan Shepard.
Adopted by all of the Mercury astronauts, Dana became part of space history when the first words spoken to Alan Shepard on his Freedom 7 flight were, “O.K. José, you’re on your way!” Dana and his character have been included in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Dana also served on the board of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation.
In 1970, with ethnic humor drawing criticism, Dana stopped performing the character. Despite this cultural shift, the National Hispanic Media Coalition endorsed the José Jiménez character, invited Dana to sit on their advisory board, and gave him an image award in 1997.
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.