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When I joined the Beacon-Journal's feature department I was 23 years old going on 14. I was naive in the ways of the world, especially when it came to dining and drinking away from my mother's kitchen. How sheltered I was really came home in September, 1964, when I had lunch with Bill Dana.

This is how my story set up and described the experience.

A few weeks ago a date accused me of being too critical. I disagreed, of course, and we teetered on the edge of an argument, which prompted her to offer this piece of wisdom:

"Loretta Young always used to say, 'Never criticize an Indian until you've worn his moccasins for two weeks. Or something."

She had mangled the message, but I know what she meant. I should keep my mouth shut until I put myself in other other person's place to understand his point of view.

Last week I attempted to wear the moccasins of Bill Dana when he was in Cleveland to promote his television program.

I had to put myself in his shoes or else it would have been one of the shortest interviews on record. Even a person who isn't normally critical can be overly critical of "The Bill Dana Show."

Thus it was necessary to understand that at least one person – Dana – must think the program [about a hotel bellboy] is funny and that at least one person – Dana, again – still breaks up over those four well-worn words, "My name . . . Jose Jimenez."

In this agreeable frame of mind I even ordered the same meal Dana did – steak tartare, which is a fancy name for raw hamburger. He finished his; I quit after one bite. Obviously it wasn't going to be easy wearing Dana's moccasins.

We talked about the miracle of his series being renewed, a miracle arranged by Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard, a powerful duo who owned the show. But even they couldn't prevent NBC from finally tossing in the towel three months after my steak tartare fiasco. (Trivia note: Don Adams was a regular during the first season of "The Bill Dana Show" playing hotel detective Byron Glick, a character not unlike Maxwell Smart.)

Dana had started as a writer, becoming a performer when he worked on "The Steve Allen Show." The Jose Jimenez character grew out of a Christmas skit which featured a Spanish Santa Claus who said "jo, jo, jo" instead of "ho, ho, ho."

Dana milked Jose Jiminez for all the character was worth, and then some. He mouthed his famous catch phrase for the last time on a Smothers Brothers specil in 1988. He dropped out of sight a few years later after playing a recurring role as Uncle Angelo on "The Golden Girls." His last television appearance was on "Empty Nest" in 1994.

Dana was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, and his real name is William Szathmary, which he enjoyed explaining this way: "I'm a Jungarian Hew."

 
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