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Bill Dana, Comic Best Known for José Jiménez Character, Dies at 92

“I’ve always detested a certain type of dialect that’s an unkind caricature,” he said in a 1964 interview with The New York Post. “José is not a caricature. He’s the closest representation of a real human being that I can create.” On another occasion, he explained that José was “not a Latin character” but “a universal character.”

Nonetheless, many people saw José as a reinforcement of negative stereotypes, and over the course of the 1960s the character became the target of protests.

By 1970, Mr. Dana had stopped performing as José — he even read the character’s obituary at an event in Los Angeles sponsored by the Congress of Mexican-American Unity — though he insisted that he made that decision not because of mounting anger about the character but because some people were misinterpreting his intentions.

He decided to drop the character, he said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, because of people “who would tell me, ‘Boy I shore love it when you play that dumb Mexican.’’’


Mr. Dana in Los Angeles in 2000.

Newsmakers, via Getty Images

Mr. Dana continued his career in television after that, devoting more of his energies to writing. Among his credits was the script for the 1972 episode of “All in the Family” in which Sammy Davis Jr. ends up in Archie Bunker’s living room, which TV Guide in 1997 ranked 13th on its list of the “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.”

He also appeared on numerous TV series, occasionally in dramatic roles, although comedy remained his specialty.

The biggest laugh he ever got, he once said, was in a 1991 episode of “The Golden Girls,” when, as a recurring character known as Uncle Angelo, he presumed incorrectly that he’d be taking Blanche, the randy woman-of-a-certain-age played by Rue McClanahan, to bed. Discovering his error, Uncle Angelo asked, “Are you telling me I shaved my shoulders for nothing?”

In 2005, Mr. Dana and the philanthropist Ted Cutler founded the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College in Boston, Mr. Dana’s alma mater. The archives’ centerpiece is a collection of videotaped interviews with more than 60 comedians, writers and other comedy professionals, conducted by Mr. Dana and Ms. Matz.

Bill Dana was born William Szathmary in Quincy, Mass., on Oct. 5, 1924, the youngest of six children. His father, Joseph, a real estate developer, was an immigrant from Hungary; his mother worked in a millinery shop. Her name was Dena, and when Bill Szathmary changed his name early in his show business career, he chose a near homonym to honor her.

Mr. Dana served in the infantry in Europe during World War II, and when he returned he graduated from Emerson with a degree in speech and drama. He worked as a page at NBC in Manhattan and formed a comedy team with a college friend, Gene Wood, who later became a successful television announcer. He also wrote material for comics, including a young contemporary, Don Adams, for whom Mr. Dana invented the joke formula that began, “Would you believe?” and that would later become part of Mr. Adams’s shtick as the secret agent Maxwell Smart in the sitcom “Get Smart.”

Mr. Dana is survived by his wife of 36 years, the former Evelyn Shular.

In today’s more sensitive times, the popularity of José Jiménez may be hard to fathom. But Mr. Dana performed the character at, among other places, an inaugural-eve gala for President John F. Kennedy.

He came out before the crowd that night dressed in a spacesuit with a full military escort. With him was Milton Berle, who asked: “What is this called? A crash helmet?” — to which José replied, “Oh, I hope not!” Asked how he would spend his time in space, he said, “I plan to cry a lot.”

In fact, José was a favorite character of the seven actual astronauts in the Mercury space program. On May 5, 1961, when Alan Shepard lifted off to become the first American in space, his fellow astronaut Deke Slayton spoke to him from the ground.

“O.K., José, you’re on your way,” Mr. Slayton said.

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