Dominic Felix Amici to an
Italian family in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Ameche began his career in
vaudeville with Texas Guinan until Guinan dropped him from the act,
dismissing him as "too stiff".
A native of Kenosha, Wisconsin, Don Ameche started his radio career in 1930 on Empire Builders, a program broadcast from Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. By 1932, Ameche had become the leading man on two other Chicago-based programs: the dramatic anthology First Nighter and Betty and Bob, considered by many to be the forerunner of the soap-opera genre.
He made his film debut in 1935 and by the late thirties had established himself as a leading actor in Hollywood. He appeared successfully in such films as Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938), as Alexander Graham Bell in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939), and Heaven Can Wait (1943).
He was so associated with his role as Bell that for a time, "Ameche" was slang for telephone. By the end of the decade his films had lost appeal, and he turned to radio where he achieved great success during the fifties playing the gruff John Bickerson opposite Frances Langford in The Bickersons. His verbal battles with his argumentative wife Blanche were regularly heard on Drene Time, Ameche’s 1947 variety show. Although this sort of verbal jousting was new to both Ameche and Langford, the characters proved so enduring that the pair later recorded a series of Bickersons albums for Columbia Records.
He was married to Honore Prendergast from 1932 until her death in 1986, by whom he had six children; his late younger brother Jim Ameche was also an actor.
For three decades he was virtually absent from films, until he was cast alongside fellow veteran actor Ralph Bellamy in the film Trading Places in 1983. The actors played rich brothers intent on ruining an innocent man for the sake of a one-dollar bet. The film's great success, and their acclaimed comedic performances, brought them both back into the limelight.
In an interview some years later on The Larry King Show, co-star Jamie Lee Curtis stated that Ameche, a proper old-school actor, whose script called for him to use the "F-word" at one point, went to everyone on the set and apologized ahead of time, for being compelled to use such a harsh vulgarity in their presence.
Ameche's next role, in Cocoon (1985), won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He continued working for the rest of his life (including a role in the sequel, Cocoon: The Return). His final scenes for the film Corrina, Corrina (1994) were completed only days before his death in Scottsdale, Arizona from prostate cancer.
In 1936, he moved to California and the following year began working on The Chase and Sanborn Hour. As master of ceremonies, he exchanged jokes with stars Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, singers Nelson Eddy and Dorothy Lamour and countless guest stars from Broadway and Hollywood.
For his contribution to radio, Don Ameche has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6313 Hollywood Boulevard. and a second star at 6101 Hollywood Boulevard. for his contribution to the television industry.
After a long and successful career in radio, television and film, Don Ameche died on December 6, 1993.