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Mrs. Calabash where are you?
Jimmy Durante made this mysterious women's name his signature sign-off during the 1940s. But did she really exist?
By Ted Tyson
"GOOD NIGHT, Mrs. Calabash--wherever you are!"
For years, Jimmy Durante ended his radio and television shows with that unusual sign-off. Most people thought the mysterious Mrs. Calabash must have been some fictional character that Durante dreamed up just to tease his audiences. But longtime residents of Calabash, North Carolina believe otherwise. The folks in this town will tell you she was a real person with a real name--and a fascinating story to boot. They claim that Mrs. Calabash was really a local woman named Lucille "Lucy" Coleman.
In 1940, Lucy was 28 years old and running a restaurant in Calabash, then a tiny seaside community bordering South Carolina. Durante and his touring entertainment troupe are said to have stopped in for supper one night. It may have been the genuine homespun friendliness of the young restaurant owner that prompted the gregarious Jimmy Durante to beckon Lucy over to his table for some short chitchat. "I'm going to make you famous," vowed Durante, thinking she recognized his well-known face. (In fact, at that moment, she didn't even know who he was!) Lucy's daughter, Clarice Holden, says she will never forget what happened next.
SECRET SIGN OFF
"As Mr. Durante and his group were walking out the door after their meal," Clarice recalls,"he turned to my mom and said, 'Good night Mrs. Calabash.' "
It wasn't long afterward that this popular entertainer began signing off his radio shows with a similar message. For years, audiences enjoyed this rather lighthearted farewell mystery. By the time of Durante's death in 1980, it had become one of his trademarks, almost as recognizable as his big "schnozzola". But while that sign-off may have remained a mystery to most folks, Calabash residents believe it was Durante's way of saying to Mrs. Coleman, "Hi, Lucy--I remember you, if you're still out there now."
Lucy Coleman passed away in 1989, nearly 50 years after her meeting with Jimmy Durante. Calabash residents note that Lucy recognized the significance of Durante's little secret message but preferred to stay out of the limelight. She had no desire to claim credit as the real "Mrs. Calabash." "Mom was a very private person," recalls Clarice, "She didn't speak much about her 'Mrs. Calabash' entity, and declined all interviews and all invitations to appear on television."
Apparently, Durante's popularity was so great that he could immortalize a prim Southern restaurant keeper. But neither he nor anyone else could get her to talk.