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Who is Mrs. Calabash?

Ben Steelman

According to legend in Calabash, N.C., comedian Jimmy Durante and his troupe passed through the little Brunswick County town sometime in the 1940s. While there, he made friends with a young restaurant owner.

Brunswick County historian Susie Carson says that woman was Lucille “Lucy” Coleman, a claim repeated in Theresa Jensen Lacey’s “Amazing North Carolina.” Soon afterward, Durante adopted his trademark sign-off — “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!” — for his radio show. According to Coleman’s daughter, Clarice Holden, and others, it was Durante’s anonymous tip of the hat to her mother, who died in 1989.

Not everyone accepts this theory, though. Sheryl Hardee of Calabash maintains that “Mrs. Calabash” was her mother, Ella High.

Others say “Mrs. Calabash” has no ties to Southeastern North Carolina at all. The Internet Movie Database, among other sources, says “Mrs. Calabash” was a tribute to Durante’s first wife, Jeanne Olsen; supposedly, “Calabash” was an in-joke for the Chicago suburb of Calabash, which they both liked, or a comic mispronunciation of Calabesas, Calif. Fans note that Durante started using the “Mrs. Calabash” line about the time his first wife died in 1943. Other sources claim the real Mrs. Calabash was a women in Meridien, Conn. Durante himself never offered a clue.

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One Response to “ Who is Mrs. Calabash?”

  1. On June 4, 2011 at 10:52 am Ted Hackett wrote:

    At a National Press Club meeting in 1966 (broadcast on NBC’s Monitor program), Durante finally revealed that it was indeed a tribute to his wife. While driving across the country, they stopped in a small town called Calabash, which name she had loved. “Mrs. Calabash” became his pet name for her, and he signed off his radio program with “Good night, Mrs. Calabash.” He added “wherever you are” after the first year