Gerardo Luigi "Jerry" Colonna (September 17, 1904, Boston, Massachusetts - November 21, 1986, Woodland Hills, California) was an Italian-American comedian, singer and songwriter, remembered best as the zaniest of Bob Hope's sidekicks on Hope's popular radio shows and films of the 1940s and 1950s.
With his pop-eyed facial expressions and walrus-sized handlebar mustache, Colonna was known for singing loudly "in a comic caterwaul," according to Raised on Radio author Gerald Nachman, and for his catch phrase, "Who's Yehudi?", uttered after many an old joke, although it usually had nothing to do with the joke. The line was believed to be named for violin virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin, and the search for Yehudi became a running gag on the Hope show.
Colonna started his career as a trombonist in orchestras and dance bands in and around his native Boston; he can be heard with Joe Herlihy's orchestra on discs recorded for Edison Records in the late 1920s. During the 1930s, Colonna played with the CBS house orchestra, the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, and developed a reputation for prankishness. His off-stage antics were so infamous that CBS nearly fired him on more than one occasion. Fred Allen, then on CBS, gave Colonna periodic guest slots, and a decade later he joined the John Scott Trotter band on Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall.
Colonna married Florence Purcell, whom he reportedly met on a blind date in 1930; the couple adopted a son, Robert, in 1941. The marriage lasted 56 years.
In an opera parody, Colonna hollered an aria "in a deadpan screech that became his trademark on Bob Hope's show," Nachman noted. Colonna was one of three memorable 1940s Kraft Music Hall discoveries. The others were pianist-comedian Victor Borge and Trotter's drummer, music "depreciationist" Spike Jones.
Colonna had the ability to stretch a syllable to extreme lengths. In addition to songs (such as "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall, or nothing at aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall..."), he worked this bit into The Road to Rio along with another of his catch phrases. The action periodically cuts to a cavalry riding to the rescue of Bing and Bob. At one point he exhorts his riders, Chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarge!" At the end of the film, when all is resolved and he is still "charging," he pulls up and tells the audience, "Well, what do you know... we never quite made it. Exciting, though... wasn't it?!"
According to radio historian Arthur Frank Wertheim, in Radio Comedy, Colonna was responsible for many of the catch phrases on Hope's show, notably, "Give me a drag on that before you throw it away", a crack the cast came to use to lance any bragging. Colonna's usual salutation was, "Greetings, Gates," and listeners soon began saying it.
Colonna was part of several of Hope's early USO tours during the 1940s. Jack Benny's singing sidekick Dennis Day, a talented impressionist as well as a singer, did an effective imitation of Colonna's manic style and expressions.
Colonna joined ASCAP in 1956; his songwriting credits include "At Dusk", "I Came to Say Goodbye", "Sleighbells in the Sky" and "Take Your Time." He released an LP of Dixieland-style music, He Sings and Swings (Mercury-Wing MGW 12153), in the late 1950s.
Colonna featured in three of the popular Hope-Crosby Road films: The Road to Singapore (1940) as Achilles Bombassa and The Road to Rio (1947) as a Cavalry captain and a cameo role in The Road to Hong Kong (1962). He can also be seen in the 1945 Fred Allen vehicle, It's in the Bag!, as psychiatrist Dr. Greenglass, and he made a brief appearance with Hope in the "Wife, Husband and Wolf" sketch in Star-Spangled Rhythm.
He provided the voice of the March Hare in the Walt Disney animated film version of Alice in Wonderland (1951) (another radio legend, Ed Wynn, voiced the Mad Hatter) and also lent his zany narration style to several Disney shorts, including Casey at the Bat (1946) and The Brave Engineer (1950).
Colonna left the Hope show as a regular in 1950, but he continued appearing with Hope on holiday television specials and live shows into the 70's. He hosted his own television comedy series, The Jerry Colonna Show which lasted a single season.
After his guest shot on The Monkees, Colonna suffered a stroke. Its paralytic effect forced his retirement from show business, and a 1979 heart attack forced him to spend the last seven years of his life in the Motion Picture and Television Hospital. Florence stayed by his side to the end, when he died of kidney failure in 1986. She died eight years later at the same hospital. (Info Wikipedia)