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(May 21, 1916 - June 22, 1988) born Owen Patrick Eugene McNulty, was an American singer and radio, television and film personality of Irish descent. Always bright and beaming from ear to ear, Irish singer Dennis Day's name and career remains synonymous with that of Jack Benny's, working with the star comedian on radio and TV for the entire duration. It was Jack who gave him his break in 1939 and Jack who kept him employed as a singer and naive comic sidekick (his "Gee, Mr. Benny!" became a well-known catchphrase on the show). Dennis in fact would play second-banana to the comedian until Benny's death in 1974.
Day was born and raised in New York City, the second of five children born to Irish immigrants Patrick McNulty and Mary McNulty. His father was a stationary engineer. Day graduated from Cathedral Preparatory Seminary in New York City, and attended Manhattan College in the Bronx, where he sang in the glee club.
Day appeared for the first time on Jack Benny's radio show on October 8, 1939, taking the place of another famed tenor, Kenny Baker. He was introduced (with actress Verna Felton playing his mother) as a young (nineteen-year-old), naive boy singer - a character he kept through his whole career. His first song was "Goodnight My Beautiful". Besides singing, Dennis Day was an excellent mimic. He did many impressions on the Benny program of various noted celebrities of the era, such as Ronald Colman, Jimmy Durante and James Stewart.
From 1944 through 1946 he served in the U.S. Navy as a Lieutenant (Military Service). On his return to civilian life, he continued to work with Benny while also starring on his own NBC Radio show, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day (1946-1951). Day's having two programs in comparison to Benny's one was the subject of numerous jokes and gags on Benny's show, usually revolving around Day rubbing Benny's, and sometimes other cast members' and guest stars' noses in that fact. His last radio series was a comedy/variety show that aired briefly on NBC during the 1954-55 season.
"America's favorite Irish tenor," Best known for his ability to sing Irish tunes including "Clancy Lowered the Boom," Day was one of the first artists to cover folk bluesman Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's "Goodnight, Irene." Day was as comfortable with romantic tunes (such as "Mam'selle," "Dear Hearts and Gentle People," and "Mona Lisa") as he was with novelty ditties like "Mister and Mrs. Mississippi."
Dennis also appeared in support of Benny on film. Buck Benny Rides Again (1940), marked Dennis' movie debut and in it he sang "My Kind of Country." Other sporadic filming emphasizing his vocal prowess were for the most part "B"-level musical entertainment. He co-starred with Judy Canova in the cornball comedy Sleepy Lagoon (1943); Anne Shirley in the romantic Music in Manhattan (1944); June Haver and Gloria DeHaven in I'll Get By (1950), in which he sang "McNamara's Band" and "There Will Never Be Another You", and; the Civil War-themed Golden Girl (1951) headlining Mitzi Gaynor as entertainer Lotta Crabtree in which Dennis crooned "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" and "California Moon." Despite these agreeable outings, he never came close to becoming a musical film star perhaps because he was too identified with his cheery, naive image on radio and TV. Once he finished The Girl Next Door (1953) which again starred Ms. Haver, Dennis was nowhere to be seen on celluloid for at least another two decades. Walt Disney also welcomed Dennis' sunny tenor in his animated features The Legend of Johnny Appleseed (1948), in which Dennis sang the title song, and Melody Time (1948).
An attempt was made to adapt A Day in the Life Of Dennis Day as an NBC filmed series (Sam Berman's caricature of Dennis was used in the opening and closing titles), produced by Jerry Fairbanks for Dennis' sponsor, Colgate-Palmolive, featuring the original radio cast, but got no farther than an unaired 1949 pilot episode. In late 1950, a sample kinescope was produced by Colgate and their ad agency showcasing Dennis as host of a projected "live" comedy/variety series (The Dennis Day Show) for CBS, but that, too, went unsold. He continued to appear as a regular cast member when The Jack Benny Program became a TV series, staying with the show until it ended in 1965. On the Jack Benny Program transferred to TV and became an institution for a decade and a half. Dennis also showed great flair as a mimic, impersonating a number of illustrious stars such as Ronald Colman, Jimmy Durante and James Stewart on the Benny program.
Eventually, his own TV series, The Dennis Day Show (aka The RCA Victor Show), was first telecast on NBC on February 8, 1952, and then in the 1953-1954 season. Between 1952 and 1978, he made numerous TV appearances as a singer and actor (such as NBC's The Gisele MacKenzie Show and ABC's The Bing Crosby Show and Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and voice for animation, such as the Walt Disney feature Johnny Appleseed, handling multiple characters.
During the final season of The Jack Benny Program (1964?65), Day was nearly 49 years old, although Jack was still delivering such lines as "That crazy kid drives me nuts ..."
His last televised work with Benny was in 1970, when they both appeared in a public service announcement together to promote savings and loans. This was shortly after the whole cast and crew of The Jack Benny Show had gotten together for Jack Benny's Twentieth Anniversary Special.
In 1972, he co-starred with June Allyson and Judy Canova in the First National Tour of the Broadway musical No, No, Nanette.
In 1976, Day was the voice of "The Preacher" in the Rankin-Bass production Frosty's Winter Wonderland and again worked with them in 1978, when he voiced Fred in The Stingiest Man in Town, which was their animated version of Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol.
He died June 22, 1988, after a long illness, at his California home. He was 71 years old and lived in Bel Air, in suburban Los Angeles. Mr. Day had undergone brain surgery in April to control internal bleeding that occurred after he fell at his home. In 1987 he had been diagnosed as having Lou Gehrig's disease, the common name for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a crippling nerve disorder.