Ameche is buried in Resurrection Catholic Cemetery (also known as St.
Philomena’s Cemetery), in Asbury, just outside of Dubuque, Iowa.
Ameche was a star of stage,
radio, television and film with parts in more than 250 productions and an
acting career that spanned nearly 60 years. He won an Oscar for Best
Supporting Actor for his portrayal of an aging retiree who, with his
cronies, discovers a fountain of youth in “Cocoon.”
His most popular roles were
radio’s “The Bickersons” (1948), and movies “The Story of Alexander Graham
Bell” (1939) and “Trading Places” (1983).
Born in Kenosha
Don was born Dominic Felix
Amici on May 31, 1908, in Kenosha to an Italian immigrant father, Felix,
and an Irish-German mother, Barbara from Springfield, Ill.
Felix had the family name
changed from Amici to Ameche during Don’s childhood.
Don grew up in a violent
environment. His father was a bar owner who had owned establishments in
Kenosha — one at 213 Howland Ave. (5614 22nd Ave.) — and in LaSalle, Ill..
before Prohibition turned them into soft drink parlors in 1920.
Don told an interviewer in
1988 that his father’s life was brutal, and it scared the hell out the
“I was petrified all the
while I was a child. ... It was no fun living with someone who had a
revolver in his trousers every day and a poison-tipped stiletto in the
house,” Ameche said.
Felix had a few altercations
involving the police. When Don was about 7 years old, he witnessed a man
being savagely beaten at the bar by another man. Felix threw both of the
men out of his saloon.
A Kenosha Evening News front
page story on July 21, 1909, tells of Felix getting into a fight with
Peter Aceto, who drew a razor on Felix.
The two were seriously
injured, and Aceto’s wife, Mary, who stepped into the fight to separate
the pair, also got cut.
The cause of the conflict?
Felix was Aceto’s landlord, and knowing it was payday, had come to collect
From Dom to Don
According to “Don Ameche: The
Kenosha Comeback Kid” by Ben Ohmart, Ameche was usually called “Dom” by
the family, but most of the non-Italian neighborhood kids were unfamiliar
with the sound and usually called him “Don.” It stuck.
When he was 11 years old, Don
and his younger brother Louis were shipped out to St. Berchman’s Academy,
an all-boys boarding school in Marion, Iowa. Don soon got the reputation
as an academic and a hellion.
It was there that he got his
first part in a play: “The Blessed Virgin,” a Christmas production.
Unfortunately, he got a black
eye shortly before the day of the performance, much to the dismay of the
nuns at St. Berchman’s.
Summers in Kenosha
At the age of 13 he moved on
to Columbia Academy in Dubuque for high school, and later to Columbia
University there. He would come home to Kenosha each summer and work,
sometimes at the Nash plant or as a ditch digger.
He met the love of his life,
Honore Prendergast, in Dubuque when they were both 14. Although he dated
many others, “Honey” always stayed on his mind. They married 10 years
Their relationship had its
high and lows, and though the couple separated, they never divorced.
Honey died in 1986 and was
buried in the family plot at Resurrection Catholic Cemetery.
Ameche died at age 85 on Dec.
6, 1993, at his son’s home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and his ashes were buried
next to Honey.