Dennis Day (born Owen Patrick Eugene McNulty; May 21, 1916 – June 22, 1988) was an American singer, radio, television, and film personality, and comedian. He was of Irish descent.
Day was born and raised in the Throggs Neck section of The Bronx, New York City, the second of five children born to Irish immigrants Patrick McNulty and Mary (née Grady) McNulty. His father was a factory electric power engineer. Day graduated from the Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary and attended Manhattan College in the Bronx, where he sang in the glee club.
In 1939, Gene McNulty, as Day was then known, sang on network radio with bandleader Larry Clinton. The Clinton broadcasts were aimed at the collegiate audience, and were often broadcast from a college campus. The 23-year-old McNulty won an audience poll as a favorite vocalist.
Day appeared for the first time on Jack Benny’s radio show on October 8, 1939, taking the place of another tenor, Kenny Baker. He remained associated with Benny’s radio and television programs until Benny’s death in 1974. He was introduced (with actress Verna Felton playing his overbearing mother) as a young (nineteen-year-old), naive boy singer – a character he kept through his whole career.
Mary Livingstone, Benny’s wife, brought the singer to Benny’s attention after hearing Day on the radio during a visit to New York. She took a recording of Day’s singing to Benny, who then went to New York to audition Day. The audition resulted in Day’s role on the Benny program.
Day’s first recorded song was “Goodnight My Beautiful”.
Besides singing, Day was a mimic. On the Benny program, Day performed impressions of various celebrities of the era, including Ronald Colman, Jimmy Durante and James Stewart.
From 1944 through 1946 he served in the United States Navy as a lieutenant. While in service he was temporarily replaced on the Benny radio program by fellow tenor Larry Stevens. On his return to civilian life, he continued to work with Benny while also starring on his own NBC show, A Day in the Life of Dennis Day (1946–1951). On Benny’s show, Day’s having two programs in comparison to Benny’s one was the subject of numerous jokes and gags, usually revolving around Day rubbing Benny’s, and sometimes other cast members’ and guest stars’ noses in that fact (e.g., “Dennis, why do you have two horns on your bicycle?” “Why shouldn’t I? I’ve got two shows!”). His last radio series was a comedy and variety show that aired on NBC’s Sunday afternoon schedule during the 1954–55 season.
A Day in the Life of Dennis Day
When Day got his own radio sitcom, he continued to play essentially the same character that he originated on Benny’s program. However, for this series, Day lived in the fictional town of Weaverville. He stayed at a boarding house run by Clara Anderson, played by Bea Benaderet. Her henpecked husband, Herbert Anderson, was voiced by Dink Trout. Day was engaged to their daughter Mildred, played by Barbara Eiler. His character worked at Willoughby’s Drug Store, where his boss was Mr. Willoughby. The show was sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive. Verne Smith was the announcer, while music was provided by Bud Dant and his orchestra. The format of the show would begin with a song by Day, followed by the first half of the plot, a second song by Day in the middle of the episode, the rest of the plot, and then a third song by Day to finish the episode. Episodes can be heard regularly on the Sirius XM Radio Classics Channel.
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.
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. On this show, Day played a less fictionalized version of himself, using his natural voice and behaving as an adult who was considerably more mature than his Benny character.
Between 1952 and 1978, Day 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.
During the final season of The Jack Benny Program (1964–65), Day was nearly 49 years old, although Benny was still delivering such lines as “That crazy kid drives me nuts …”
His last televised work with Benny was in 1970, when they 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 joined for Jack Benny’s Twentieth Anniversary Special.
He starred as railroad employee Jason Barnes in the 1962 Death Valley Days TV episode “Way Station”. 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’ novel A Christmas Carol.
He also appeared in Date with the Angels – Season 1, Episode 13 as himself. Aired Friday 9:30 pm October 25, 1957 on ABC – some records show it was episode 19, titled Star Struck.
Although his career was mainly radio and TV-based, Day also appeared in a few films. These included Buck Benny Rides Again (1940) opposite Jack Benny, Sleepy Lagoon (1943), Music in Manhattan (1944), I’ll Get By (1950), Golden Girl (1951), The Girl Next Door (1953), and Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) as a singing telegraph man. For the soundtrack of My Wild Irish Rose (1947), a biopic about Chauncey Olcott, Day provided the singing voice to the acting of Dennis Morgan. Day also provided the voices of Johnny Appleseed, Johnny’s Angel and the Old Settler in the Johnny Appleseed segment in Walt Disney’s Melody Time (1948).
In 1948, Day married Peggy Almquist; the marriage lasted until his death in 1988. The couple had ten children. His brother Jim McNulty, two years younger, was married to actress and singer Ann Blyth.
A Republican, Day was supportive of Dwight Eisenhower’s campaign during the 1952 presidential election and Barry Goldwater in the 1964 United States presidential election.
Day died on June 22, 1988, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), in Los Angeles, California. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6646 Hollywood Boulevard. He is interred in Culver City’s Holy Cross Cemetery.