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January 31, 2014

Good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are

CHICKASHA —

In 1940 as Jimmy Durante headed to the door of Coleman’s Restaurant in Calabash, North Carolina, he turned to 28 year old Lucy and with a smile said, “Good Night, Mrs. Calabash.”  For the rest of his life, until his death in 1980, every Durante appearance ended with his trademark phrase, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

As with most entertainers who rose out of vaudeville, Durante’s style included repetitious skits and catchwords, not only phrases, but also songs and mannerisms.  His famous “Ah-cha-cha-cha-cha” and self-references to his own nose as the “Big Schnozzola” always brought the house down.

In addition to his “Inka Dinka Doo” skit, one of Durante’s most popular routines originated in 1935 when he appeared on Broadway in the play, Jumbo.  In the play, Durante was working for a cash-strapped circus that had more creditors than customers.  When the sheriff appeared to seize the assets of the circus, Durante attempted to save his beloved pachyderm, Jumbo, by removing the animal from the circus grounds.  As Durante led Jumbo across the stage, the sheriff asked, “Where are you going with that elephant?” and Jimmy responded with the immortal line, “What elephant?”

The skit was performed repeatedly by Durante for years after the Broadway show had closed and from the first day that the audience laughed at the elephant that Jimmy Durante desperately wanted to be invisible, “the elephant in the room” has been a metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being blatantly ignored or goes unaddressed. Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s K-12 educational system has two elephants in the room, unfair evaluation and a disgraceful lack of funding. 

Faced with a debate over how to improve our schools, the dialogue has been hijacked by partisan division and destructive rhetoric.  Forces whose goal is to undermine public education pit parents against teachers and instructors against administrators. Standardized testing mandates rob students of a broad and enriched education. A culture of high stakes testing and antagonistic demoralization robs gifted and talented teachers of their spirit to serve our children.

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