Ed Ames, the deep-toned baritone pop singer and actor who portrayed the faithful Cherokee sidekick Mingo on the 1960s NBC series Daniel Boone, has died. He was 95.
Ames died Sunday at his home in Los Angeles after a battle with Alzheimer’s, his wife, Jeanne, told The Hollywood Reporter.
A native of Massachusetts and a son of Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Ames starred as the Oxford-educated Mingo opposite Fess Parker as Daniel Boone on the first four seasons (1964-68) of the TV Western.
His most memorable night on television, however, came in April 1965 during an appearance on NBC’s The Tonight Show. Demonstrating to host Johnny Carson how Mingo would expertly handle a tomahawk, he hurled the weapon at an outline of a cowboy drawn on a wooden board — and it stuck right in the crotch.
As the audience howled, Carson left his desk and said to Ames in now-classic ad-libbed lines, “I didn’t even know you were Jewish!” and “Welcome to frontier bris!”
The whole thing generated one of the longest laughs in the history of The Tonight Show — at about four minutes, some say one of the longest in the annals of TV — and was a staple of highlight shows for decades.
In a 2014 interview with host Mark Malkoff on The Carson Podcast, the amiable Ames admitted that he had never tossed a tomahawk until he learned The Tonight Show wanted him to do it on the air. (On earlier appearances with Carson, he had thrown a bola and a lance and shot an arrow.)
“That afternoon, I practiced throwing it,” he said. “First I did it at home the night before and wrecked a couple of trees.”
Ames noted that the morning after the show aired, cab drivers yelled at him, “Good for you, Ed!” as he walked through the streets of New York City.
The 6-foot-3 Ames got the job playing Mingo after 20th Century Fox talent scouts saw him as Chief Bromden opposite Kirk Douglas and Gene Wilder in the original 1963 Broadway production of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Ames and three of his older brothers — Vic, Gene and Joe — performed and recorded as the Ames Brothers. In 1950, they had their first No. 1 song, the double-sided tracker “Rag Mop”/”Sentimental Me”; struck it rich three years later with “You, You, You” on RCA Records; and became one of the most popular quartets in the era before the intrusion of rock ‘n’ roll.
Ames went it alone in 1961 and had success with such songs as “Try to Remember” — his signature song — “Apologize,” “When the Snow Is on the Roses,” “My Cup Runneth Over” and “Who Will Answer?”
Edmond Dantes Urick was born July 9, 1927, in Malden, Massachusetts, the youngest of nine children (five boys and four girls). As a child, he attended the rough-and-tumble Boston Latin School — Benjamin Franklin was another famous alum — and sang in churches around town.
He joined Vic, Gene and Joe as the frontman in an act they called the Urick Brothers and then the Armory Brothers (Vic’s middle name), and they made their mark in Boston nightclubs like the Latin Quarter, founded by Barbara Walters’ father, Lou.
They headed to New York, landed a job with bandleader Art Mooney, signed with Decca Records and, at the suggestion of famed Broadway producer Abe Burroughs, became the Ames Brothers. (“Ames” means “strength” in Yiddish.)
They found their first chart success in 1949 with “Forever and Ever,” recorded with Russ Morgan’s orchestra. Listeners loved their rich, clean harmonies.
After “Rag Mop,” “Sentimental Me,” “Undecided” and another top-10 hit, the 1954 novelty song “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane,” the brothers began to perform regularly on Arthur Godfrey’s show and were one of the first acts to appear on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town.
In 1955, they had their own 15-minute syndicated TV program, The Ames Brothers Show, and performed the title song for Man on Fire (1957), starring Bing Crosby. At their peak, the foursome could command $20,000 a week on tour, and they were named Billboard‘s best vocal group of 1958, when they had eight singles on the charts.
Ames pursued acting in the ’60s and studied at the Herbert Berghof Drama School in New York. He starred off-Broadway as John Proctor in a revival of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, then landed the lead in the national company of Gower Champion’s Carnival.
Ames also appeared in the off-Broadway smash The Fantasticks, on which he sang “Try to Remember.” Carson loved his rendition, and Ames once sang it every night for a week on The Tonight Show.
Ames also introduced the John Wayne film The War Wagon (1967) with “Ballad of the War Wagon.”
In later years, he appeared in concert and at supper clubs and showed up on such TV shows as Murder, She Wrote, In the Heat of the Night and The Marshal.
Ames also was an early minority owner of the NBA expansion team the Phoenix Suns along with Henry Mancini, Andy Williams, Bobbie Gentry and Tony Curtis.
In addition to his wife, survivors include his children, Ronald and Sonya; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.