Ed Ames, singing star turned TV star, dies at 95
Ed Ames, who first rose to prominence as the lead singer of the chart-topping Ames Brothers whose success predated the rise of rock ‘n’ roll, and who went on to appear as Fess Parker’s Indian companion on the hit NBC show “Daniel Boone,” died Sunday at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 95.
His wife, Jeanne (Arnold) Ames, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Ames’s introduction to the spotlight was a family affair. With their smooth, clean harmonies, the Ames Brothers – Ed, Gene, Joe and Vic – had made records from the late 1940s to the late 1950s with material ranging from pre-World War I college songs (“The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi”) to folk songs (“Goodnight Irene”) to love songs (“I Love You for Sentimental Reasons”). The quartet had a two-sided No. 1 hit in 1950 with ‘Sentimental Me’ and ‘Rag Mop’. Their “You, You, You” spent eight weeks at the top spot in 1953 and stayed on the charts for nearly eight months. All told, the Ames Brothers sold more than 20 million records.
The Ames Brothers performed in major venues, including Ciro’s in Hollywood and the Roxy in New York. They appeared regularly in Las Vegas and on television, as guests of Milton Berle, Perry Como, Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan. In 1956, they had their own syndicated TV series. In 1958, Billboard magazine named them the vocal group of the year.
But by 1960, Ed Ames had had enough.
“I thought I’d go crazy if I had to sing the same song again,” he said in 1964. “We were in a comfortable groove, but it was a merry-go-round for me and I got bored.” His brothers continued on the nightclub circuit without him.
After taking acting lessons, Mr. Ames was cast in an Off Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” for $50 a week. He made his Broadway debut as Jerry Orbach’s replacement in the musical ‘Carnival!’ from 1961.
He also continued recording. As a solo artist, he had hits with “Try to Remember” (1965), “Time, Time” (1967), “My Cup Runneth Over” (1967) and “Who Will Answer?” (1968).
Ames also starred in the 1963 Broadway production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” Dale Wasserman’s adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel. He played Chief Bromden, an American Indian patient in a mental hospital who feigns being mute and ends up smothering the main character – the rebellious Randle Patrick McMurphy, played by Kirk Douglas (and later, on film, by Jack Nicholson) – as an act of mercy.
It wouldn’t be the last time Mr. Ames played a Native American.
His performance in “Cuckoo’s Nest” led to his most famous role: opposite Fess Parker in “Daniel Boone” as Mingo, the Oxford-educated son of a Cherokee woman and an English nobleman who accompanies Boone on his expeditions on the Tennessee frontier. (Mingo’s father was the Earl of Dunmore, but Mingo chose to be part of the Cherokee Nation rather than claim the title.)
Mr. Ames played Mingo for the first four of the show’s six seasons, from 1964 to 1968. But his most memorable moment in those years didn’t come on “Daniel Boone.” It happened on April 29, 1965, when he was a guest of Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”
In a segment that quickly became a staple of “Tonight Show” highlights, Mr. Ames set out to teach Mr. Carson how to throw a tomahawk, using a rudimentary drawing of a sheriff on a wood panel as a target . He threw the tomahawk across the stage. When it was embedded right into the Sheriff’s crotch, the audience responded with loud, sustained laughter.
Mr. Ames tried to retrieve the tomahawk, but Mr. Carson grabbed his arm. As another laugh died down, Mr. Carson looked at Mr. Ames and said, “I didn’t even know you were Jewish.”
Ed Ames was born Edmund Dantes Urick in Malden, Massachusetts, on July 9, 1927, the youngest of nine surviving children of David and Sarah (Zaslavskaya) Urick, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. In their teens, Ed and his three brothers formed a singing group and won amateur competitions in the Boston area.
Originally billed as the Urick Brothers, then the Amory Brothers, they became the Ames Brothers when signed by Coral Records. They started having hits after moving to RCA Records in 1953.
Ed was the last surviving member of the Ames Brothers; Vic died in a car accident in 1978, Gene in 1997, and Joe in 2007. His first marriage, to Sara Cacheiro, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1998, he leaves behind two children from his first marriage, Ronald and Sonya; a stepson, Stephen Saviano; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. His daughter Marcella Ames died before him.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Ames performed in regional productions of musicals, including “South Pacific,” “Man of La Mancha,” and “Carousel.” He also appeared occasionally on television, in ‘Murder, She Wrote’, ‘In the Heat of the Night’ and – as himself – in the sitcom ‘It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’.
Dennis Hevesi, a former reporter for The Times, died in 2017. Shivani Gonzalez contributed reporting and Kristen Noyes contributed research.