Commentary: A Nose for Every Face

By Louis Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – My poor mother. I used to kid her that she was the reason that my brother and sisters and I had to go through life with, shall we say, prominent noses.

I guess that both sides of my family were blessed (or cursed) with Roman noses. Roman noses have a distinguished bridge.

Think of George Washington’s nose. It was distinctly Roman and even the bronze busts of him at Mount Vernon clearly show how much-admired that famous nose was. I refer to the fact that George’s bronze nose has become a lucky charm since millions of visitors to his home rub that shiny bronze nose for good luck.

Perhaps the most famous Roman nose today belongs to singer Barbara Streisand. Her amazing voice exists because of her prominent nose. And Tony Bennett probably derived the singular sound of his voice by the way that air enters and leaves his nose and the way that his nose is structured.

The elephant in the room (or should I say the anteater in the room?) is me. I guess that my nose must have started out as Roman but something went haywire and the result looks like an abstract sculpture from Picasso’s Synthetic Cubist period.

I suppose that I could have had it fixed but maybe my aversion to pain and bleeding put a halt to any such thought.

I remember when Dr. Richard Murray practiced plastic surgery in the Valley. He invited me to a dinner party at his home. What I did not know was that the other six people in attendance were plastic surgeons from various parts of the country.

Talk about being self-conscious. It was like a bad dream. I felt that a room filled with plastic surgeons would love to get at my nose and pound it out or whatever they do to straighten it. To my surprise, only one inquired about my nose.

It wasn’t easy getting through junior high school with my nose. And since I was a pitcher in high school baseball, the opposing teams were merciless in their attempts to rattle me with a barrage of unkind comments.

Despite my nose being a target through my school years, I managed to get through with few jokes aimed at my nose. The most repeated was, “Is that your nose or are you smoking a cigar?”

One of the most prominent noses in the history of art belonged to the greatest artist who ever lived, Michelangelo. His self-portraits reveal a nose that was Roman and large to boot.

In show business, the greatest and most famous nose of all belonged to the much-loved entertainer whose nickname was “Schnozzola.”

I am writing, of course, of Jimmy Durante, who performed in vaudeville and eventually in film and on television. Jimmy’s nose was enormous by any standard but it was that protuberance that made him famous and rich.

In one of his films he is part of a circus performing with an elephant. When the circus went bankrupt, he took his elephant away from the failed circus. The local sheriff stopped him and angrily asked Durante’s character, “Where are you going with that elephant?”

Duranted replied, “What elephant?”

That retort is the origin of the 
oft-repeated phrase, “the elephant in the room.”

Durante ended each of his radio and TV programs with, “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

Apparently she was a woman who worked in a restaurant that he visited in Calabash, N.C. Thus he referred to her as Mrs. Calabash and ended each program with that phrase.

Staying with prominent noses in the entertainment world, we have to recognize Bob Hope. He used the cartoon Al Hirschfeld drew that so dramatically portrayed his nose in profile so it looked like a ski jump.

That cartoon image of Hope was known throughout the world. Although he was born in England, Hope was a person of the world and became known for visiting the front lines of every war, from World War II through Vietnam and the Middle East, that America fought.

How can we ever forget Hope’s theme song, “Thanks For the Memories” or the banter between him and Bing Crosby in the “Road to” movies?

In sports history, there is the great Braves pitcher Warren Spahn, whose abilities on the ballfield remain a marvel. Along with his teammate Johnny Sain, Spahn dominated opposing batters. Long-suffering Boston Braves fans used to say, ”Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”

Somehow I don’t think that Spahn’s extra large proboscis affected him in any way.

The self-effacing radio personality Howard Cosell was forever telling his listening audience that his height, large head of hair, and extra big nose made him look like Big Bird.

I noticed that Cosell was at ease in denigrating his own nose but when it came to the looks of others, especially the female variety, it was more than prominent noses that interested him.

In literature, there’s Cyrano de Bergerac. He was an enormously talented swordsman whose amazingly large nose caused such self-doubt as to prevent him from expressing his love for the beautiful Roxanne. You know the rest of the story.

Since I have run out of prominent noses to discuss, I will again quote my dear mother. When I complained that my nose was different from the noses of the other kids or that it was too big, she always responded, “A nose for every face.”