Ed Ames, best known for playing Mingo on the Daniel Boone television series in the 1960s, was actually a Ukrainian Jew from Malden, Mass. And as a Jew known for playing a Native American, he prompted one of the funniest moments ever on Johnny Carson’s talk show in 1965.
He was born in the Boston suburb on July 9, 1927, the youngest of nine children. His parents were Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, and his real last name was Urick.
The family was poor, but Ed and his brother Joe attended the prestigious Boston Latin School. With two other brothers, Gene and Vic, they formed a singing group eventually called the Ames Brothers. They entertained troops at military bases around Boston and at the upscale Fox and Hounds nightclub. They made their way to New York, where they recorded a hit single, Rag Mop, in 1950.
The Ames Brothers had a long and successful career on television, radio and in recordings. They were one of the first acts to appear on the original Ed Sullivan Show when it was broadcast from a department store. They had their own television show in 1950, the first syndicated series to be shown in foreign countries. In 1957, Ed recorded a single on his own, Bean Song (Which Way to Boston?).
Over 15 years, the Ames Brothers charted 49 hits until they broke up in the early 1960s.
Ed, known as the Boston Baritone, continued with an acting career. He appeared Off Broadway in The Crucible, which led to roles in the Fantasticks and then on Broadway in Carnival. and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Ames’ high cheekbones and dark complexion earned him roles as an Indian. He played Chief Bromden in Cuckoo’s Nest, then as Fess Parker’s sidekick Mingo in Daniel Boone starting in 1964.
Longest Television Laugh Ever
During the seven years he played Mingo, Ames learned to throw a tomahawk. On April 29, 1965, he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Carson asked him to hit a target across the stage – a chalk-drawn cowboy on a wood panel. Ames threw the tomahawk right between the cowboy’s legs. Carson quipped, “I didn’t even know you were Jewish.” The resulting laughter was called the longest in television history.
He continued to perform on stage. His work playing Mingo drew praise from the Arizona Indian Association, which said, “You have done more for the Indians by your excellent characterization than all the missionaries, government officials and book authors combined.”
Ames had a successful solo singing career, with four hits during the 1960s: Try to Remember, Time, Time, My Cup Runneth Over and Who Will Answer? During the Christmas season, radio stations still play his version of Do You Hear What I Hear? He is still alive and owns a ranch in Santa Ynez, Calif.
This story was updated in 2022.