A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from December 28, 2008
“Make a federal case (out of it)”

"Don’t make a federal case out of it!” means don’t make a “big deal” of the small matter. The phrase was widely used in the early 1950s, when important civil rights cases were filed before the United States Supreme Court.

New York City-born comedian Jimmy Durante (1893-1980) used “Why the guy’s making a federal case out of it” on his radio show with Gary Moore, The Durante-Moore Show, broadcast about 1944 and printed in a book published in 1945. The phrase was picked up by other New York writers (Walter Winchell, Evan Hunter, George Axelrod, Jerome Weidman) and it appears likely that Durante coined the expression of “making a federal case.”


Dictionary.com
federal case 
–noun
1. a matter that falls within the jurisdiction of a federal court or a federal law-enforcement agency.
—Idiom
2. make a federal case of or out of, Informal. to exaggerate the importance of or make an issue out of (something trivial).
Origin: 1950–55

The Free Dictionary
make a federal case (out) of something (American)
to make something seem more important or serious than it really is. He only swore at you—there’s no need to make a federal case out of it! (usually negative)

Answers.com
make a federal case of
Idioms: make a federal case of
Also, make a big deal of. Give undue importance to an issue, as in I’ll pay you back next week--you needn’t make a federal case of it, or Jack is making a big deal of filling out his passport application. The first hyperbolic expression, almost always used in a negative context, alludes to taking a legal action before a high (federal) court. The second alludes to an important business transaction (see big deal, def. 1).

Wikipedia: Jimmy Durante
James Francis “Jimmy” Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) was an American singer, pianist, comedian and actor, whose distinctive gravel delivery, comic language butchery, jazz-influenced songs, and large nose — his frequent jokes about it included a frequent self-reference that became his nickname: “Schnozzola” — helped make him one of America’s most familiar and popular personalities of the 1920s through the 1970s.
(...)
Radio
On September 10, 1933 Durante appeared on Eddie Cantor’s popular The Chase and Sanborn Hour, continuing until November 12 of that year. When Cantor departed, Durante took over the NBC show as its star from April 22 to September 30, 1934, moving on to The Jumbo Fire Chief Program (1935-36).

He teamed with Garry Moore for The Durante-Moore Show in 1943. Durante’s comic chemistry with the young, brushcut Moore brought Durante an even larger audience. “Dat’s my boy dat said dat!” became an instant catchphrase. The duo became one of the nation’s favorites for the rest of the decade, including a well-reviewed Armed Forces Radio Network command performance with Frank Sinatra that remains a favorite of radio collectors today. Moore left in mid-1947, and the program returned October 1, 1947 as The Jimmy Durante Show. Durante worked in radio for three years after Moore’s 1947 departure, including a reunion of Clayton, Jackson and Durante on his April 21, 1948 broadcast.

The Jimmy Durante Show
JIMMY DURANTE5-6-49(FINAL) DURANTE, THE PATRON OF THE ARTS..(CONT)
DURANTE:(CONT)
BUT DOES HE SAY, “SLIP ME A SMACKER, SISTER?” NO!
“I WILL GIVE YOU A KISS MY LOVE
A BURNING KISS UPON THE LIPS
A BURNING KISS, A BURNING KISS
A BURNING, BURNING, BURNING, BURNING, BURNING, BURNING KISS.”
BY THE TIME THE GUY’S READY TO KISS HER THE FIRE IS OUT!
WHY THE GUY’S MAKING A FEDERAL CASE OUT OF IT....
FACING THE COMMITTEE, I SAID
THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY TO SAVE THE OPERA
GET YOURSELF NEW LYRICS THAT AREN’T SO SILLY
LIKE “LAVENDER BLUE WITH A DILLY DILLY DILLY”

Google Books
There’s Laughter in the Air!: Radio’s Top Comedians and Their Best Shows
By Jack Gaver and Dave Stanley
New York, NY: Greenberg
1945
Pg. 253:
The guy’s making a Federal case out of it.

17 May 1948, Kingsport (TN) News, “On Broadway” by Walter Winchell, pg. 4, col. 3:
When a colyumist (with a daily grind) occasionally fluffs—this same mag makes a Federal case of it.
(Time magazine—ed.)

30 December 1950, Washington (DC) Post, “They Pay Off $58, $11.80 in Features” by Walter Haight, pg. 11:
CHARLES TOWN, Dec. 29.—I’m not trying to make a Federal case of it, but Mi Scandal and Petty Larceny won the two chief races on the Friday program.

11 May 1951, Nashua (NH) Telegraph, pg. 14, col.6:
Newspaper columnist says that “no wonder the Red Chinese are in trouble. They chose to make a federal case out of it.”

Google Books
The Blackboard Jungle:
A Novel

By Evan Hunter
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
1954
Pg. 228:
Let’s not make a federal case out of a few waltzes.

Google Books
The Seven Year Itch:
A Romantic Comedy

By George Axelrod
Published by Heinemann
1954
Pg. 16:
... muttering angrily as be does so something that sounds vaguely like: “Damn psychiatrists — write books — make a Federal case out of everything.”

Google Books
The Third Angel:
A Novel

By Jerome Weidman
Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
1954
Pg. 356:
Lillian would have made a federal case out of it.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • (0) Comments • Sunday, December 28, 2008 • Permalink