Danny Kaye was more than
just a movie star; he was an entertainer in every sense of the word. With
talents that ranged from comedic improvisation, dancing, singing, musical
composition, and a unique and often hilarious ability to recite complicated
verse without so much as a hitch, it’s no wonder that he went on to become one
of the greatest American entertainers of all time.
Danny Kaye, the son of an
immigrant Russian tailor, was born David Daniel Kaminsky in Brooklyn, New York
on January 18, 1913. Upon dropping out of school at age 13, he found his first
work in the entertainment business with a radio station in the Catskills. From
there he began working the small theaters in the then called “Borsht Belt” area,
honing his comedic style alongside other performers like Dave Harvey and
Kathleen Young in vaudeville shows.
the late 1930s Kaye had built up enough of a following to began performing on
his own - often with material written by his soon to be wife, Sylvia Fine. His
successes on stage and in nightclubs led to roles in a few two-reel movies for
Educational Pictures, “Dime a Dance”, “Getting an Eyeful”, and
“Cupid Takes a Holliday”. However it was his Broadway debut in “Straw Hat
Revue" in 1939 that earned him his first real recognition.
On the heels of that big
break Kaye married Sylvia Fine, who went on to manage his career, and won over
the Broadway crowd with his rip-roarious singing in "Lady in the Dark" (1940),
in which he rattled off more than fifty names of Russian composers in the tongue
twisting song "Tchaikovsky.” It was this role that caught the attention of movie
agents and none other than Samuel Goldwyn, who went on to ink Danny to a
$150,000 per film deal – really big money at the time.
Kaye made his first feature
length film “Up in Arms” (1944), which met great success and displayed his
ability to deliver witty songwriting and comedic timing with the best of them.
His next film, “Wonder Man” (1945) the first of three films in which he played
double roles, was another hit. The movies that followed all but solidified his
standing as one of the emerging comedic geniuses of
his time: “The Kid From
Brooklyn” (1946 remake of Harold Lloyd’s “The Milky Way”), “The Secret Life of
Walter Mitty” (1947, arguably his best role), and “A Song Is Born” (1948). He
starred in the classic “The Inspector General” (1949), and “On the Riviera”
(1950) under a different producer but then returned to Goldwyn to play the lead
role in the biography, “Hans Christian Andersen” (1952).
Kaye then left to film under
his own production team with Norman Panama and Melvin Frank as
writers/directors. These features wound up being his biggest hits of all: “Knock
on Wood” (1954), in which he plays a ventriloquist caught up in international
espionage, and the ever popular Robin Hood parody “The Court Jester” (1956)
which includes the hilarious dialogue, "The pellet with the poison’s in the
vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true."
He was also the last minute replacement for Donald O’Connor in the 1954 smash
hit, “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby.
In 1954 Kaye began his long
humanitarian tenure with the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF). His work
toward social responsibility earned him a special Academy Award for his work.
Kaye continued to work in the movies showing his range as an actor in the
dramatic musical, “The Five Pennies” (1959, in which he played a troubled
clarinet jazz musician and even had a duet with the great Louis Armstrong). In
1963 he began his own television variety show, “THE DANNY KAYE SHOW”, which ran
for four years and was an enormous hit, winning an Emmy in its first season.
Though Danny’s popularity
waned during the 1970s and 1980s, he continued to be an active philanthropist of
UNICEF, and appeared in their short film, “Pied Piper”. Of his many charitable
performances, his work for symphony musicians' pension funds was the most
popular. He raised more than ten million dollars by performing benefit concerts.
In one of his final performances, Kaye proved the
versatility of his talent and
earned rave reviews for his impassioned portrayal of a Holocaust survivor in the
1981 television move “Skokie”. He also had a guest appearance on television’s
famous “Cosby Show” in 1986, where he played the sidesplitting role of Dr.
The following year (1987),
Kaye died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California. Throughout his life, the
incomparable Danny Kaye entertained millions with his quirky brand of comedy. He
was equally amazing as an actor, singer, dancer, and humanitarian. Off stage
Kaye was a man of talent as well, where he was one of
the original owners of the Major League Baseball Seattle Mariners team, a
celebrated chef, and an airplane pilot. It was his intelligent humor that won
the hearts of his fans and his genuine love of his fellow man that still endears
him to people all over the world.
M. J. Goodner, an
ordained minister, is the author of the science fiction novel,
Prophecy, ISBN -
1411603435, Lulu Press.
http://mjgoodner.tripod.com for more info.
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