Monday, 26 May 2008


Danny Kaye (January 18, 1913March 3, 1987)[1] was an American award-winning actor, singer and comedian.


Early life

Born David Daniel Kaminsky to Jewish Ukrainian immigrants in Brooklyn, Kaye became one of the world's best-known comedians. He spent his early youth attending Public School 149 in East New York, Brooklyn, before moving to Thomas Jefferson High School, but he never graduated. He learned his trade in his teen years in the Catskills as a tummler in the Borscht Belt.


Danny Kaye made his film debut in a 1935 comedy short entitled Moon Over Manhattan. In 1937 he signed with New York-based Educational Pictures for a series of two-reel comedies. Kaye usually played a manic, dark-haired, fast-talking Russian in these low-budget shorts, opposite young hopefuls June Allyson or Imogene Coca. The Kaye series ended abruptly when the studio shut down permanently in 1938.

Kaye scored a personal triumph in 1941, in the hit Broadway comedy Lady in the Dark. His show-stopping number was "Tchaikovsky", by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, in which he sang the names of a whole string of Russian composers at breakneck speed, seemingly without taking a breath.

His feature film debut was in producer Samuel Goldwyn's Technicolor 1944 comedy Up in Arms, a remake of Goldwyn's Eddie Cantor comedy Whoopee! (1930). Goldwyn agonized over Kaye's ethnic, Borscht-belt looks and ordered him to undergo a nose job. Kaye refused, and Goldwyn found another way to brighten Kaye's dark features by lightening his hair, giving him his trademark redheaded locks. Kaye's rubber face and fast patter were an instant hit, and rival producer Robert M. Savini cashed in almost immediately by compiling three of Kaye's old Educational Pictures shorts into a makeshift feature, The Birth of a Star (1945).

Kaye starred in several movies with actress Virginia Mayo in the 1940s, and is well known for his roles in films such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), The Inspector General (1949), On the Riviera (1951) co-starring Gene Tierney, White Christmas (1954, in a role originally intended for Fred Astaire, then Donald O'Connor), Knock on Wood (1954), The Court Jester (1956), and Merry Andrew (1958). Kaye starred in two pictures based on biographies, Hans Christian Andersen (1952) about the Danish story-teller, and The Five Pennies (1959) about jazz pioneer Red Nichols. His wife, writer/lyricist Sylvia Fine, wrote many of the witty, tongue-twisting songs Danny Kaye became famous for. Some of Kaye's films included the theme of doubles, two people who look identical (both played by Danny Kaye) being mistaken for each other, to comic effect. The Kaye-Fine marriage, as was the case with many spouses who worked together in the high-pressure world of film-making, was sometimes stormy.

During World War II, the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated rumors that Kaye dodged the draft by manufacturing a medical condition to gain 4-F status and exemption from military service. FBI files show he was also under investigation for supposed links with Communist groups. None of the allegations was ever substantiated, and he was never charged with any associated crime.[2]

Other projects

Kaye starred in a radio program of his own, The Danny Kaye Show, on CBS in 1945-1946. Despite its clever writing (by radio legend Goodman Ace, Sylvia Fine, and respected playwright-director Abe Burrows) and performing cast (including Eve Arden, Lionel Stander, and Big Band leader Harry James), the show lasted only a year.

Kaye was sufficiently popular that he inspired imitations:

The 1946 Warner Bros. cartoon Book Revue had a lengthy sequence with Daffy Duck impersonating Kaye singing "Carolina in the Morning" with the Russian accent that Kaye would affect from time to time.

Satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer's 1953 song "Lobachevsky" was based on a number that Kaye had done, about the Russian director Konstantin Stanislavski, again with the affected Russian accent. Lehrer mentioned Kaye in the opening monologue, citing him as an "idol since childbirth".
When he appeared at the London Palladium music hall in 1948, he "roused the Royal family to shrieks of laughter and was the first of many performers who have turned English variety into an American preserve." Life magazine described his reception as "worshipful hysteria" and noted that the royal family, for the first time in history, left the royal box to see the show from the front row of the orchestra.

He hosted the 24th Academy Awards in 1952. The program was broadcast only on radio. Telecasts of the Oscar ceremony would come later.

He hosted his own variety hour on CBS television, The Danny Kaye Show, from 1963 to 1967. During this period, beginning in 1964, he acted as television host to the annual CBS telecasts of MGM's The Wizard of Oz. Kaye also did a stint as one of the What's My Line? Mystery Guests on the popular Sunday night CBS-TV quiz program. Kaye later served as a guest panelist on that show.

He guest-stared much later in his career in episodes of The Muppet Show, The Cosby Show and in the 1980s remake of The Twilight Zone.

Kaye was the original owner of baseball's Seattle Mariners along with his partner Lester Smith from1977 to 1981. Prior to that, the lifelong fan of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers recorded a song called "The D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song (Oh really? No, O'Malley!)", describing a fictitious encounter with the San Francisco Giants, which was a hit during those clubs' real-life pennant chase of 1962. That song is included on one of the Baseball's Greatest Hits compact disc's.

During the 1950s, Kaye also acted in a pantomime production of Cinderella, in Sydney, Australia, where he played the role of "Buttons", Cinderella's stepfather's servant, and also Cinderella's friend. In the 1970s Kaye injured his leg during the run of the Richard Rodgers musical Two by Two, but went on with the show, cavorting on stage from a wheelchair.

In many of his movies, as well as on stage, Kaye proved to be an able actor, singer, dancer and comedian. He showed quite a different and serious side as Ambassador for UNICEF and in his dramatic role in the memorable TV movie Skokie, in which he played a Holocaust survivor. Before his death in 1987, Kaye demonstrated his ability to conduct an orchestra during a comical, but technically sound, series of concerts organized for UNICEF fundraising. Kaye received two Academy Awards -- an honorary award in 1955 and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1982.

In 1980, Kaye hosted and sang in the 25th Anniversary of Disneyland celebration, and hosted the opening celebration for Epcot in 1982 (EPCOT Center at the time), both of which were aired on prime-time American television.

In his later years he took to entertaining at home as chef — he had a special stove installed in his patio — and specialized in Chinese cooking. The library at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York is named for him.

He also had a longstanding interest in medicine and was permitted to observe surgery on several occasions.[3]

The bench at Danny Kaye's grave in Kensico Cemetery

Kaye died in 1987 from a heart attack, following a bout of hepatitis. He left a widow, Sylvia Fine, and a daughter, Dena. He is interred in the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. His grave is adorned with a bench that contains friezes of a baseball and bat, an aircraft, a piano, a flower pot, musical notes, and a glove.

Throughout his life, Kaye donated to various charities.

Working alongside UNICEF's Halloween fundraiser founder, Ward Simon Kimball Jr., the actor educated the public on impoverished children in deplorable living conditions overseas and assisted in the distribution of donated goods and funds.

Kaye was enamored by music. While he often claimed an inability to read music, he was quite the conductor. Kaye was often invited to conduct symphonies as charity fundraisers. Over the course of his career he raised over US$5,000,000 in support of musicians pension funds.[4]

Personal life

Some sources claim that Kaye and Laurence Olivier had a 10-year affair in the 1950s, while Olivier was still married to Vivien Leigh.[5] A biography of Leigh states that their affair caused her to have a breakdown.[6] The affair has been denied by Olivier's official biographer, Terry Coleman. He also had a long-term affair with Eve Arden in the 1940s.[7]

Honors and awards

Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (1981)
Asteroid 6546 Kaye



Moon Over Manhattan (1935)
Dime a Dance (1937)
Getting an Eyeful (1938)
Cupid Takes a Holiday (1938)
Money on Your Life (1938)
Up in Arms (1944)
The Birth of a Star (compilation of 1937-38 short subjects) (1945)
Wonder Man (1945)
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947)
Screen Snapshots: Out of This World Series (1947)
A Song Is Born (1948)
It's a Great Feeling (1949)
The Inspector General (1949)
On the Riviera (1951)
Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
Assignment Children (1954)
Knock on Wood (1954)
Screen Snapshots: Hula from Hollywood (1954)
White Christmas (1954)
Screen Snapshots: Hollywood Beauty (1955)
The Court Jester (1956)
Screen Snapshots: Playtime in Hollywood (1956)
Merry Andrew (1958)
Me and the Colonel (1958)
The Five Pennies (1959)
The Millionairess (1960)
On the Double (1961)
The Man from the Diner's Club (1963)
The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969)
Skokie (1981)


Autumn Laughter (1938)
The Danny Kaye Show with Lucille Ball (1962)
The Danny Kaye Show (1963-967)
Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971) (voice)
An Evening with John Denver (1975)
Pinocchio (1976)
Peter Pan (1976)
The Muppet Show (1978)
An Evening with Danny Kaye (1981)
Skokie (1981)
The New Twilight Zone: "Paladin of the Lost Hour" (1985)
The Cosby Show: "The Dentist" (1986)


1-^ Tony Woolway. "Danny Kaye Dies, Aged 74", icWales, 4 Mar 1987. Retrieved on 2008-05-14.
2-^ Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Section. Subject: Danny Kaye. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved on 2008-05-14.
3-^ Gottfried, Martin (1994). Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye. New York; London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671864947.
4-^ Biography of Danny Kaye. The Kennedy Center. Retrieved on 2008-05-14.
5-^ Spoto, Donald (1992). Laurence Olivier: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060183152.
6-^ Capua, Michelangelo (2003). Vivien Leigh: A Biography. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786414979.
7-^ Gottfried, Martin (1994). Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671864947.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Danny Kaye
Danny Kaye at the Internet Movie Database
Danny Kaye Tribute and fan website
Tribute to Danny Kaye in The Court Jester
Royal Engineers Museum Danny Kaye in Korea 1952
"Parnell of the Palladium," Willi Frischauer, Oct. 24, 1948, p. X3. The London Palladium and Kaye's reception.
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