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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Danny Kaye

Danny Kaye, WW2
Born David Daniel Kaminsky
January 18, 1913(1913-01-18)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Died March 3, 1987 (aged 74)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor, singer, comedian
Years active 1935–1986
Spouse(s) Sylvia Fine (1940-1987) (his death) 1 child

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


Early years

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 teenage years in the Catskills as a tummler in the Borscht Belt.


Danny Kaye made his film debut in a 1935 comedy short titled 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,[2] 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. The allegations were never substantiated, and he was never charged with any associated crime.[3]

Other projects

Kaye starred in a radio program of his own, The Danny Kaye Show, on CBS in 1945–1946. Although it had a stellar cast (including Eve Arden, Lionel Stander, and Big Band leader Harry James), and was scripted by radio notables Goodman Ace, Sylvia Fine, and respected playwright-director Abe Burrows, the show failed to make proper use of its star, and never found an audience. It turned out to be a very bitter experience for both Kaye and Ace. Many episodes survive today, and are notable for Kaye's opening "nonsense" patter.

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 Constantin 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 also appeared on the NBC interview program Here's Hollywood.

Danny Kaye was very fond of the legendary arranger Vic Schoen. Schoen had arranged for him on White Christmas, the Court Jester, and albums and concerts with the Andrews Sisters. In the 1960s Vic Schoen was working on a show in Las Vegas with Shirley Temple. He was injured in a car accident. When Danny Kaye heard about the accident, he immediately flew his own plane (Kaye was an avid pilot) to McCarran Airport to pick up Schoen and bring him back to Los Angeles to guarantee the best medical attention.

In 1976, he played the role of Mister Geppetto in a television musical adaptation of Pinocchio with Sandy Duncan in the title role. He guest-starred much later in his career in episodes of The Muppet Show, The Cosby Show and in the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone.

Kaye was the original owner of baseball's Seattle Mariners along with his partner Lester Smith from 1977 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 discs.

During the 1950s, Kaye visited Australia, where he played "Buttons" in a production of Cinderella in Sydney. In the 1970s Kaye tore a ligament in his leg during the run of the Richard Rodgers musical Two by Two, but went on with the show, appearing with his leg in a cast and cavorting on stage from a wheelchair.

In many of his movies, as well as on stage, Kaye proved to be a very 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 theater and demonstration kitchen underneath 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.[4]

He was an accomplished pilot, rated for airplanes ranging from single engine light aircraft to multi-engine jets.

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 of music. While he often claimed an inability to read music, he was quite the conductor, and was said to have perfect pitch. 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.[5]

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.

Personal life

After Kaye and his wife became estranged, he was allegedly involved with a succession of women, though he and Fine never divorced. The best-known of these women was actress Eve Arden.[4]

There are persistent rumors that Kaye was either homosexual or bisexual and some sources claim that Kaye and Laurence Olivier had a 10-year relationship in the 1950s while Olivier was still married to Vivien Leigh.[6] A biography of Leigh states that the alleged relationship caused her to have a breakdown.[7] The alleged relationship has been denied by Olivier's official biographer, Terry Coleman.[8] Joan Plowright, Olivier's widow, has dealt with the matter in different ways on different occasions: she deflected the question (but alluded to Olivier's "demons") in a BBC interview [9] and was reported saying on another occasion that "I have always resented the comments that it was I who was the homewrecker of Larry's marriage to Vivien Leigh. Danny Kaye was attached to Larry far earlier than I." [10] However, in her memoirs Plowright denies that there had been an affair between the two men.[11] Producer Perry Lafferty reported: “People would ask me, ‘Is he gay? Is he gay?’ I never saw anything to substantiate that in all the time I was with him.”[4] Kaye’s final girlfriend, Marlene Sorosky, reported that he told her, “I’ve never had a homosexual experience in my life. I’ve never had any kind of gay relationship. I’ve had opportunities, but I never did anything about them.”[4]

Honors, awards, tributes



# Title Year Role Director Co-stars Filmed in
1. Moon Over Manhattan 1935 Himself Al Christie Sylvia Froos, Marion Martin Black and white
2. Dime a Dance 1937 Eddie Al Christie Imogene Coca, June Allyson Black and white
3. Getting an Eyeful 1938 Russian Al Christie Charles Kemper, Sally Starr Black and white
4. Cupid Takes a Holiday 1938 Nikolai Nikolaevich (bride-seeker) William Watson Douglas Leavitt, Estelle Jayne Black and white
5. Money on Your Life 1938 Russian William Watson Charles Kemper, Sally Starr Black and white
6. Up in Arms 1944 Danny Weems Elliott Nugent Dinah Shore, Dana Andrews Technicolor
7. Wonder Man 1945 Edwin Dingle / Buzzy Bellew H. Bruce Humberstone Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen, Steve Cochran Technicolor
8. The Kid from Brooklyn 1946 Burleigh Hubert Sullivan Norman Z. McLeod Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen, Steve Cochran, Eve Arden Technicolor
9. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty 1947 Walter Mitty Norman Z. McLeod Virginia Mayo, Boris Karloff, Fay Bainter, Ann Rutherford Technicolor
10. A Song Is Born 1948 Professor Hobart Frisbee Howard Hawks Virginia Mayo, Benny Goodman, Hugh Herbert, Steve Cochran Technicolor
11. It's a Great Feeling 1949 Himself David Bulter Dennis Morgan, Doris Day, Jack Carson Technicolor
12. The Inspector General 1949 Georgi Henry Koster Walter Slezak, Barbara Bates, Elsa Lanchester, Gene Lockhart Technicolor
13. On the Riviera 1951 Jack Martin / Henri Duran Walter Lang Gene Tierney, Corinne Calvet Technicolor
14. Hans Christian Andersen 1952 Hans Christian Andersen Charles Vidor Farley Granger, Zizi Jeanmaire Technicolor
15. Knock on Wood 1954 Jerry Morgan / Papa Morgan Norman Panama
Mevin Frank
Mai Zetterling, Torin Thatcher Technicolor
16. White Christmas 1954 Phil Davis Michael Curtiz Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Dean Jagger VistaVision
17. The Court Jester 1956 Hubert Hawkins Norman Panama
Mevin Frank
Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone, Angela Lansbury VistaVision
18. Merry Andrew 1958 Andrew Larabee Michael Kidd Anna Maria, Pier Angeli CinemaScope
19. Me and the Colonel 1958 Samuel L. Jacobowsky Peter Glenville Curd Jürgens, Nicole Maurey, Françoise Rosay, Akim Tamiroff Black and white
20. The Five Pennies 1959 Red Nichols Melville Shavelson Barbara Bel Geddes, Louis Armstrong, Tuesday Weld VistaVision
21. The Millionairess 1960 Tommy True Anthony Asquith Sophia Loren, Peter Sellers, Alastair Sim, Vittorio de Sica CinemaScope
22. On the Double 1961 Pfc. Ernie Williams Melville Shavelson Dana Wynter, Margaret Rutherford, Diana Dors Panavision
23. The Man from the Diner's Club 1963 Ernest Klenk Frank Tashlin Cara Williams, Martha Hyer Black and white
24. The Madwoman of Chaillot 1969 The Ragpicker Bryan Forbes Katharine Hepburn, Charles Boyer Technicolor


  • Autumn Laughter (1938) (experimental telecast)
  • The Danny Kaye Show with Lucille Ball (1962) (special)
  • The Danny Kaye Show (1963–1967) (series)
  • The Lucy Show: "Lucy Meets Danny Kaye" (1964) (guest appearance)
  • Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971) (voice)
  • The Enchanted World of Danny Kaye: The Emperor's New Clothes (1972) (special)
  • An Evening with John Denver (1975) (special)
  • Pinocchio (1976) (special)
  • Peter Pan (1976) (special)
  • The Muppet Show (1978) (guest appearance)
  • Disneyland's 25th Anniversary (1980) (special guest appearance)
  • An Evening with Danny Kaye (1981) (special)
  • Skokie (1981)
  • The New Twilight Zone: "Paladin of the Lost Hour" (1985) (guest appearance)
  • The Cosby Show: "The Dentist" (1986) (guest appearance)


  1. ^ Tony Woolway (4 March 1987). "Danny Kaye Dies, Age 74". icWales. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  2. ^ IMDB: Up In Arms
  3. ^ Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Section. "Subject: Danny Kaye". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  4. ^ a b c d Gottfried, Martin (1994). Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye. New York; London: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0671864947. 
  5. ^ "Biography of Danny Kaye". The Kennedy Center. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  6. ^ Spoto, Donald (1992). Laurence Olivier: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0060183152. 
  7. ^ Capua, Michelangelo (2003). Vivien Leigh: A Biography. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786414979. 
  8. ^ Coleman, Terry (2006). "Author's Note: The Androgynous Actor". Olivier. Macmillan. pp. 478–481. ISBN 0805081364. 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Christiansen, Rupert (2001-10-13). "Tending the sacred flame". The Spectator. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Danny Kaye (January 18, 1913March 3, 1987), born David Daniel Kaminsky, was an American actor, singer and comedian.



  • I am a wife-made man
    • Referring to the contributions that his wife Sylvia Fine's songs made to his career
    • Halliwell, Leslie (2001). Who's Who in the Movies. HarperCollins Entertainment. pp. p. 242 (of 593). ISBN 0002572141.  
  • I became an entertainer not because I wanted to but because I was meant to.
    • Halliwell, Leslie (2001). Who's Who in the Movies. HarperCollins Entertainment. pp. p. 242. ISBN 0002572141.  


Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can

About Danny Kaye

  • I can't say what Danny Kaye is like in private life. There are too many of them.
    • Sylvia Fine; quoted in Halliwell, Leslie (2001). Who's Who in the Movies. HarperCollins Entertainment. pp. p. 242. ISBN 0002572141.  

See also

External links

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