Monday, April 21, 2008

MY HERO, DANNY KAYE

In my childhood, especially on rainy days or when I was sick, I had a nice selection of kiddie records to listen to. I had two featuring the Three Stooges, Peter and the Wolf, Tubby the Tuba, Captain Kangaroo and some less interesting ones. But the musical/comedy Danny Kaye record that I got for my fifth birthday remained my favorite--and through my sister's pro-action in the late 70's--she made a cassette copy (which I still have) when all our old records began warping.

I'm not certain what the title of the record was but I recall the cover had Danny Kaye laying across a wooden rocking chair holding an over-sized lollipop while dressed in short pants like a kid from the forties. My favorites cuts were: "I'm Five, I'm Five...I'm a Big Boy Now, I'm Five," "See-Saw" (which I regularly sang {badly} to Andrew), "Crazy Barbara" and "Mommy, Give Me a Drink of Water."

HOLY SCHNIKEES, I FOUND THE ALBUM COVER PICTURE ON THE WEB.

In addition to performing all those great songs, he was inspired to write them by the birth of his daughter in 1946.

I got on this Danny Kaye "trip down Memory Lane," because TCM played some of his movies last week, plus the classical music radio station featured his Broadway accomplishments on their Sunday show-tune edition.

It then occurred to me that my childhood hero...by today's standards...is a virtual unknown.

David Daniel Kaminsky (Danny Kaye) was born to Ukrainian immigrants in the East New York section of Brooklyn on January 18, 1913. Although he never graduated Thomas Jefferson High (my mother's school), he was already a star Borscht Belt comedian as a teenager. Among his many funny talents was the ability to play manic Russian accented characters, while speaking at breakneck speed.

Danny Kaye is most recognized for his work in movies, (he was dark-haired so the movie moguls had him dye his hair red to be more striking...and they were right). In the early thirties, he landed in Hollywood and performed in bit parts until hitting it big. His most famous starring roles were:

- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
- The Inspector General
- White Christmas
- The Court Jester
- Merry Andrew
- Hans Christian Andersen (My favorite Danny Kaye movie)

Kaye also was a radio personality, had his own TV show and performed for the royal family in 1948, at London's Palladium Theater. That performance was later described as, "Worshipful hysteria," as the royals... so enthralled by Kaye, shockingly left the royal box to sit closer for a better view.

Kaye was such a high-level superstar that in 1952, he hosted the Academy Awards. Some of you might remember from the 60's that he was the host of the annual broadcast of the "Wizard of Oz." I also recall him being especially cute as a guest star on the "Muppets."

Beyond the glitter of the entertainment industry, Kaye was a great fan of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers...and baseball in general. In 1977, he became an original owner of the Seattle Mariners.


Danny Kaye was an ardent fund raiser for UNICEF and later became their ambassador. He also helped raise over five million dollars for the Musicians Pension Fund. In addition to helping educate people about the Holocaust, Kaye came out of retirement in 1981 to play a serious role as a survivor in the made for TV film, "Skokie."

Andrew is familiar with Kaye only from that cassette of my kiddie record. I got him to watch a snippet from Walter Mitty (I admit, the non-daydream scenes are dated ) but I was thrilled that my son appreciated Kaye's genius.

Danny Kaye suffered from a bout with hepatitis in 1987 and died shortly thereafter of a heart attack on March 3rd of that year.

A true icon who succeeded in every entertainment medium, I hope you all take time out and discover or re-discover that great unknown superstar of my childhood.

4 comments:

kathaven said...

I wish to thank you for this web page about Danny Kaye. I too grew up with Danny Kaye - my favorite album was Mommy give be a drink of water. I still have that album. Every time one of movies comes on my whole family watches. It was wonderful to re-visit all of those wonderful memories as I read your web page. Thank you !

Anonymous said...

Bravo, seems to me, is an excellent phrase

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this page. He was my hero too. He still is. His genius is impossible to match.

Anonymous said...

I'd love to have a CD version of, "PETER AND THE WOLF." Any ideas?