Danny Kaye


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    b. David Daniel Kominski

        Danny Kaye was definately a man of his times. Indeed, time has not been kind to much of his work and today he looks so dated the bank of time returns his cheques unpaid almost every time. Where the work of a Bogart or a Cary Grant gets better with age like a fine wine, Kaye's is like a cheap cheese you buy, take home, and find it has an expiry date of 60 years ago.

      In other words, Kaye is one of those people who was a wonder once, but who looks frantic and alien now. He was called a genius. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was an international event. When he appeared to do stand-up routines on stage, there were stories that he gave command performances after the official curtain fell - for royalty, celebrities, or sick children - that went on into the early hours, riots of improvisation. You had to be there. I mean, you had to be there. But to be a wow in pictures you only have to do it now. Later will sort itself out. Danny Kaye had his now: it is even said that Laurence Olivier got a crush on him. (Kaye was especially popular in England.) And even now one can pick up the feeling of nearly inhuman energy in Kaye on screen, somewhere between child, machine, and rogue cuckoo clock.

      Kaye had a mixed career in entertainment before his screen debut. He was a vaudevillian, a dancer, a singer, and comedian, and a flop in all directions. He even appeared in some two-reel comedies that failed dismally.

      But he made a Broadway debut in 1940 and then had a success in Lady in the Dark. He also met and married lyricist Sylvia Fine, the "brains" behind his subsequent success. She wrote most of those tortuous songs, and controlled his material. It was Samuel Goldwyn who brought Kaye to the screen in Up in Arms (44, Elliott Nugent). In the years immediately after the war Kaye was all the rage: twins in Wonder Man (45, H. Bruce Humberstone); The Kid from Brooklyn (46, Norman Z. McLeod); The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (47, McLeod), a beautiful subject vulgarized by Kaye; A Star is Born (48, Howard Hawks); The Inspector Genera (49, Henry Koster); and On the Riviera (51, Walter Lang).

Danny Kaye, 1982