I was always fascinated by the talented Danny Kaye. He was a unique performer that starred in several first rate Goldwyn films and others such as The Court Jester, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Hans Christian Anderson,The Five Pennies, The Inspector General and of course the eternal holiday classic-White Christmas. He had a CBS variety series from 1963-1967 that won four Emmy Awards. He appeared on radio, on Broadway and on stages throughout the world. He was a Catskills performer born Daniel Kaminski that led a amazing career.
However, whenever I interviewed any actor who worked with him, I heard horror stories every time about Kaye.
Harvey Korman, who was a cast member of Kaye’s variety show told me the nightmare of working with Kaye. Whenever Korman scored a big laugh during the dress rehearsals, Kaye ensured that he stepped on Korman’s lines during the taped performance.
Korman told me how Kaye cut down Madeline Kahn’s role on Broadway with him in Richard Rodgers’ Two by Two when she outshined Kaye.
Bob Easton, who also was a regular on the variety series called Kaye a monster. He said he was cold, aloof, vindictive and an egomaniac.
I heard similar stories from Rosemary Clooney, producer Bob Finkel, comedy writers Hal Kanter and Rocky Kalish, television director Norman Abbott and others. The horror stories were always the same.
Yet, he did lots of philanthropic work as an Ambassador for UNICEF and won the Academy Award Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1982.
He seems to be sadly forgotten by this generation of film students and fans.
An interesting book by Martin Gottfried called Nobody’s Fool chronicled Kaye’s life in 1994. A review of the book from Entertainment Weekly is below.
Entertainment Weekly DECEMBER 16, 1994
Nobody’s Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye
The only thing missing from Martin Gottfried’s sturdy biography of Danny Kaye is its subject. He’s there somewhere, but always blurred and elusive.
In Nobody’s Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye, Gottfried repeatedly tells us that as a performer, Kaye, who died in 1987 at age 74, was indefinable. In private he was, well, intensely private. His stage performances, which by all accounts surpassed his familiar movie roles (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Hans Christian Andersen, among others) and galvanized international audiences during the ’40s and ’50s, were exercises in comic, vocal, balletic virtuosity, a series of whimsical masks.
Behind the masks, the man who evolved out of David Daniel Kaminski, a Brooklyn childhood, and a Catskills resort apprenticeship could be charming, but also abruptly cold, tenaciously depressed, or simply opaque.
Kaye’s ”black moods” extended, Gottfried notes, even to innocent autograph-seekers. The author tells of a time when, at the height of his career, Kaye was asked by a fan to sign his name: ”Kaye…snatched the paper out of the fellow’s hand. Then, turning scarlet with rage, he rose, rolled the paper into a ball, and threw it at the man.”
Gottfried finds no evidence to back up the rumor that Kaye was secretly gay and had an affair with Laurence Olivier (a theory that’s elaborated in Donald Spoto’s biography of Olivier).
Kaye did have a wrenching affair with Eve Arden, and several flirtations that distracted him from a troubled marriage to Sylvia Fine, who helped to invent his stage persona. But sex seemed to matter less to him than work and his three Walter Mittyish private passions: flying his own plane, watching operations in hospitals, and cooking gourmet Chinese dinners.
If there was an essential Danny Kaye, he remains, in Gottfried’s phrase, an ”eternal question mark.”