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Monday, November 8, 2010

Danny Kaye

An interesting commentary from Mark Evanier and his blog.

I’ve heard much the same about Danny Kaye. A tremendous talent but disliked by all who worked with him in and out of showbiz.

Here’s Mark’s commentary, followed by a link to the show:

Today's Video Link

This runs an hour so you probably won't want to watch all of it...but if you do click, don't blame me if you get hooked and sit through much of it. It's an episode of The Danny Kaye Show, a mostly-forgotten series that ran on CBS from 1963 to 1967. (The person who generously uploaded it to YouTube seems to have identified it as a 1962 episode...but the show debuted on September 25, 1963 and the copyright at the end of this one says '64.) Angela Lansbury is the main guest star and Mr. Kaye is supported in sketches by Harvey Korman, who was a regular on the show. In a stroke of luck, when Mr. Kaye stopped doing his show in '67, Carol Burnett was just starting hers in the same building and was able to snag Korman to serve the same function on her series. Harvey didn't even have to change his parking space.

I remember this show being quite wonderful and this episode does not disappoint. Danny Kaye is amazing. He sings, he dances, he does characters, he tells jokes...he's absolutely perfect to star in a weekly variety show. I love him on screen enough to be troubled and conflicted by something. Years later when I got into the business of writing — sometimes writing variety shows, in fact — I got to work with and/or know an awful lot of people who worked on this show including all but one of its writers. They all hated Danny Kaye. I was very close with Howard Morris who was a recurring sketch player on this show. He hated Danny Kaye. I did a show one time with Vincent Price, who was one of the sweetest, gentlest men you could ever hope to meet. Over lunch, someone remarked how the actors who played the worst villains were always like that in real life and Mr. Price remarked, "Yes, it amuses me how many people thought I was like the monster in the Edgar Allan Poe movies and thought Danny Kaye was a nice man."

I never met Danny Kaye...and of course, one meeting would have proven little. But when I was a kid, my parents took me — and I think we went several times — to see him perform at the Hollywood Bowl and/or the Greek Theater. It was like spending time with an enchanted pixie. He exuded so much joy and happiness...and he stayed on stage forever, doing song after song, giving the audience 150% or more of what they'd paid to see. Gene Wilder used to say that when he was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be whatever Danny Kaye was...and every time I see Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of that. Because that was Gene Wilder playing a role Danny Kaye could have played. In fact, not that Wilder wasn't stupendous in the part, but I kinda wish someone had thought to cast Danny Kaye, instead. Wouldn't he have been amazing?

So on the one hand, I see Danny Kaye and I think what a wonderful person he was on stage or screen. And on the other hand, I hear all these people I like tell me how nasty he was to them...or to anyone else on stage with him who dared get a laugh...and I don't know what to think. I've probably done some of you a great disservice by planting in your brain the information that people who were around Danny Kaye really didn't like him. Maybe that's okay because the people who didn't know him all loved him...and I'm one of them. Here he is being Danny Kaye...

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