“Danny Up Against a New Pitcher”

The Milwaukee Journal – Jan. 7, 1945

By: J. D. Spiro

Madcap Kaye Hopes His Stuff Will Go Over in Radio; Stars in Big Program

For more than five years Danny Kaye could not go near a radio microphone without experiencing an alarming weakness in his knees and a queer forbidding sensation in his psyche. Back in the late 1930’s, before he became a big name on Broadway and in Hollywood, the comedian had done one brief broadcast, with the result that subsequently when anyone even so much as fluttered a network contract within earshot he would hide in a closet or under the bed.

Then the United States went to war, and broadcasting by stars of stage, screen and radio became a powerful instrument of national service. It was a cause so big and compelling as to overwhelm Kaye’s doubts and fears regarding the air as a medium for his own distinctive talents, and soon he was projecting his personality through the microphone in behalf of one patriotic activity and another. To his surprise the results were reassuring.

Then one day along came a top executive of the advertising agency representing Milwaukee’s Pabst Brewing Co. He had ideas about starring Kaye in a weekly radio program. Now the comedian, though he did not say yes, did not say no. Instead he went home and talked the matter over with his wife, Sylvia Fine, who has figured importantly in his professional success. Together they decided that they would discourage the Pabst proposal by putting their price out of likely reach. The figure they decided upon was larger than the pay of any other comic on the air with two exceptions.

How effective a deterrent this turned out to be you can see for yourself by setting your radio dial to bring in WBBM or WISN at 7 p.m. Saturdays, when the Milwaukee concern is presenting Kaye in a program that also has Harry James and his musicians, Lionel Stander, featured film actor, and others. Sylvia Fine supervises the show and writes much of the special material for her star husband’s use, while Dick Mack is director.

He Will Have Visitors, Not Guest Stars

Kaye sold the show as a “package,” thus assuming for himself most of the responsibility. He says he hopes to keep it elastic and to vary it considerably from week to week. He plans to have a big name each week as a “visitor,” not as a “guest star,” the distinction being one he makes with a careful choice of terms.

“What’s had me worried about going on the air,” Kaye explained, “is that it is a completely different medium from the stage and also from the movies. When Sam Goldwyn signed me for pictures and I made ‘Up in Arms’ and ‘The Wonder Man’ for him, I had to readjust myself to the different requirements of the screen as compared with the theater, but the films are much more like the stage, and it wasn’t so tough.”

Kaye said he never would have agreed to do an air show if he had not already been widely seen in motion pictures.

“My style of comedy,” he added, “leaves a lot to the imagination on the air, and people can make their imaginations work better if they at least know what the performer looks like. It’s a great help to Eddie Cantor, for instance, that his radio audiences have seen him on the stage and screen, and can visualize him with those pop eyes of his.”

As we talked we sat on a stage in one of the CBS Hollywood studios. Kaye had returned the day before from several weeks of golfing and swimming in Florida, and was having his first get-together with the various members of his radio company while camermen’s flashlights popped and there was much milling and scurrying preliminary to the first rehearsal.

When her husband was called away for a moment, we asked Miss Fine how she felt concerning the radio as a medium for the Kaye kind of comedy, which has always relied so greatly upon being seen as well as heard.

“One thing probably more than any other leads us to feel that Danny can get over successfully on the air. That is what happened in connection with records he made three years ago when he was on Broadway in ‘Lady in the Dark’ and the following year while he was playing in ‘Let’s Face It.’ The fan mail we got from those records was fabulous, though Danny purposely did not do his best stuff on them. Today you can’t buy any of those records on the market. They have become collectors’ items.”

The team of Fine and Kaye has been operating with notable success in the entertainment world for almost exactly five years, their wedding anniversary falling on Jan. 3. They first met while she was working in a summer camp in the Catskills helping to write and stage hot weather shows. Later they discovered they had grown up in the same crowded New York block without knowing each other.

Meanwhile Kaye, who was born on Jan. 18, 1913, and educated in Manhattan public schools, had first tried working for an insurance company, then became an entertainer on the “borsch circuit,” as the Catskill summer camp route is known along Broadway. In this period he not only appeared in front of the footlights, but carried a tray on occasion. Starting at $200 a season, within five summers he had boosted his pay to $1,000.

In his fourth year at camp, Kaye met Kathleen Young and Dave Harvey, dancers, who taught him something of their art. The three worked up an act which six months later was crossing the continent doing one night stands and on its way ultimately to Japan. In this act Kaye played straight and developed his sense of timing.

The troupe sailed off to Tokyo in February, 1934, later played Osaka, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Canton, Singapore and other cities of the far east. It was while he was in Japan for several months that Kaye, largely through force of circumstances, began to develop the comedy style which he has since employed so effectively.

“Not being able to speak Japanese,” he said, “I fell back on pantomime, now and then putting in a Japanese word I had picked up. They got to hollering ‘kaye-san’ to show they liked it.”

It was on his return from the orient that Kaye fell in with Miss Fine at Camp Tamiment and together they worked up a revue which the Shuberts took to Broadway the following autumn. It lasted 10 weeks. Meanwhile Miss Fine had gone to Florida for the winter. Kaye followed and they were married at Fort Lauderdale, Jan. 3, 1940.

Got Night Club Job, Then Hit Stage

Shortly after the wedding Kaye landed a job in a New York night club at $250 a week. There Moss Hart saw him and a few days later signed him for “Lady in the Dark,” in which he became one of the season’s Broadway sensations. From this success he moved immediately into another as the star of the musical “Let’s Face It.”

It was while he was in this show that Samuel Goldwyn signed him for pictures and in March, 1943, he left Broadway for Hollywood.

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