“Funny Danny Kaye Is Serious About Helping All Children”

The Milwaukee Journal – Jan. 21, 1959

By: Donald H. Dooley (of The Journal Staff)

Danny Kaye’s funny business does not appeal to everyone’s sense of humor. Maybe it is because he is never unkind. His jokes don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

He may make fun of himself, but his repertoire has no mother-in-law jokes, race or nationality prejudice stories, or off color gags.

Yet many people think that Danny is the most hilariously funny man in show business. Jack Benny, who has tickled millions himself, break up when he just thinks of Danny.

Kurt Singer, in his new book, “The Danny Kaye Story,” (Nelson, $3.95) described it this way:

“Like a giddy adolescent girl, Benny can get uncontrollable giggles by merely glancing at Danny or hearing a single Kaye word over the telephone. Several times Jack has been reduced to a laughing heap on the floor, writhing with pain and begging for help, sick with helpless mirth. His usual procedure is to eat a large sandwich before joining the Kayes for dinner, since he is so often unable to eat in Danny’s presence.”

Singer’s book reviews the life of this world famous buffoon who was born in Brooklyn as David Daniel Kominsky 46 years ago. He was the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants. His father was a clothes cutter in a New York sweatshop.

Danny’s early life was hard, and he was by no means an immediate success in show business. But he finally caught the public’s fancy, and it wasn’t too many years before his name was a household word in some of the most remote spots on earth.

Paid Own Expenses

Danny in recent years took three tours for UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Fun), making funny faces at the shy children to attract them and their parents to the medicine tents for treatment. His tours—which he paid for himself—were considered huge successes, not necessarily for America but for humanity.

Films of his trips raised enough money to help 32 million children.

The third UNICEF trip, in 1956, was made with Ed Murrow of CBS, and it resulted in a 90 minute TV show, “The Secret Life of Danny Kaye.”

Before this, Danny had turned down huge offers of money to appear on TV. “Even his old friend, Max Liebman,” said Singer, “had failed to lure him to the new field.”

What type of man is Danny Kaye, who had made millions while amusing others, and yet tries quietly to help millions of children for no pay at all?

Singer says, he “was never cut out to be the rescuer of mankind. Nor is he a crusader, with the sacrificing ardor of an Albert Schweitzer. The man behind the clown is a complicated and often difficult human being. His life of prolonged travel, enormous tensions and constant demands from an international public leaves him little solitude or time to reflect on the status of his nerves. A pause for contemplation is rare, unfortunately, for Mr. Kaye is a man who needs solitude in the same way a plant needs sunlight in order to flourish.”

Wife Is His ‘Head’

But Kaye is also a man who will invite the entire Paramount studio orchestra to his house for a spontaneous party. He is a man who feels an almost constant compulsion to entertain when he is with others. On the telephone, he assumes the accent of a Frenchman or a Russian, and keeps a caller confused for long minutes with his gibberish.

After his apprenticeship in upstate New York’s borscht circuit, a failure with a traveling variety show in Japan, and a minor success with a Broadway review, Danny hit the big time in the early 1940s. It was at La Martinique, an elite New York night spot. He did a single, with songs and acts written by his wife, the former Sylvia Fine.

It was Sylvia, inspite of their many marital storms, who Danny credits for his success.

“Her songs, her words, her encouragement, her insistence,” he once told a friend. “After all, she is the head on my shoulders.”

Then came Hollywood and many motion pictures. A partial list will bring back memories to Kaye fans: “Up in Arms,” “The Inspector General,” “Wonder Man,” the enchanting “Hans Christian Andersen,” and what Singer calls his funniest, “Knock on Wood.”

Meanwhile, Danny had been building up a tremendous popularity in England. He was even more popular there than in the United States. It has been called his love affair with the English, Singer says he became a sort of cult in the austerity bound and rationed isles.

Avoids Needles, Barbs

“In spite of their own plight,” Singer wrote, “the British were overgenerous to him. Taxi drivers refused to accept fares from him; there were Danny Kaye fan clubs, Danny Kaye sweaters, Danny Kaye neckties. Two teenagers proudly boasted they had seen the show nine times, and another bobby sockser crashed Danny’s dressing room via the fire escape just to say, ‘You’re wonderful!’ The stage door was constantly barraged with the fiercest of all human animals, the autograph hunter. Fans tore his suits, tried to touch his face, to kiss him.”

Sir Winston Churchill once stole the show from him, but only briefly, by arriving late to a Kaye performance.

“Young man,” he told Kaye, “it’s a good thing you are not a politician. You have a tremendous grip on a crowd and would be a formidable adversary in politics.”

On Feb. 28, 1948 King George VI, the queen, Princess Elizabeth and her husband and Princess Margaret, came to see Danny. It was the first time the king had seen a variety show since his coronation.

“He had not kidded the Japanese in Toyko years before or poked fun at the English now,” Singer wrote. “He had never given a single performance which belittled the United States for which everyone respected him. His is the art of caricature and satire, not needles and barbs.”

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