“Radio: Git Gat Giddle”
- March 11, 1946

The most talked about comedian in the U.S. today is a lithe, 33-year-old mophead named Danny Kaye. Unlike great clowns of the past, he does not wear funny clothes, fall on his prat, throw custard pies or even borrow ancient jokes from Joe Miller. His chief comic assets are a nimble brain and an even nimbler tongue.

In six years of breath-taking success, these have carried him through, two Broadway musicals (Lady in the Dark, Let's Face It), two movies (Up In Arms, Wonder Man), 39 weeks of a new kind of radio show and numberless vaudeville appearances. This year, such activity will bring him more than $500,000.

His popularity and nimble-wittedness were abundantly demonstrated in Manhattan's Paramount Theater, where he has done five shows a day for the past three weeks, at $20,000 a week. Freed for the first time in four years from the restrictions of movies and radio, he walked on stage his first day, stretched elegantly, and said: "Gee, I'm glad to be back on Broadway." Just then, blasters in an excavation near the Paramount let go with a charge of TNT, and the theater shivered. Cracked Danny: "Never mind the cannon, fellas; just tell 'em I'm glad to be back."

Rolling Eyes.

After every show, Danny found his dressing room full of gifts from his admirers (a homemade cake, two pounds of butter, a diamond wedding ring, jars of canned fruit, popcorn, etc.). At his last show—scheduled for the usual 30 minutes—the audience held Danny for 91, while he went through his whole repertory of pantomime, mimicry and musical burlesques. He called up kids from the audience. Once, midway through a song, he doubled up with a great belly laugh. "You won't believe this," he howled, "but a little girl in the third row is looking at me through binoculars." At the end of this zany, record performance, the audience sang Auld Lang Syne.

It is the same at his radio show, whether he is broadcasting from New York or Hollywood. While Danny mimics and mugs through his half-hour program and a 40-minute post-broadcast show, girls pile presents on the stage. To show his appreciation, he reads mooncalf poems written to him by idolatrous bobby-soxers, mugs outrageously, or falls offstage with studied indifference.

Tall (6 ft.), skinny (152 lbs.) and Cassius-cheeked, Danny is a handsome man—barring his Pinocchio nose. His face, rosy and puckish, is extraordinarily mobile. His mouth is big, his chin square, his eyes blue and easy-rolling. His hair has nervously changed from red to brown to blond at various stages of his life. Current color: carrot. His hands were once described by a critic as "the most expressive since Eleonora Duse."

Rattling Tongue.

But his principal asset is his proficiency at something called scat—a form of singing in which the performer, instead of mouthing words, gushes forth an unintelligible gibberish most closely resembling a spluttering outboard motor. His radio signature is a scat phrase which, written down, looks something like this:

"Git gat gittle, giddle-di-ap, giddle-de-tommy, riddle de biddle de roop, da-reep, fa-san, skeedle de woo-da, fiddle de wada, reep!"

Since Kaye sings scat with the tonal inspiration of a New Orleans jazz band, he seldom uses the same polysyllabic sounds twice.

His most famous scat skit is Melody in 4-F, the gaga saga of a G.I. which made the musicomedy "Let's Face It" famous. In this, while triple-tonguing his "de-geet gat giddle," Kaye mimicked an inductee pleading for deferment because of bad ears, flat feet, ulcers, decayed teeth; took him into training with a few key words like "Shad-ap!" (indicating a tough top sergeant) or "hut, tut, t'ree, fo" (for long marches). But mostly it was all "riddle-de biddle, de reep."

Dickery by Dock.

Danny's repertory is filled with tongue twisters. In "Lady in the Dark," his perfect diction and voice control wowed Broadway as he rattled off the names of 50 Russian composers in Ira Gershwin's lyric for Tschaikowsky, singing in 40 seconds:

There's Malichevsky, Rubinstein, Arensky and Tschaikowsky,

Sapelnikoff, Dimitrieff, Tscherepnin, Kryjanowsky,

Godowsky, Arteiboucheff, Moniuszko, Akimenko,

Solovieff, Prokofieff, Tiomkin, Korestchenko.

There's Glinka, Winkler, Bortniansky, Rebikoff, Ilyinsky;

There's Medtner, Balakireff, Zolotareff and Kvoschinsky ;

And Sokoloff and Kopyloff, Dukelsky and Klenofsky;

And Shostakovitsch, Borodine, Gliere and Nowakofski.

There's Liadoff and Karganoff, Markievitch, Pantschenko ;

And Dargomyzski, Stcherbatcheff, Scriabine, Vassilenko;

Stravinsky, Rimskykorsakoff, Mussorgsky and Gretchaninoff ;

And Glazounoff and Caesar Ciu, Kalinikoff, Rachmaninoff. *

Needless to say, he has a phenomenal memory. He learned Tschaikowsky in one afternoon. In the cinemusicomedy "Up In Arms," he made the final, complete burlesque of movie screen credits, in the verses of Lobby Song written for him by his wife, Sylvia. In telling the story of an imaginary movie, Danny sang, in split-second fashion, gradually increasing his tempo:

Screenplay by Motz,

From a stageplay by Gluck,

From a story by Blip,

From a chapter by Ronk,

From a sentence by Dokes,

From a comma by Stokes,

From an idea by Grokes,

Based on Joe Miller's jokes.

Art direction, Finklepuff,

Interiors, Minerva Buff,

Photography, Alonzo Tek,

Recorded sound, Ozneedle Beck,

Upholstery by Zachary,

Knickknackery by Thackery,

Terpsichore by Dickery,

And Dickery by Dock.

Even when he goes in for dialectal ditties, much of the Kaye piquancy depends upon rapid enunciation. In Babbitt and the Bromide, he summarizes a meeting of two "solid citizens" with: "Hello," "How are you?" "Howza folks?" "What's new?" "I'm great." "That's good." "Ha, ha." "Knock wood."

The Perfect Figaro.

These vocal varieties call for a versatile voice. Danny has it. It is a high baritone, with a two-octave range. He can impersonate an Italian baritone, bleat like an Irish tenor, mimic a coloratura soprano (almost reaching high C) or plead like a Slavic gypsy singer with basso profundo and schmalz.

Since Danny Kaye's comic talent has begun to be taken seriously, he has been made the target of some surprising statements and offers. Pianist Artur Rubinstein said: "I feel most often about him what everyone else felt about Chaplin. I am not so much amused as I am moved." British Cinema Producer Gabriel Pascal (Caesar & Cleopatra, etc.) wanted Kaye to play Macbeth. The Metropolitan Opera's director, Edward Johnson, proclaimed Danny the perfect Figaro—if only he had an operatic voice.

That is about the only stage talent Danny does not possess. Even his first performance, as a watermelon seed in a play at Brooklyn's P.S. 149, showed he had a clown's heart. He was 5½ years old.

Kid Scat to the Catskills.

He was born David Daniel Kaminski, son of a Russian-born garment worker named Jacob Kaminski, on Brooklyn's Bradford Street. He soon learned that the only laughter in tenements is self-created, joined "social clubs" which put on amateur theatricals. Then he and a friend named Louis Eisen formed a harmony team.

At 17 he quit school, became a soda jerk, then an insurance investigator—until a slight mathematical mistake on his part cost his firm $40,000. Once a dentist hired him to mind his office during lunch hour; Danny busied himself making needlepoint designs in the woodwork with the dentist's drill. Eventually, he and Eisen took their harmony act to station WBBC, Brooklyn. At last Danny thought he was getting somewhere.

But two years later the team of Kaye & Eisen was still no farther than the borsch summer-resort circuit in the Catskills. Here, besides being straight entertainers, they were also what is known as "tumulers"—aides of the hotel manager who, on rainy days, were sent out to "make with the tumult" and, by distracting disgruntled guests, prevent them from checking out. Kaye & Eisen did their tumuling by chasing each other through the halls with meat cleavers, jumping into fish ponds.

Eisen left vaudeville to become a Brooklyn chiropractor, and Kaye joined a traveling vaudeville troupe, went to the Orient where, acting in front of non-English audiences, he was forced to master the high art of pantomime.

Fans for Rand.

Back in the U.S., he stooged for other entertainers, even held fans for Sally Rand. In the spring of 1939, blue and busted, looking for something better, he turned up one night at Manhattan's Keynote Theater, where a group of earnest young theater people were casting a show to be called Sunday Night Varieties.

Seated at the piano was a trim, severe-eyed, V-chinned brunette. She had majored in music at Brooklyn College, had taught piano, worked in a music publishing house, written a few unpublished songs. That day, hoping to get on at the Keynote, she had left a job demonstrating soups in a grocery. Although grimly serious and painfully shy, she bristled with ideas for musical-comedy numbers. Her name was Sylvia Fine.

Sunday Night Varieties closed after one night, but it unwittingly fostered a new success: Danny and Sylvia. The next summer, working together at Camp Tamiment in the Catskills, they really discovered each other. They found that they had lived on the same street in Brooklyn, gone to the same schools, known the same people. (The dentist Danny had worked for as a kid turned out to be Sylvia's father, Dr. Samuel Fine.) They found that Sylvia's lyrics suited Danny, and that Danny's scatting inspired Sylvia. The following winter, they were married.

One month later Danny Kaye became a howling success.

A Piece of Lace.

New York discovered Danny Kaye the same night he discovered himself. A song written by Sylvia was the catalyst. Called Stanislavsky, it kidded the great entrepreneur of the Moscow Art Theater, whose "method," according to Sylvia's lyric, consisted of teaching drama students to:

Be a tree, be a sled,

Be a purple spool of thread.

Be a storm, a piece of lace,

A subway train, an empty space.

Danny sang it for the first time one night in February 1940, in La Martinique, a Manhattan basement nightclub. He was an immediate hit, not only because he was funny singing in Russian dialect, but also because he puckishly suggested that he, too, could be a tree, a sled, or anything his comic imagination wanted.

Broadway Playwright Moss Hart heard Stanislavsky, promptly signed Danny for the role of the swishy photographer in Lady in the Dark. More than once. Danny stopped the show. More than once he came close to stealing it from Gertrude Lawrence. After "Let's Face It," Hollywood was inevitable. Danny signed a five-year contract with Sam Goldwyn, promised to make a picture a year for $150,000.

But he found Hollywood stifling, tiring and dull; and he missed the quick reactions of an audience. "Up In Arms" and "Wonder Man" were neither the best cinema nor the best Kaye. They mixed some old and new numbers by Sylvia with some old and older tricks by Goldwyn. But they had some wonderful, isolated Kaye routines (Bali Boogie, Lobby Song) and they were smash box office. Kaye's new picture, "The Kid from Brooklyn," a remake of Harold Lloyd's "The Milky Way," is due for release in mid-April.

"Oh, Really?"

Better seen than heard, Danny Kaye is never at his best on radio. Listeners miss the virility of his clowning, the humor of his mugging. Not a good straight man, Danny flounders as he lugs the weight of dull dialogue. His weekly show (CBS, Fri., 10 p.m., E.S.T.) is principally known for its variations of:

"My sister married an Irishman."

"Oh, really?"

"No, O'Riley."

Danny pays $3,500 a week to Goodman Ace, one of radio's top scripters, for such related versions of this gag as: "We have potatoes." "Oh, really?" "No, au gratin." Or, "My sister came from the southwest." "Oh, really?" "No, Oklahoma." Now, hardly a word beginning with "O" is safe.

Nevertheless, the popularity of Kaye's show has come up faster than any other new program's. On the air for little more than a year, he tied Veteran Jimmy Durante for fifth place in the Radio Daily popularity poll.

For this, as for most of Kaye's success, Sylvia Fine shares the credit. Few collaborators work so well together. Danny's sparkle and titanic energy inspire—and force—Sylvia to work; Sylvia's dry, coruscating wit keeps Danny from falling into the banalities and cliches of overworked comedians.

Slapstick & Surgery.

In private life, many comedians are sad sacks. Not Danny. Friends who telephone his Hollywood home or his twelve-room Park Avenue apartment often hear the answering voice of a Japanese houseboy, an Italian cook, a Negro valet, an English butler or a Russian piano teacher, patiently wait for Danny to call himself to the phone.

He likes practical jokes. One time in Hollywood, he wore a false beard home, begged for food at his own back door, was promptly kicked out by his stern cook.

Apart from the theater, his greatest interest is surgery. Whenever he has time and a doctor's permission, he watches delicate operations in Manhattan or Hollywood hospitals. For more active relaxation, he plays golf (in the low 80s) or travels with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A close friend of Leo Durocher, the Bums' manager, he was the Lip's battery mate on a U.S.O. tour to the Orient. Periodically, Kaye frets about his health—which is phenomenally good—and gulps vitamins galore or retreats to an upstate New York health farm, where he hikes ten miles before breakfast.

Like many a self-made man, he is pleased with his new-won splendor. He accepts Hollywood's lavish attention as a matter of course; surveys his Hollywood home and his Manhattan apartment, richly decorated in antiques and colonial furniture, with a satisfied eye. He seldom slips into his custom-made, monogrammed shirts, or expensive, tailor-made suits, without the triumphant recollection that once he was a kid from Brooklyn.

Last week he left Manhattan for Hollywood to begin work on his new picture, an adaptation of James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," and play out his radio program from the West Coast. In all his work, new or old, he never forgets how he got where he is.

"Sylvia has a fine head on my shoulders," he says.

* Copyright MCMXLI by Chappell & Co., Inc., N.Y.C.

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