“The Sad Comedians: Complex Danny Kaye”

Blytheville Courier News – May 5, 1957

By: Marie Torre

(This is the seventh of a series of articles in which Marie Torre investigates the somber private side of some of America’s leading comedians.)

In Danny Kaye’s future there’s an anniversary coming up that marks the day he extricated himself from the shackles of dominating forces, asserted his independence, and beat a path to all corners of the world. He’s been running ever since.

Like an indiscriminate traveler, Kaye regularly packs his trunks and journeys to any port where he can locate a new audience, tingle to adulation and, above all, be himself. Danny Kaye has allowed himself to be Danny Kaye less than a decade, when mental anguish prompted him to break all professional ties in America and skip off to England for his first try at the “I’m-my-own-boss” way of life.

Among those he left behind was his wife and manager, lyricist Sylvia Fine, who had written most of his material and is said to have a strong professional hold on the forty-four-year-old mophead—whenever he’s home, that is, which isn’t very often.

According to a friend, Danny was trying hard to find himself at the time of the separation from Sylvia. His own personality had been submerged in his show characters for so long that he was practically inarticulate when he had to make an impromptu speech.

“Now he’s glib and comfortable on stage. He’s grown up.”

And along with maturity, some of Kaye’s colleagues aver, Danny has cultivated “a tremendous ego and an all-consuming ambition to maintain his status” among the aristocracy of show business. “Danny,” remarked one of his fellow comedians, “balks a lot about ignoring television, which is like saying he doesn’t believe in the telephone.

“The truth is he’s afraid to try it., He couldn’t stand it if he got panned by the critics, or if he were to draw low ratings. If the champ doesn’t meet the challenger he remains the champ. With Danny, it’s as simple as that.”

Nothing, however, is simple about Kaye. In a preceding chapter, a psychiatrist explained that “comedians must have a propensity to stand off to the side lines and watch themselves, which makes for a certain introspective quality.”

That is doubly true of Danny. He has spells of moodiness which prompt him to shut himself off from everybody and sit in gloomy meditation, as if wondering whether people are laughing at him or with him.

He’s been known to strike a sub-acid pose within seconds after he’d been on a laughing binge.

A brief conversation with a taxi driver on the subject of economic conditions has been known to make him glum. He becomes diffident when associates employ devious methods in their attempts to “push” him into making personal appearances.

He is sensitive to sham and withdraws from people whom he feels are too free with compliments. Danny’s likes and dislikes are vivid.

He is, for instance, extremely fond of Jinx Falkenburg and will appear on her TV shows any time provided that she, and not her husband Tex McCrary, conducts the interview.

He is one of the few comedians who reads the newspapers. Grim international news frequently depresses him unduly.

Danny and his moods have been together a long time, as Mrs. Kaye can tell you. Back in the days before he left home, it was Sylvia who had to pick up the slack in conversation when an interviewer came to the house and Danny would disappear.

“He’s terribly self-conscious,” Sylvia would explain to the interviewer, who was unaware that Danny preferred to play with his daughter Dena rather than answer “stupid questions.”

Whether Danny ever sought psychiatric aid appears to be a strictly private matter among his most intimate friends, who refuse to comment in all queries about a psychiatrist in his life, particularly at the time when he flew the coop to England.

That opening night at the Palladium in London was a nightmare. As he stood quaking in the wings, left to his own devices for the first time in his career, he hear the emcee announce “ . . . and here is Danny Kaye.”

There was a burst of applause, but Danny was too petrified to walk out. Again he heard “ . . . and here is Danny Kaye.”

And he might still be standing there if a production man hadn’t pushed him on stage. When it was all over, Kaye became England’s very special charm boy. He rubbed shoulders with the King and Queen, Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw.

He realized the zenith of British idolatry when he became enshrined in wax in Madame Tussaud’s famous museum.

With his confidence bolstered to record heights by his Palladium success, Danny eventually returned to Hollywood—and Sylvia. (“One day,” she says, “he just came home.”) The Kayes, friends reported, had reached an understanding.

“It’s hard to tell,” remarked a showman for whom they once worked, “how Sylvia reacted to the terms of reconciliation, but she undoubtedly found compensation in accepting the conditions. By continuing to be Mrs. Danny Kaye, she continues to be somebody. She remains in a social world that’s exciting.”

It was Sylvia who brought Danny, the son of a Russian-born Brooklyn tailor, to the attention of producer Max Liebman back in the late thirties. She was the piano player and lyricist for Liebman’s shows at Camp Tamiment in the Catskills, and Kaye was a promising young talent she had spotted along the borscht circuit.

With Sylvia’s guidance plus her sparkling lyrics, he took the New York night clubs by storm, then Broadway, and then Hollywood.

His rise was rapid. Danny was unequipped to handle success. His adjustment to life before the spotlights has been evolving slowly, due in no small part to his interest in such worthy undertakings as his world tour on behalf of the United Nation’s International Children’s Emergency Fund.

“This wonderful tour for children,” said a motion picture executive who once worked with Danny, “isn’t the first time he had reached out for a serious part in the world. He was and still is deeply interested in politics and humanities.

“Knowing and understanding Kaye,” summed up the movie man, “isn’t easy, but I’m glad there’s a Danny Kaye.”

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