“Danny Kaye to Get Small Fortune”

The Deseret News – Sep. 15, 1953

By: Harold Heffernan

In a Nov. 16, 2012 interview, author David Koenig provides his explanation of the incident described in this article:
"Danny was on the lot finishing up Knock on Wood, so Paramount begged him to replace [Donald] O’Connor. Kaye didn’t want to do it, but was also negotiating a second two-picture distribution deal. So he made a ridiculous request: $200,000 (more than twice what O’Connor was to make) plus 10 percent of the profits (which were already slated to be shared in thirds by Paramount, Crosby and Berlin). To his shock, Paramount agreed to the 200K, Crosby and Berlin each gave up 5 percent of their share, and Kaye’s Knock on Wood writers, Norman Panama and Mel Frank, were allowed to rewrite the script for Danny. It turned out to be the most lucrative deal of his life."

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HOLLYWOOD (NANA)—By being on hand at the psychological moment, when a major studio was actually “over a barrel” in its quest of a quick replacement for Donald O’Connor in “White Christmas,” Danny Kaye managed to close what will go down in Hollywood annals as one of the sharpest deals in the town’s modern history. Here’s how it happened.

With Irving Berlin’s already much-jinxed movie ready to roll and unable to face any further delay, Paramount was notified by doctors one night that Donald O’Connor’s continued fever would prevent his scheduled start as one of the four leading performers. Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen were the others. Fred Astaire previously had bowed out.

This was a shattering blow and would have proved disastrous from a financial standpoint had the studio been unable to replace suitably O’Connor within a matter of hours.

Don Hartman, production manager of Paramount, remained up all that night trying to think the thing out. At breakfast he had resolved to put the substituting proposition up to Danny Kaye, who just then was finishing “Knock on Wood” on the same lot.

Kaye replied that he had made commitments for several personal appearances. He advised Hartman the sacrifices he would be forced to make to clear his schedule for “White Christmas” would run into a lot of money—too much, he thought.

“How much?” asked Hartman. The reply came back.

“I want $250,000 for playing the part and 10 per cent of the film’s net profits.”

Hartman finally pulled himself together and dashed off to consult Berlin and Crosby. Each had agreed to take one third of the profits as his reward for making the picture. The studio was to get the other third. Berlin was on the lot, Crosby at his ranch.

Berlin immediately agreed to sacrifice 5 per cent of his potential earnings and Bing, on the telephone, agreed to do the same. This made up the 10 per cent profit arrangement required by Kaye. Kaye’s $250,000 salary was much more than the price of O’Connor, but there was no other way out. Something had to be done at once, not next week, or even tomorrow.

So, Danny Kaye, who probably never dreamed his boxcar proffer would be accepted, found himself, in a matter of eight hours, tied to one of the most profitable deals any movie star has engineered since the dawn of television.

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