“Making Clothes For Danny Kaye”

The Buckingham Post – Sep. 18, 1959

From “The Dress Doctor,” by Edith Head and Jane Kesner Ardmore.

Because everyone on the staff loves Danny, he can do no wrong. And he’s genuinely interested in costumes. When we’re at the deciding stage, he’s dead serious.

It goes like this. Say we’re working on costumes for The Five Pennies, the story of Red Nichols. We have the place set up like an art gallery, costume sketches propped up around the room, bolts of tweeds and cashmeres, rich fabrics a man with means would wear. Red Nichols started out poor, but became a successful man, and since the period of the picture is the 20’s and 30’s, today’s clothes won’t do.

Danny arrives with director Mel Shevelson, producer Jack Rose, the cameraman, art director, color consultant, etc., and they march around the room studying each sketch and fabric seriously.

Shevelson and Rose are more interested in how an actor looks than in how an actress looks. In Houseboat they were perfectly willing to stretch a point and have Sophia wear clothes more glamorous than she would have worn applying for a job as housekeeper, because it made her entrance so funny. But in this instance, what Danny wears influences his interpretation and that’s important. Danny leads the parade around the room, his hands deep in his pockets, dead pan, dead silence, studying each sketch, each fabric seriously, intently, not a word – not at all the Danny Kaye we know. After he’s examined each thing with care, he sits down . . .

Danny discusses and we decide on each costume for each scene of the picture. There’s not a trace of zanyness, it would be in the way. Once we’ve decided, he explodes.

“Food!” he yells. “Food, food, food!” A few minutes later, beaming happily, he’s sitting cross-legged on the floor eating.

It’s the change of pace that makes him so funny, and funny is what this man is, in spite of the fact that he is basically a handsome man (who works hard at not being a handsome man). In The Court Jester, in tights, black velvet doublet and plumes he could have looked magnificent. Only his acting saved him. In Me and the Colonel only his moustache saved him.

The nearest he and I ever came to a struggle was when The Court Jester called for a suit of armor.

“A nice comfortable suit of armor,” Danny said.

I must have looked dubious. I know some tricks but they don’t include comfortable armor.

“Let’s drop the picture,” Danny said and meant it.

Director-producers Panama and Frank looked at me in despair. It was up to me; and finally, with the help of modern science, I was able to entice Danny into a suit of flexible aluminum.

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