“England Loves Danny Kaye”

American Entertainer Packed Palladium During Six-Week Stretch in London

Toledo Blade – Oct. 2, 1949

By: Hedda Hopper

HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 1 – When the announcement broke that Danny Kaye would do a six weeks stretch at London’s Palladium last summer, every available ticket was sold within five days. But that didn’t stop the orders. By the time the show closed, the management spent around $9,000 returning checks and money sent in by people hoping to gain admission. Top price for tickets was $2.60; but the inevitable black market ducats went for as much as $50 each. One party flew all the way from Istanbul to catch Danny’s performance; many streamed over from the continent.

No American ever created a more popular furor in Britain. Families arranged to spend their holidays in towns where Danny was playing. At the Savoy Hotel where he made his headquarters, a special switchboard hat to be installed to handle an average of 250 daily calls to the actor. His mail added up to 15,000 pieces a week. When he arrived in Glasgow 10,000 people met him at the station. He was escorted to his hotel by 55 bagpipers. At the end of his first press conference, the reporters, who enjoy tearing most actors to bits, sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

In London, Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten spent 45 minutes backstage with Danny. A cockney cab driver, complete with accent and waxed mustache, refused to take pay for his services. “Charge Danny Kaye?” he snorted. “Not me.” And as proof that he was not without honor among his own countrymen, the American ambassador, Louis Douglas, presented Danny at a banquet attended by 400 dignitaries, including cabinet members and the Lord Mayor of London. Said Douglas: “Introducing Danny Kaye in this country is as useless as introducing Harry Lauder in America.” At one time, Henry Luce, Charles Vidor, Rita Hayworth, Aly Khan, and Jascha Heifetz were simultaneous visitors in Danny’s dressing room.

On Kaye’s opening night at the Palladium, Val Parnel, manager of the theater, sat in box with tears in his eyes. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said he. One critic described the British reaction to Danny as “the most astounding theatrical phenomenon of our age.” Others declared, “It was a plain love affair over the footlights.” To this, Eddie Dukoff, who accompanied the actor to Britain agrees. “The explanation is simple,” says he. “The audience threw its love to Danny. Danny threw it back—and more.”

As soon as they returned to Hollywood, I asked Danny and Eddie to drop by my house and tell me about the trip.

“It’s almost silly to talk about it,” said Danny. “Words seem to strip it of all the emotion we felt in England and Scotland. It’s a shame that we grow up believing in the myth that the average Englishman is cold and aloof. I don’t think a more warmhearted race exists. And by the same token, they have about us. They think we all talk like gangsters, for instance. So helping break down these misconceptions was most gratifying.”

“Tell me about your show,” I said. “Just how did it raise all this fuss.”

“I don’t know,” replied Danny. “I never used set jokes, but played along with the audiences. I was on the stage for 55 minutes twice nightly, six days a week. I had 14 numbers as a sort of pattern, but improvised as I saw fit. Some things that made the biggest hits came to me spontaneously while I was on the stage. For example, one night I borrowed the orchestra leader’s baton and accidentally broke it. Not to stand there looking silly, I thrust the pieces in my belt as if stabbing myself with a dagger.

“Sammy Prager, my pianist, took the cue and struck up an opera tune. I lay down on the stage and told the audience that at last I was going to find out how an opera star could sing at the top of his voice for 45 minutes after supposedly being stabbed to death. Then I sang. The audience howled. So we bought a hundred batons for me to break and incorporated that in our show. It proved to be one of our most popular numbers.

“During each show, I let the audience ask me questions. After my auto accident, somebody was always asking about my injured ribs. I answered that the ribs were fine, and if they’d like, I’d show them my X-rays, which I did.”

“His ‘Tip Toe Through the Tulips’ number originated in about the same way,” said Eddie Dukoff. “Danny was fooling around in the dressing room one night and improvised the number to amuse me. It broke me up. Later in the evening when he was on the stage, he spied me in the wing and went through the routine again for my benefit. It broke up the audience. So he added the number to his show. It proved to be so popular on our first visit to England that we had to include it last summer. The people called for it.”

“When we left England,” cut in Danny, “I said, ‘Well, this is it,’ as we boarded the plane. Those words almost proved prophetic. Eddie and I went to the plane’s lounge, had a drink, and reviewed our trip. ‘That’s one,’ said Eddie, ‘we’ll never forget.’ We all went to bed. I woke up to hear one of the engines racing like mad. I glanced at my watch. It was 1:40 in the morning. A steward pulled my curtains back, and I could see that his face was as white as a sheet. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘we’re in trouble.’

“I got into my clothes and tried to rouse Eddie. Last year when we were entertaining troops in Germany, we got lost, and our plane flew over the Russian zone. With the gas low, the pilot came back to me and said, ‘Do you want to hit the silk, or try for an emergency landing in a field.’ I said, ‘I’d prefer the parachute.’ I woke up Eddie and told him we were in trouble. He just grinned sleepily, thinking I was joking. So this time when I got him awake, he just grinned again.

“We all strapped ourselves in our seats finally, and the pilot went into a power drive from 18,000 to 3,000 feet in an effort to put the burning engine out. It did no good. The governor controlling the propeller had broken, and it was spinning at top speed. I could see the shaft was white hot. But what I didn’t realize was that the pilots were expecting the prop to fly off any moment; and they had no idea which way it would go. It could cut into the plane, or sheer off a wing.

“Amazingly there was no hysteria among the passengers. Men and women embraced each other. Some prayed. But there was no panic. The crew, all American boys, remained perfectly calm. The radio operator later told me he was sending out every SOS signal in the book. We all expected to hit the drink at any minute.

“The crew passed out life jackets. We were given instructions on how to use the life rafts. Some were assigned to look after groups of eight people. Boxes of sandwiches were passed out to be used at sea. Up until now, the crew had not put on their life jackets; but they started donning them. To say I was terrified is putting it mildly.

“You must remember that this was around 3 in the morning and we were several hours from Ireland over the sea. After 45 minutes, the captain came into the cabin and said, ‘Well, I think we’re going to make it; but stay prepared for an emergency.’ It was then that I started walking up and down the aisle talking to people. I didn’t make with any jokes during the crisis. Don’t let anybody tell you that I did.

“When dawn broke, we saw two escort planes; and every ship in the area was speeding toward our position. After several hours, we limped back into Shannon, and got another plane. At that moment I was no enthusiast about air travel; but I figured that if the others could take it, so could I.”

“What are you going to do now?” I asked.

“Finish some new numbers for my Warner Bros. picture, ‘The Inspector General,’” he replied. “Then for two months I’m going to do nothing but sun and play golf. After I’ve rested, I’ll start thinking again.”

“Are you going back to England?” I asked.

Said he, “I’ll be going back to England for the rest of my life.”

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