“The Secret Life of Danny Kaye”

The Milwaukee Journal – Oct. 26, 1947

By: Carlton Cheney

HOLLYWOOD—If a lucky break hadn’t brought his talents to the front to make him one of the highest paid comedians in the world, Danny Kaye would still be an entertainer. He would probably be an amateur, haunting the parties that he loves, looking for an opportunity to try out a new song or a new bit of mimicry, or maybe impersonating another outlandish character.

Danny likes people and parties. From his earliest night club favorites to his newest song, “Symphony for Unstrung Tongue,” in the Samuel Goldwyn Technicolor production of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Danny has been using parties as proving grounds for his special kind of nonsense.

Kaye’s extracurricular activities started after making his first picture, “Up in Arms.” Forced to do bits of his comedy routines in snatches here and there, sometimes in illogical sequence, he missed the applause and encouraging laughter of his fans.

“It’s like playing tennis with no one on the other side of the net,” he lamented. But now he satisfies his longing for “live” approval or disapproval of his work by entertaining at parties.

He Kills Benny

The dynamic comedian’s appearances at these gatherings have become legendary among moviedom’s traditionally blasé partygoers. Jack Benny has been known to roar with laughter and stamp on the floor when Kaye does “Anatole of Paris.”

On other occasions, Benny has fiddled sympathetically while Danny sang for pennies in a lush Neapolitan voice. And even hard bitten, cynical inhabitants of the movie capital had to break down one evening when Danny teamed with Ingrid Bergman to do a duet on “Don’t Fence Me In.”

Danny’s jovial technique at these parties ranges from outrageous slapstick to subtle satire and mimicry. His performances have no one characteristic. He sings—scat, swing, or smooth. He dances—ballet or Balinese jive. He acts with his rubber-like face, expressive hands and lithe body all thrown into characterization. He pantomimes and shrieks; pirouettes gracefully and stumbles awkwardly, and can throw out a Barrymore profile or assume the stance of a cigar store Indian.

Wife Takes Notes

More than one of Danny’s specialty numbers have originated in these comic-jam sessions. His estranged wife, the former Sylvia Fine, writes his special material and is an ardent note taker at these affairs. She has thus captured such famous routines as “Melody in 4F” and “Pavlova” for Danny’s professional use.

The former was performed for the first time at a party Danny attended in company with a surgeon friend. As the friend improvised at the piano, Danny started to describe in gestures and key words an operation he had just witnessed with the surgeon. Mrs. Kaye later adapted its form to the case of a neurotic hypochondriac who is about to become a reluctant draftee.

“Pavlova,” a satire on ballet dancing, saw its first light of day in the entertainment world at Elsa Maxwell’s party given in celebration of the liberation of Paris.

The lanky comedian’s latest number, “Symphony for the Unstrung Tongue,” similarly had its beginnings in gatherings of Kaye’s friends. Based on an idea Mrs. Kaye had after hearing Prokofieff’s “Peter and the Wolf,” the “Symphony” deals with the efforts of a music professor at the Royal Academy to demonstrate vocally the qualities of each instrument in the orchestra.

For three years prior to the writing of the number, Mrs. Kaye had heard Danny “torturing” friends with a polysyllabic, Czecho-Slovakian dialect which had been introduced into the Kaye household by Orchestra Leader Johnny Green. Danny would double talk in this accent to guests at his home for an hour without uttering an understandable thought.

When called upon to write a number for the RAF dream sequence in which Danny caricatures the professor, Mrs. Kaye combined his party dialect with another party routine in which he mimics a conductor, to come up with “Symphony for the Unstrung Tongue.”

Given the usual Kaye treatment, it was first presented before a group of friends. It proved potent, and, according to Mrs. Kaye, “killed” people, especially Professor Dore Schary, who had to leave the room convulsed with laughter. The number had “live” approval and was incorporated in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Following his presentation of the “Symphony,” a couple newly introduced to the Kaye household remarked to Mrs. Kaye that it must be a “panic” to live with Danny. The comedian answers that one with:

“Heck, I haven’t said a funny thing in fifteen years—at least nothing people can understand.”

Funny at home or not, Danny continues to grow more and more hilarious on the screen as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” testifies. Virginia Mayo co-stars with him in this RKO-Radio release, directed by Norman Z. McLeod, while Boris Karloff, Fay Bainter, Ann Rutherford and the Goldwyn Girls head the supporting cast.

- Home -