The Unicef Express: 65 Cities in 5 Days with an Impulsive Danny Kaye
By: Judy Kessler
For 22 years the mercurial Danny Kaye has traveled the world for UNICEF. Late last
month he was off again, flying a Learjet 17,000 miles across the U.S. and Canada,
visiting 65 cities (usually for only a few minutes) in five days. His mission was
to help raise $4 million. He called the trip "one of the craziest, most rewarding
experiences of my life." PEOPLE reporter Judy Kessler went along for part of the
At 62, Danny Kaye is a complex man—an undisputed humanitarian, usually kind, often impulsive and fiercely temperamental. The morning gets off to a difficult start. When he is introduced to photographer Allen Green, they shake hands and Kaye winces, complaining, "Why don't you cut your goddamn fingernails, you almost killed me." (The photographer in fact has short fingernails.) The plane is chartered by UNICEF for $22,000, and Danny, who has been a pilot for 14 years, does all the flying—otherwise, he admits, he'd "be bored to death."
His energy is tremendous. At our first stop, Philadelphia, Danny gives a little speech about UNICEF. "This is a chance to reach out over boundaries and help other children," he says. "I've seen what this money can do." Then everybody sings "Happy Birthday, UNICEF." It's the 25th anniversary of the trick-
In Baltimore there is a terrible school band and Danny loves it. He does a little conducting number with those famous Danny Kaye faces. When a photographer requests that he pick up a child, he says, "Okay, but find me a light one." The schedule is murder. As he hurries onto the plane, Danny bumps his head and gets mad. Someone says, "That's okay, Gerald Ford does it all the time," and Danny snaps, "Gerald Ford is clumsy. I'm not."
The ground control people at almost every airport seem to know about the plane, and greet the pilot: "It's a pleasure to talk to you, Mr. Kaye, you're cleared for takeoff." Danny likes that and sometimes responds in double-
When we land in Montreal, the customs agent asks if we are all from the U.S. "No," says Kaye, "there's one from China, one Vietnamese, one from Finland—I'd advise you to search them all." He is in the middle of his shtik when cameras get in the way: "Fellows, I adore the press but you can kill jokes quicker than anyone." Later there is a funny moment when he asks some kids a question. No reply. He asks again. Silence. Finally an adult explains, "Danny, those kids only speak French."
In Ottawa he tapes a 10-
Danny has a beautiful suite in Ottawa, donated by the Hotel Chateau Laurier. There is a big basket of fruit but no booze, and he orders white wine. The hotel sends up champagne. Danny grimaces—"God, I hate champagne"—but drinks it anyway. He goes off to have dinner with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Margaret Trudeau greets Danny graciously. The two oldest children—Sacha, 1½, and Justin, 3½—are dressed in leopard costumes. Danny plays "lion," roaring and stomping, and they get hysterical. "When was he born?" asks Kaye, pointing to Sacha. "They were both born on Christmas Day," replies Mrs. Trudeau, adding, "My husband only has Christmas off." "Well, then," says Danny, "you should be having them in August."
Danny returns at 9:45 and wants to order white wine again. What kind? asks Mrs. Smith. "I like a Chilean wine that comes from Hungary," Danny says. While Mrs. Smith is on the phone to room service, Kaye interrupts, "Let's also get a bottle of gin, a bottle of Scotch and a bottle of vodka." (There are only five people in the room.) Mrs. Smith orders. Room service is so flustered they ask if we want it all in one bottle. We end up ordering two double shots of each. The waiter asks for autographs for Lily and Lucy. Kaye asks, "Lily with one "i" or two?" Everybody wants to get into show business. The waiter deadpans, "Oh, Lily has two eyes." Danny does not like being upstaged. He pours the gin into Mrs. Smith's glass. She is a nervous wreck. When we leave around midnight, Danny looks fine, but everyone else is exhausted. "I guess," Mrs. Smith says gamely, "it's a small price to pay for getting him to do this."