– The Forties –

"Let's Face It!"
Lady in the Dark, Danny appeared at the Paramount Theater on Broadway and did five shows a day, earning $20,000 a week. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 88-90) Later, Danny was offered a role in Cole Porter’s Let’s Face It! Sylvia was asked to write the songs for all of Danny’s numbers. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 96)

“Melody in 4F” was just one of the songs featured in Let’s Face It! Sylvia recalls the birth of this song: “I was progressing very slowly when one night I remembered a silly bit of improvisation Danny had once done at a dinner party. Our host, a doctor, was called away to perform a very delicate operation. My medicine-happy husband begged to be allowed to accompany him. When they returned someone asked Danny how the operation went, and he answered them by going into an elaborate pantomime, punctuated by scat and a few intelligible words. This memory started an idea. It was the first year after our entrance into war. Every man—and every woman—had the draft uppermost in his mind. The draft, medical examinations, doctors . . . In approved movie style, I woke Danny up with a loud, ‘I’ve got it!’ and scrambled out of bed to wake up poor Max [Liebman] with a phone call.” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 97, also described briefly here: October 1947)

There were five long weeks of rehearsals in New York. Vinton Freedly, the producer, started to lose confidence in his star. “Danny Kaye was not the brilliant performer he had counted on. Kaye was stiff, anxious, overworked his role, labored at the songs,” Kurt Singer said. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 98) Freedly’s lack of confidence and pep talks “deflated the worried Mr. Kaye.” Sylvia knew that Danny needed reassurance. “Max and I tried to be blithe, to cheer him up, but it was like trying to change the course of the Columbia River. Danny was in the channel of worry, gloom and despair.” The opening night was sold-out and Danny tried to console himself with that thought. That first night Danny “made a slow beginning, faltering and going stiffly through his first acts.” Yet the audience was laughing and that was all Danny needed to warm up. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 99) A December 1941 article mentions this in regards to that opening night: "The night 'Let’s Face It' opened in Boston, the audience response was tremendous. Danny was shocked. In his dressing room after he had taken his last bows he had a few reflective minutes. Something like a bombshell had exploded in his mind. He kept asking himself what he could ever do in the future to match this song. He is still wondering, and still of the conviction that he can never surpass it." Let’s Face It! was a hit and remained on Broadway for sixteen months. (pg 100) One article described Danny's success like this: "Mr. Kaye is singled out here for particular consideration because he appears as an individual to be about the funniest thing on Broadway at this time. Once you see and hear him you will never forget the movement of his hands, a shrug of his shoulders, his look of innocence, his voice and a kind of impishness which is his alone." (December 1941)

The Sam Goldwyn Years
         After much success on Broadway with "Let's Face It!" , "Abe Lastvogel of the William Morris Agency had urged Mr. Goldwyn to hear Mr. Kaye on Broadway, to consider an 'option' and give him a screen test." Kurt Singer explains that Goldwyn had a script, Up in Arms, "which needed a Danny Kaye personality and Hollywood needed a new face." Once a contract was offered, it didn't take long for word to get around. But some of Danny's friends in the theater wondered if he would be able to perform in Hollywood "without hundreds of eyes focused on him and laughter pushing at him [...]" Gertrude Lawrence, Noel Coward and Moss Hart were just a few that offered warnings to Danny. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 106) Before long, Danny and Sylvia were meeting with Goldwyn who was ordering screen tests and other conferences. Sylvia and Max Liebman were instructed to "write songs that were 'funnier than ever.'" (pg 108)

Tests were made...many, many screen tests, and the unfortunate result was not pleasant. In the original screen tests Danny was "all angles." Goldwyn was quite displeased with the way things were turning out. Singer said, "The fact that Goldwyn liked Kaye made no difference." (pg 110) Goldwyn even suggested and nearly urged Danny to have plastic surgery on his nose so that it would photograph better. However, thanks to advice by Dr. Irving Somach and Dr. Gustave Aufricht, the option of plastic surgery was refused, allowing Danny to keep the nose that he had been born with. But Danny was depressed and quite ready to go back to the east coast where he had been happy. Things still didn't seem to be going well in Hollywood. Sylvia tried to remain confident, trying to assure Danny that he would make the screen with or without Goldwyn. Finally, Goldwyn was struck with an idea -- he was going to have Danny's hair dyed blonde. With hair dyed and make-up applied to soften the angles, Danny was set. (pg 112-113)

Up in Arms was the first Goldwyn movie premiering in 1944. Singer explains that Up in Arms was based off a play, Nervous Wreck, by Owen Davis. People have also made the comment that Danny's character in the movie was like a fleshed-out version of the person he sings about in "Melody in 4F," which also appears in the film. The next was Wonder Man in 1945 with Danny stepping up into the role of identical twins. The Kid From Brooklyn (1946) was a remake of Harold Lloyd's The Milky Way. In 1947, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty came out with Danny back to his original hair color--red. Based off a story by James Thurber, Walter Mitty is said by many to have been one of Danny's best films. In fact, Danny himself, admitted in a 1960 article that Walter Mitty was his favorite of his films. A Song is Born, coming out in 1948, was another remake. This particular film was a remake of Ball of Fire, which Goldwyn had produced just seven years earlier. A Song is Born was the last Goldwyn film to be produced during Danny's original contract. Hans Christian Andersen, which came out later in 1952, was also a Goldwyn film.

Of Sam Goldwyn, Danny said: “I’ve only praise for Sam Goldwyn. He signed me when other producers thought my kind of comedy would never go on screen. I’m eternally grateful to him for the opportunity he’s given me and the type of productions he’s put me in. Nevertheless, my three pictures with him have practically been duplicates of one another, even the cast of them being about the same. That’s why I want either to get a stage play to do on Broadway or a free-lance picture so that I can show the public I’ve some variety as a performer.” (July 1946)

It's been well-known, and written about in other biographies, that Sylvia remained quite determined to have her influence in regards to Danny's movies and on the set. "At the studio Goldwyn was the recognized, unchallenged and unquestioned master, but Sylvia, young and inexperienced in the ways of the film city, had her own decided ideas how each scene should be shot, what Danny should do and where he should stand to have the best advantage. [...] An outsider, be she a song writer or wife, is not wanted, appreciated or long endured, and Sylvia ran headlong into a stone wall in the physical form of Sam Goldwyn [...]" (The Danny Kaye Story pg 116) Sylvia knew that people were spreading gossip and "criticizing Danny for weakness." She said, "People said he was a puppet, and sometimes he was not secure enough to know it wasn't true." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 117)

The Radio Show
         In January 1945, Danny ventured into a new area...radio. The Danny Kaye Show was sponsored by the Pabst Brewing Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and aired by CBS. Eve Arden and Lionel Stander, both of whom appeared with Danny in The Kid From Brooklyn, were regular co-stars during that first year along with Ken Niles, the announcer, and Harry James and his orchestra. According to a wonderful website--The Definitive Danny Kaye Show Radio Log, "Goodman Ace and Abe Burrows penned the first season's scripts with script supervision and contributions" by Danny's wife, Sylvia. The show went reasonably well with Eddie Cantor appearing as a guest during the premiere show. Throughout the season, Danny made various comments and pleas on behalf of the soldiers and the war efforts of WWII. Kurt Singer said, "Within six months Danny's program had the sixth highest rating in the nation." It was also during this time that Danny met Sammy Prager, who would continue on as his accompanist and close friend. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 132) In 1946, The Danny Kaye Show ended. Kurt Singer puts it this way: "Unexpectedly, Danny decided to terminate his radio show." Apparently the advertising agency was left in confusion and offered more money, "which he flatly refused. The sponsor generously granted the release, with the definite proviso that he would not appear on any other network for the next twelve months." The show had been doing well, but Danny missed live performances in front of an audience. (pg 139)

The Sam Goldwyn Years - continued
         During these years, Sylvia gave birth on December 17, 1946 to their first and only child, a daughter, whom they named Dena. In the months leading up to the birth, Danny was clearly excited. “Next Christmas will be the happiest one in my whole life for just about that time, or a little earlier, I expect Santa Claus in a white coat to step out of the delivery room and say to me, ‘It’s a baby.’ Imagine the thrill of that—after seven years of marriage.” (
July 1946) Once Dena arrived, Singer explains in his book that Danny "was proud and helpful." He "[...] attempted to entertain her with funny faces long before her little eyes could focus, assisted with her bath, changed diapers and brewed her formula." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 140). Those early years in their marriage and in Hollywood was a learning experience for both Danny and Sylvia, however. Each had their struggles with themselves and with each other. In September 1947, while Danny was finishing up filming A Song is Born, the two agreed on a split.

For more detailed information on Danny and Sylvia's Split and Reconciliation - See "Their Story"

Fame in England
         While still split from Sylvia, Danny was to open at the Palladium in London, England on February 2, 1948. Danny's first appearance in London had been ten years prior as a stooge for Nick Long at the Dorchester. That time had been a disaster. Along with the past memories, there was the obvious reality that many of the other American stars, such as Mickey Rooney, had appeared in London before Danny and had not been successful. The London reporters expected just another star upon meeting him for the first time before the performance. What they found was someone completely different, a "[...] charming, humble, wide-eyed man who professed no less ideals than they themselves had, a well-read performer who completely disarmed them by admitting he knew very little about England [...]." Danny proceeded to ask the reporters questions about England. "The reporters found only a lean, relaxed-appearing 'chap' who had a bottle of Scotch on the table for their pleasure and called each by name as he offered a drink. They were impressed." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 150)

The first night had been sold-out and from the moment Danny came on stage, he was a success. The audience loved him. Danny admits, however, that he very well might not have gotten on that stage if he hadn't been pushed. "I was so sick with nervousness I thought I would never be able to go on. If Charley Henry or Val Parnell--I'm still not sure who did it--hadn't pushed me bodily, I swear I never could have made it to the center of that stage." Whoever pushed him onto the stage had done a wonderful thing, for Danny's success in London was phenomenal. The six-week appearance at the Palladium was sold out. More than $50,000 had to be returned to "disappointed applicants." An October 2, 1949 article said that every available ticket was sold within five days. Once sold-out, requests were still being made and around $9,000 was spent on trying to return checks and money to people trying to gain tickets. "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." (October 2, 1949) The article went on to say:

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.”

Over the six weeks, Danny began to relax more in his performances. He strayed from "his basic, rehearsed and well-studied routines." Danny improvised more and relaxed at the footlights of stage to chat with the audience. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 153) By the time he arrived home, he was new man with new self-confidence. "He had confirmation of his ability, believed in his performances and felt in his soul that he had matured. Danny went home--home to Sylvia and home to Dena." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 160)

Over the years, his fame in England allowed Danny to meet many famous politicians and people of royalty. For instance, Winston Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury each paid Danny a visit in his dressing room after performances that first year. He became friends with Sir Lawrence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh. He also became good acquaintances with Princess Margaret as well as other royalty. In 1949, he met George Bernard Shaw. "[...] G.B.S. entertained us with stories, one after another. I just listened. The garden virtually vibrated with Shaw's beautiful voice as he orated, sang, recited Shakespeare." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 164) Not more than a few minutes after leaving George Bernard Shaw's home, Danny stepped out onto the country road and was struck suddenly by an unseen car "that seemed to emerge from nowhere." His elbows had been driven sharply into his ribs from the impact of blow. After calling the theater and reporting the accident, he requested a doctor to meet him at his dressing room where he was examined before that night's performance at the Palladium. There were no broken bones, nothing appeared to be serious, and Danny went on for his first performance that evening. Danny trouped through the night and made it almost an hour before he suddenly winced in pain and visibly paled. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 166, May 1949)

The audience thought it was another gag made by Kaye. Even after the audience was told about the day's car accident, some still didn't believe it. Meanwhile Danny was taken to the hospital where he was examined and taped from neck to waist. "Two hours after he had left the stage he walked on again, his usual smiling self, for his late show." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 166) In a May 1949 article, Danny said, “You’ll never know what a relief it was to learn I was all right. I’ve never been so thrilled in my life—to meet Shaw, I mean—not to get smashed up in that accident. That hurt—I mean the accident—not meeting Shaw. That was wonderful. He’s the most wonderful man I’ve ever met.”

Singer, Kurt.
The Danny Kaye Story. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1958.
various articles listed as needed throughout the biography

Biography Part 1     Biography Part 2    Biography Part 3     Biography 4     Biography 5

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