Danny Kaye & The Music Man

According to a variety of sources including Meredith Willson's book, But He Doesn't Know The Territory; the following article, "Meredith Willson: the Real Music Man"; and an article, "'Music Man' Works Well In Relatively Tiny Setting" by Ivan M. Lincoln from The Deseret News, Aug. 24, 1993... Danny Kaye was one of the very first people considered for the role of Harold Hill in the Broadway production of The Music Man.

Below is an article and a paragraph from Meredith Willson's book regarding his attempts at getting Danny to fill the role. Whether or not Danny didn't want to do the part is unclear at this point. Certainly from the sound of it, it was Sylvia who felt that Danny was not right for the role. As for the opinion of your Webmistress... I personally would have loved to have seen Danny in the role of Harold Hill. It is a shame he never took up the opportunity when it was first offered.

“Meredith Willson: the Real Music Man”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Jan. 13, 1977

By: George Anderson

Portions pertaining to Danny in this article are in blue text

Meredith Willson can’t even remember how many Prof Harold Hills he watched since Robert Preston brought the captivating character to life on Broadway nearly 20 years ago.

“I haven’t kept track,” he said. “Maybe a dozen. Wait a minute. It’s more than that. My secretary, I call her Nosey, just scribbled 100 on her pad, and she’s rather […unintelligible…] cool and not given to exaggeration.

“My favorite? I’m sure everyone would […unintelligible…] instantly if I harkened back to the […unintelligible…] thrill of my life when Bob Preston opened on Broadway in ‘The Music Man.’

“I’ve seen some grand ones, but he was flawless. Everybody thought I was crazy when I okayed him for the role.

“He’d been a dramatic actor and rather a heavy. Everyone threw up their hands in horror, saying, Harold Hill is lighthearted and lightfooted. He pinches pockets and girls. Bob Preston is a dramatic actor.”

Willson is still pleased at the memory as he chatted amiably over the phone from his Los Angeles home. The occasion is the forthcoming production of “The Music Man” at Heinz Hall for two performances by the Young Americans on Feb. 12.

Willson’s classic of Americana has been performed somewhere in the world every day since its New York opening on Dec. 19, 1957.

“I’ve heard it in several different languages,” Willson said. “The funny thing is that the songs translate without changes. Take ’76 Trombones,’ for example.

“For Americans the number 76 has been ringing in our ears since childhood. The Spirit of ’76, you know. So it touches our hearts and works much better than, say, ’77 Trombones.’

“Yet, the number fits the music even in German, where it has no special significance.”

In his delightful book, “But He Doesn’t Know the Territory,” in which Willson describes the arduous birth pangs of this effervescent musical, he relates his unsuccessful efforts to interest Danny Kaye in the role before Preston was hired.

Kaye’s wife Sylvia insisted the part was not right for Danny—“and is pretty sharp with me when I argue,” he wrote. On the phone he added an ironic postscript.

“When it came time for the movie version, Jack Warner called me at home one day,” Willson said. “He’s a very direct man and he told me he wanted to buy ‘Music Man’ for films. And he said for the leading role he wanted Danny Kaye.

“I told him, ‘That’s the last person who should play it. It ought to be nobody but Bob Preston.’ And he said, ‘That’s what I think, too. Are we in business?’

“I told him, ‘No, you’ll have to talk to my agent’ and he said, ‘I hate agents. I’ll pay $1 million, no ifs, ands or buts, O.K.?’ I started to stutter and he said ‘O.K.’

“I had never met the man and in a half-dozen words he offered me such a deal. When Preston got the news shortly after that he was going to do the movie, he sent me a package containing an old-fashioned pewter loving cup, and he had these words engraved on it: ‘This cup is thine, mine runneth over.’

“One day Danny Kaye dropped in unannounced to say that he’d learned ‘Trouble.’ And he sang it, doing a heck of a job. I told him so, and he said, ‘I knew you’d say that. Do I get the job?’ And I said, ‘No, Bob Preston’s got the job.’

“There was still a lot of pressure from people who said things like, ‘In Mason City, Iowa, they never heard of this Bob Preston.’

“But he did the movie and I was sure happy with it.”

Willson’s charming loquacity lends itself to long anecdotes that he spins with the inconspicuous art of the born story-teller. He demonstrated this gift for years on radio, where his casual, rambling discourses served as an inspiring introduction to music for many listeners of my generation. I still remember his engaging programs with fondness.

Younger audiences who know him mainly as the composer-lyricist-author of “The Music Man” are generally surprised to learn he wrote two symphonies that were given their premieres by the San Francisco and Los Angeles orchestras.

He scored the film “The Little Foxes” and worked with Charlie Chaplin on “The Great Dictator.” He toured as a flutist with John Phillip Sousa’s band and played in the New York Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini.

Mention one of these legendary names to the 74-year-old Willson, whose most recent photo adjoins this column, and he begins a fascinating 20-minute reminiscence that proves he has not lost his knack as a talker.

He can imitate Toscanini’s guttural Italian cussing as the maestro’s uncanny ears hear the unwanted sound of the E flat clarinetist blowing water from under the small keys at a rehearsal for the American premiere of Respighi’s “The Pines of Rome.”

“Toscanini knew every note of every symphony and conducted it all from memory because he couldn’t see to read music on the podium,” Willson said.

He describes Sousa’s underplayed showmanship as he let his arms drop to his side during last part of “Stars and Stripes Forever” and moved his arm in rigid military marching position—“like the naval officer he was.”

He can even imitate Tallulah Bankhead’s throaty, boozy bass-baritone grappling with “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You,” which he wrote for her memorable “The Big Show,” on which he was musical director.

The music man has truly known a lot of territory since he left Iowa.

From: Meredith Willson's book: "But He Doesn't Know The Territory"
(This portion was taken from pp. 112-113)

“Back in California I called Danny Kaye. Caught him in the M-G-M barbershop. He was affable and gay, addressed me after the manner of a fellow scissor-tail-coat batoneer, he having just come from Philadelphia where he had conducted Ormandy’s immaculate Philadelphia Symphony in a Strauss Polka and the “Stars and Stripes Forever” in a benefit concert for the orchestra pension fund. I was eager to talk about The Music Man and this was my chance to get Danny to listen to “Trouble” at least, which I had rendered for Sylvia, Danny’s wife, some weeks before in New York and which she had liked very much. UP. Hwoever, I was too good an audience—not hard to be for Danny—and I could never get him down off the conductor bit long enough to get him interested in what I wanted to talk about. So I gave up and called Sylvia. She wasn’t able to come to the phone so I left word. The whole day goes by and nothing. DOWN. Next day she calls. UP. She says the part is not right for Danny and is pretty sharp with me when I argue. DOWN.”

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