Sylvia Fine Kaye


Sylvia Fine Kaye - 1978If you're new to the world of Danny Kaye, you'll find that the name Sylvia Fine often comes up. A lyricist and composer, Danny's wife, Sylvia, was responsible for writing much of his material and was also one of the main people responsible for helping Danny reach the fame that he did. "Anatole of Paris," "Melody in 4F," and "Pavlova," are just a few of the songs that she wrote for him.

Born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York on August 29, 1913, Sylvia was the daughter of Dr. Samuel and Bessie Fine. Whereas Danny was born to Russian-Jewish immigrants, Sylvia was born into a well-to-do family, her father being a college graduate and an established dentist. She had a brother named Robert and a sister named Rhoda. According to one website, Sylvia is listed as being the youngest (Jewish Women's Archive), and in Martin Gottfried's book he mentions Rhoda as being the younger sister and not Sylvia. 

Sylvia started playing the piano around the age of 3. As a student, she was intelligent and determined, graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School by fifteen, after which she majored in music at Brooklyn College. After graduating college, she had various occupations such as working for a music publishing house, teaching piano lessons, working as a counselor at summer camps, and selling soup. She had also been writing some songs, which were never published. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 67)

She met up with Danny in 1939 during the production of "Sunday Night Revue," which closed after one night. The two were brought together again, by Max Liebman, for "Straw Hat Revue," a show that started at Camp Tamiment in Pennsylvania, then in the fall it moved to Broadway for a ten-week engagement. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 66-71) The revue didn't do so hot, and Danny and Sylvia went their separate ways afterwards. However, fate was not to be stopped, and the two were married on January 3, 1940 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (For more on their story and how they hooked up see: Their Story)

Known professionally as Sylvia Fine (or Sylvia Fine Kaye), she played an important part in Danny's career. After they were married, Danny started performing at the nightclub, La Martinique. The first performance was a disaster, but thanks to Sylvia's force and encouragement, Danny went back out for more performances, and he became a hit with the audiences.

After performing in the Broadway plays, "Lady in the Dark" (for which Danny wowed audiences with "Tschaikowsky") and "Let's Face It" (where he wowed audiences with "Melody in 4F"), Danny and Sylvia made their way to Hollywood, and in 1944 Danny's first movie, Up in Arms, premiered. Sylvia remained a strong presence in Danny's career and was sometimes feared by producers and directors because of her stubborn and determined opinions and decisions.

Sylvia's "Melody in 4F" was in Up in Arms in 1944. In 1945 for Wonder Man, she contributed "Bali Boogie." From 1945-46, she was a contributing writer for sketches and songs on Danny's radio program, The Danny Kaye Show. "Pavlova" was in The Kid From Brooklyn in 1946. "Symphony For Unstrung Tongue" and "Anatole of Paris" were in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in 1947. For The Inspector General (1949), she was listed as a producer, having been responsible for the variety of songs, including "Soliloquy For Three Heads." In 1956 for The Court Jester, she teamed up with Sammy Cahn, with the exception of "The Maladjusted Jester," which was written solely by Sylvia. She also contributed the songs found in The Five Pennies, for which she was nominated for an Oscar in 1959 for the song "The Five Pennies." She was also nominated for an Oscar in 1953 for her lyrics in the song "The Moon is Blue" from the movie The Moon is Blue.

The above is just a mere sampling of what Sylvia accomplished throughout her early career. It's been estimated that she wrote approximately 100 songs during her lifetime. During the mid-sixties, Danny and Sylvia went their separate ways professionally. Instead of focusing solely on Danny's career, Sylvia turned her attention to other things. She worked on writing lyrics for a Broadway musical. She also taught some classes on music and comedy at Yale University. And Sylvia also produced some television specials entitled Musical Comedy Tonight. In fact, for the first Musical Comedy Tonight, Sylvia won the George Foster Peabody Award: "Sylvia Fine Kaye, wife of entertainer Danny Kaye, has won the George Foster Peabody Award for her Public Broadcasting System television special Musical Comedy Tonight, aired last fall. The awards are made to honor public service rendered by radio and television (AP)." [The Leader-Post - Apr. 24, 1980]

On December 17, 1946, Sylvia gave birth to her and Danny's only child, their daughter Dena (named after Danny's popular song "Deenah"). Danny and Sylvia remained married for 47 years until Danny's death on March 3, 1987. A long-time smoker, in her later years she suffered from emphysema. And on October 28, 1991, Sylvia passed away. Over the years, while Sylvia was still alive, there had been talk of her writing a biographical book about her and Danny. Near the end of her life, it had been mentioned in articles that she was working on a book titled "Fine and Danny," but to my knowledge no book was ever published.

Sylvia Fine Kaye

Danny & Sylvia

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