Ironically Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, but didn't realize it until years later. According to Sylvia: “We had gone to the same high school and lived diagonally across the street from each other but never met during those years." () Though the two had never officially met during their teenage years, Sylvia had obviously seen the young Danny. During Danny's teenage years, he had a variety of odd jobs, none of which ever seemed to work out. One of those jobs was working for a dentist named Dr. Samuel Fine, whom he later discovered was Sylvia's father. In a article, Sylvia explained, “The first time I brought Danny home, my father yelled, ‘Hey, aren’t you the kid who used my drilling machine all over our woodwork?’ He was. My father always hired a kid in the neighborhood to answer the phone when everybody was out, and Danny has an inquisitive nature." Once Danny's actions had been discovered, he was fired on the spot. But Sylvia recalled: “I first saw Danny when he was fourteen, working in my father’s dental office in Brooklyn. I remember how he used to sprint through the office and never noticed me. I had a crush on him, but he never knew it. I thought he was hilarious the first time I ever saw him, and I haven’t changed my opinion yet.” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 68)
It wasn't until the spring of 1939 that the two officially met. At this point, Danny
was desperately looking for any work he could find. He met up with Nat Lichtman,
whom he knew from working in the "borscht circuit." Lichtman said he was on the way
to see Max Liebman, who was casting for a new show, "Sunday Night Revue", and invited
Danny along. It was there that Danny saw Sylvia seated at the piano. She looked familiar
but Danny couldn't place her. Sylvia said, "I know you, but I bet you don't remember
me." (The Danny Kaye Story pg 66-
Kurt Singer describes it like this in The Danny Kaye Story: "The two young artists
spent the hours rehearsing, planning, creating, composing, singing and laughing."
As the months passed, the two developed a friendship. Sylvia said, “Very often we
talked of marriage, first tentatively and half joking, then more and more seriously.
Sometimes I agreed with Danny that we should wait until he was professionally secure
and we had some money in his pockets, but in my own heart I really didn’t feel that
money mattered because we were in love.” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 70) "Straw Hat
Revue" became a success and in the fall it went to Broadway for a ten-
The Danny Kaye Story adds in some missing details from the . Singer explains, “Startled by his own suggestion, [Danny] slammed the receiver on the hook before Sylvia had an opportunity to answer him.” Sylvia wrote back with a long warm letter telling Danny that she considered them engaged but asked for time for her and her family, as her family didn’t approve of an elopement. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 72) Things changed suddenly, however. Sylvia came down with a bad case of bronchitis, and her doctor, interestingly enough, advised her to head down to Florida for some warmth and sunshine. Sylvia said, “So, for three days in Florida, I just sat on that uncomfortable edge of indecision—and thought. Finally I concluded that if I asked my parents, there would be objections, discussions and arguments. I didn’t want all those complications, so we eloped and were secretly married.” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 72) In a article she explained, "I came down and we were married in Fort Lauderdale by a justice of the peace. We had to wait while he finished his dinner. There was an old dog in the parlor who snored while he slept. But it’s still romantic.” In People Magazine's edition she mentioned: "I was afraid to tell my family I was marrying an actor, so we eloped,"
In one particular article, Danny and Sylvia told the journalist about their arrival home to Brooklyn, when Sylvia took Danny to meet her family. "[Danny] had let his hair grow long because he thought he looked funnier for his stage parts that way. 'My family took one look at him,' said Sylvia, 'and thought I had lost my mind.' 'Her father,' said Danny, 'recognized me as the boy who had worked in his dental office and thought his daughter was making a terrible mistake.' () To satisfy their parents, Danny and Sylvia were remarried in a synagogue on February 22, 1940. (, The Danny Kaye Story pg 73) At the reception, Sylvia’s father drew the couple aside and asked Sylvia where she had met Danny. She told the truth...that she had formally met him at the Sunday Night Revue. Her father asked her if she knew that Danny had worked for him running errands. In The Danny Kaye Story, Danny explained the response like this: “‘Yes, Dad,’ said Sylvia shyly, ‘and I think I loved him then.’ I could have just hugged her for that statement.” (pg 73)
Back home, the couple had now to search for work. “Marriage made only one change
in Danny Kaye’s professional life: he worked harder than ever. ‘I don’t ever want
Sylvia to go back to giving piano lessons and I don’t want her in the soup again.
I simply have to find a job.’” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 74) "[...] Sylvia persuaded
Danny to try night club work—from which he had shied, helped him get a contract,
wrote some of his sketches and accompanied him at the club 'La Martinique.'" () With what little money they had, Danny bought a new tuxedo and went on for
his first performance. However, the customers at the first show were not amused.
They were "used to a more refined style of entertainment," as one article put it.
"Danny was so unnerved by his cool reception that he sought out the manager and asked
to be released from his contract." () The Danny Kaye Story said that
Danny "pleaded to be released from his contract, immediately and before the next
show." (pg 76) Another article described it like this: "For Danny this was the final
flop that bruised his soul; he sought the easy way out and asked the management to
release him." Sylvia was not so easily knocked down. Sylvia, along with the club's
publicity manager, Eddie Dukoff (who later became Danny's manager), gave Danny a
pep talk. "They talked at him," the article states. The owner of the
club refused and explained that the next audience would be different, too much money
had already been spent, and there was no one to replace Danny before the next show.
Singer describes it likes this: "The next hour in Danny's dressing room was like
the corner of a boxing ring when the favorite has been knocked down in the previous
round." The three of them-
"He was singing one of the numbers Sylvia had written for him—'Anatole of Paris'—when
he suddenly, unaccountably, started ad-
As is often the case, there is always something about each individual that ends up
changing once a couple is married. "When Mrs. Kaye first met Danny," one article
states, "he was just a teeny weeny little bit 'flash.' His hair grew long, and when
he walked across a room he seemed to dance. His suit was pinched at the waist and
the ties he wore were bow-
In the early forties, Danny and Sylvia moved to Hollywood with Danny's first movie, "Up in Arms," premiering in 1944. On December 17, 1946, Sylvia gave birth to a daughter, Dena, Danny and Sylvia's only child.
The Split & Reconciliation
It is well-
After Up in Arms, while Danny was shooting to fame in Hollywood, “Sylvia remained in the dark, unpopular among his colleagues and unapplauded for her role in Danny’s life.” Her music had done wonders for Danny, helping to springboard him into fame. But Sylvia discovered that when others were overly nice to her, they usually wanted something from Danny. All the attention was for Danny with Sylvia left in the dark and forgotten. (The Danny Kaye Story pg 124) Obviously that would be hard on anybody, especially when Sylvia had put so much hard work into helping Danny with his career. “While Sylvia adored the man of her choice, she was still not happy with her own career. She was a woman hanging on the rim of a flying saucer.” Singer explains that out of courtesy people called her “Miss Fine.” It was, after all, her professional name – Sylvia Fine. But she desired to be recognized as Mrs. Kaye, Danny’s wife not just his song writer. While she did want to have a recognized career, she also wanted to be recognized as his wife. “[Danny’s] adventures in celluloid had put his feet on the ground and, in many ways, he was now more secure than Sylvia, who was secretly competing with him.” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 125)
One of Sylvia’s statements about this early time of their life was: “I had a bundle of complexes on my hands.” While Danny said, “I had my problems with Sylvia. Hollywood does not like the wives of actors.” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 126)
After the success of Wonder Man, Danny was still not happy. “He wished—how he wished!—he
could make his co-
There was trouble ahead, and Danny knew it. He was worried. He had sensed a change
in their marriage since their arrival in Hollywood. They were arguing more. Finally
Danny had enough of the constant whispers about his success and career not being
possible without Sylvia. “His ego was hurt. For the past seven years he had been
asked to bow in her direction and certainly under her direction. It was too much
for even the best husband to take.” Singer explains that an uneasiness came over
Danny. He realized that all the attention was on him, which, Singer explains, “led
to unhappy pressures of guilt.” So Danny gave in. “He told Hollywood reporters, ‘Sylvia
has a Fine head on my shoulders.’” Ever since that line was spoken it has stuck and
it's been repeated many times. But from the feel of Singer’s book, it is clear that
the statement was not necessarily said with the best of intentions. Danny certainly
was grateful for all that Sylvia had done for him, and he respected her and her talent
very much. But Danny wanted things to be seen as "his art, his know-
There seems to have been a lot that led to the split. Danny’s sudden fame, leaving Sylvia’s hard work and contributions somewhat forgotten. Sylvia’s “untempered frankness, her aggressive behavior on the set, her unwanted discussions with Mr. Goldwyn, and her occasional impolite attitude toward directors, technicians and stagehands.” (pg 129) Danny also often felt that Sylvia was his mother more than his wife.
There was a brief time of contentment in the home with the birth of their daughter,
Dena, in December 1946. Danny had been quite excited at the prospect of fatherhood,
and went into it full-
Danny: "About my split-
Sylvia: "Danny and I talked things over for a week, so I cannot say he walked out on me in a sudden mood. The trouble seemed to snowball into something definite. I love Danny, and I always will. But he is nervous and unhappy. It is difficult for him with the baby in the house. Danny loves the baby and he is proud of her. She has his hands. But he is so nervous and tired that her crying worries him. I'm still hoping for a reconciliation." (pg 146)
Later in life, Sylvia did realize her mistakes. She admitted that she used to control Danny, even from the piano. If she thought Danny was singing a song too hard, she would “change the octave so it was higher and lighter, and without really knowing it, his sensitive ears would detect the difference and he would ease up and become lighter too.” (The Danny Kaye Story pg 129) She also had failed to realize "that no one can ever possess another, especially a personality as mercurial as her husband's." (pg 143)
During the split, Danny-
* * *
Martin Gottfried's book leaves the unfortunate impression that there was hardly any love in their marriage or that it was merely a business arrangement. While he doesn't come right out and say that, one is left with a lot of negative impressions. There will always be talk and rumors; there certainly was in regards to Danny and Sylvia's relationship. But Kurt Singer's book brought their marriage into a whole new light. I believe that there was clearly a love and respect between them. Obviously without the two of them together, our world of entertainment would have been much different. What would they have been...without each other...
This picture is a screencap from On The Riviera (1951) Special Features: A Portrait
of Danny Kaye.
No copyright infringement is intended.