Spotlight on Danny Kaye

It is often said when if comes to movies that they don’t make them like they used to, and often is the case that this is true. Besides from obvious differences like black and white cameras or the silent movies there was certainly a different feel to them during the earlier half of the 20th Century. They were far more whimsical, filmed on huge sets that were practically stages with a sense of melodrama that wouldn’t be seen today. There was a real innocence to these films and a lot of this was thanks to the vibrant and characteristic actors of the day, people that seemed to perform for the love of their craft as opposed to the draw of riches and fame. One such actor who was armed with a huge array of talents and filled to the brim with charisma was the great Danny Kaye.

An actor, singer, dancer, musician and comedian, Danny Kaye was a talented man well known for his physical comedies and his novelty songs filled with impressive tongue twisters. He was born on January 18th 1911 and was said to be something of an entertainer since his early days at school. He attended public school in Brooklyn, New York and went on to study at Thomas Jefferson High School, though he never graduated. He left home and began working at the ‘Borscht Belt’, a series of Jewish holiday resorts in the area, it was here he began to learn about showbiz and the tricks of the trade. In 1939 he landed his first part on Broadway in the play Straw Hat Revue and the following year he starred in Lady in the Dark, a musical that brought him new found acclaim. It was also then that he met Sylvia Fine, a woman that would not only go on to be his wife but to manage his career, writing much of his material with him.

Danny got his first role on the big screen in 1944 with Up in Arms, the performance was well received and he began to appear in many more movies, such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Hans Christian Andersen, which produced some of the most well known songs of his career. His comedic skills were not wasted throughout these films and we got to see more and more of his wonderful sense of humour, eventually in 1955 he would star in perhaps his funniest film The Court Jester. This film plays host to a particularly hilarious scene revolving around a series of tongue twisters that would save his life, or end it. “The vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison and the chalice from the palace has the brew that’s true.” It’s a feat of both excellent writing and performance and still holds up as a great comedy today.

Unfortunately Danny passed in 1987 at the age of 76 though he lives on throughout his work, much of which has a feel of timeless quality. From the humorous sketches in his TV show The Danny Kaye Show, to his vast collection of musical works and of course to his catalogue of excellent films, his work is certainly worth revisiting no matter how old you are.


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