Remembering the Multi-Talented Actor & Humanitarian Danny Kaye
Every once in a while it will dawn on me that I barely know anything about a certain actor or actress even though I’ve heard their name a million times and probably should be more familiar with them.
That happened to me again recently, this time in regard to actor Danny Kaye. All I really knew about him was that he starred in the movie White Christmas (1954), which is the only movie of his that I had seen up until this week. I don’t know why, but I always hate having to admit that about someone, even though it certainly wasn’t intentional!
After reading a blog post by speaker Barry Bradford titled Unexpected Movie Teams, I set out to watch the movie On the Riviera (1951), which starred Danny Kaye and Gene Tierney. It was in part because I figured it was about time I got to know more about Danny Kaye, but it really had more to do with the fact that I am a big fan of Gene Tierney.
I can’t say that the movie as a whole left that much of an impression on me, but Danny Kaye’s versatile performance and the things I learned about him while watching the DVD’s special feature called “A Portrait of Danny Kaye,” caused me to gain a new found respect and admiration for him. I had no idea he was such an interesting, multi-faceted person who certainly lived up to the quote below!
Here are just a few of the things I learned about Danny Kaye that proved that he really knew how to live life to the fullest.
- He was an actor, singer, dancer, and comedian who held unique talents such as reciting tongue-twisting songs and monologues, performing the art of pantomime, talking in foreign accents, playing dual roles, etc.
- He starred on Broadway, in films, in television, and on the international stage, becoming a huge hit when he performed at The London Palladium in 1948.
- He loved the game of baseball, and although he remained a lifelong Dodgers fan, he became a part-owner of the Seattle Mariners in 1977.
- He held a commercial pilot’s license and was rated to fly airplanes ranging from single-engine light aircraft to multi-engine jets.
- He was a master of Chinese cooking and built a special kitchen in his house complete with a multi-wok stove, often entertaining celebrities who at one time included professional French chefs.
- He conducted world famous orchestras including the New York Philharmonic even though he could not read a note of music. Former conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos once said, “Here is a man who is not musically trained, who cannot even read music, and he gets more out of my orchestra than I have.”
- He volunteered with the charitable organization UNICEF, serving as the goodwill ambassador from 1954 until his death. For his many charitable works, he was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1982 and was posthumously presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987.
I found this quote on his official website that sums up how I felt upon discovering the details of his very full life, “If Danny Kaye had not been born,” a Hollywood writer once observed, “no one could possibly have invented him. It would have been stretching credibility far past the breaking point”.
In what turned to out to be a total coincidence, I noticed on another website earlier today that it just happens to be the 27th anniversary of his death, which occurred on March 3, 1987. So it seemed only fitting that I put together this post as a tribute to him, with the intention of becoming more familiar with his life and work both on and off the screen.
If you are a fan of Danny Kaye, what do you admire most about him? What is your favorite Danny Kaye movie?