Many of America’s best screen and stage stars embody a plethora of talents. The best of the best can act, sing, and some can even dance. Among the greatest American entertainers is Danny Kaye, a silver screen star popular on stage, television, film, and the radio. His creative range covered impressive dance skills, smooth singing voice, classical music, impersonations, improvisation, and more melded into one heck of an entertainer.
Kaye was born David Daniel Kaminsky in Brooklyn, New York in 1913. During his teen years, he dropped out of high school and worked at a radio station then as a comedian in the Catskills. Known as “the Borscht Belt” the venues in the Catskills were a place for comedians and entertainers to work on their material and experiment. Following his success in the Catskills he joined the dancing act of Dave Harvey and Kathleen Young in 1933. Then in the late 1930s Kaye went out and performed on his own, often using material written by his wife Sylvia Fine.
Kaye made his Broadway debut in 1939 in The Straw Hat Revue. He won over the Broadway crowd that year with a show stopping comedic role, singing in Lady in the Dark. Part of his impressive performance included naming over fifty polysyllabic Russian composers in thirty-nine seconds in the song “Tchaikovsky”. During the early 1940s he performed on Broadway, in night club acts, and to support military troops during World War II.
He made his first film in 1937, but it took almost ten years for his movie career to flourish. As his popularity grew, Hollywood began tailoring films that would better showcase his talents. Kaye starred in many movies throughout the 1940s and ‘50s, including The Kid from Broadway, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Inspector General, Hans Christian Andersen, and The Court Jester, and one of the best Christmas movies of all time, White Christmas. His film career continued into the 1960s when he starred in his own TV show, The Danny Kaye Show which ran for four years, winning an Emmy Award in its first season.
Along with being a loveable entertainer, Kaye was an advocate for social responsibilities. He began his long standing association with the United Nations Children’s Fund in 1954, and that same year he won a special Academy Award for his humanitarian work. In the ‘70s and ‘80s he continued supporting UNICEF, appearing in their short film Pied Piper. His charitable performances include working for symphony musicians’ pension fund, raising over 10 million dollars performing benefit concerts where he was known to conduct “The Flight of the Bumble Bee” with a flyswatter.
In 1987 Danny Kaye died of a heart attack in Los Angeles, California.