Danny Kaye could do it all. To showcase his talents for new generations, it seemed timely to produce a DVD collection from his top-rated TV series, according to his daughter, Dena.
“The title ‘Danny Kaye: Legends’ will catch the attention of older audiences, but it’s my hope they will share it with their children and grandchildren so they can learn what an amazing talent he was,” said Dena, who calls Aspen, Colorado, home.
The two disc DVD set comprises six episodes from the Emmy Award-winning “Danny Kaye Show” which ran on CBS from 1963-1967. The compilation features legendary guests such as George Burns, Lucille Ball, Louis Armstrong, Shirley Jones, and Liberace (see www.dannykaye.com).
“My father always gave his guests the center stage and never tried to take over from them,” said Dena. “He appreciated the talent of others and wanted them to shine.”
Beginning on stage in the early 1930s, Kaye (1911-1987) went on to star in films throughout the 40s and 50s, including classic musicals and comedies such as “White Christmas,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and “The Court Jester.”
“He could sing, dance, make you laugh and make you cry,” noted Dena. “One of his last roles was as a concentration camp survivor in the TV movie ‘Skokie’ (1981). He was very proud of that.”
Despite the Hollywood demands facing her parents – her mother, Sylvia Fine (1913-1991), was a lyricist, composer and producer who wrote many of Kaye’s songs – Dena says her parents were determined to raise her in a loving family.
“One of the earliest memories of my father is seeing him in front of the stove making Christmas breakfast,” she recalled. “He used to make scrambled eggs with onions and green peppers.”
But handling eggs wasn’t Kaye’s only off-screen talent.
“He conducted orchestras, was a master of Chinese cooking, owned a baseball team (part owner of the Seattle Mariners), worked tirelessly as a humanitarian for UNICEF, and was a jet pilot,” recalled Dena.
It was while flying, as a passenger in 1953, that Kaye first learned about UNICEF.
“He was on a flight from London to New York when the plane had to turn back,” said Dena. “He was sitting next to the head of UNICEF and the two had plenty of time to talk.”
The chance meeting led to a lifetime devotion to UNICEF and the world’s children. Kaye toured Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Myanmar and Thailand to meet and entertain children for the documentary “Assignment Children,” released in 1955.
“He became UNICEF’s first spokesman in 1954,” noted Dena. “He received an Honorary Oscar (1954) and also the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (1981) for his humanitarian work.”
Dena, who became a journalist and author, now heads the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation which funds projects around the world.
“The scope is wide,” she explained. “We have started a weaving project for women and schools in India, built a park in Cairo, funded a baroque music festival in France, an opera company in Sydney, and a food pantry in Aspen.”
“My father is remembered as an entertainer, with his many talents showcased on the new DVD collection,” she added. “But his life was filled with personal passions and his commitment to give back to the world.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery, Ala., and has written features, columns, and interviews for over 600 magazines and newspapers. Follow @TinseltownTalks