A twinkly-eyed jolly Hans Christian Andersen he was not, despite what the movies led us to believe. Instead, as the first full length biography of the master of the absurd, Danny Kaye, makes clear, he was bereft of humor off stage. What he had, according to this biographer, was a penchant for the small, the petty, the spiteful, and a great gift for scene stealing.
However, none of that detracts from the actor's one-of-a-kind genius. While most of us probably missed the Broadway musical "Lady In The Dark" many treasure Kaye's televised delivery of that musical's show stopper - "Tchaikovsky," in which he recited the names of 49 Russian composers in 38 seconds. Such movies as "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and "White Christmas" won him numerous fans; his television show (broadcast in the mid 60s) won him countless more.
Pagliacci typifies the tearful clown in opera; perhaps Danny Kaye does the same in filmdom. Certainly the supposition that a comedic flair springs from pain is not new.
Nobody's Fool brims with show business anecdotes, and refutes the oft heard rumors of a liaison between Kaye and Sir Laurence Olivier. The descriptions of Kaye's mean spiritedness are all the more puzzling when one remembers his tireless efforts for UNICEF.
One indisputable fact is that he was an incredibly gifted entertainer, and he entertained us royally.
This report prepared by The Snide Gail Cooke