Original 1941-52 Recordings
The recordings on this CD begin in the early 1940s whenDanny Kaye was still refining his act and making his debut on Broadway. By the time the last tracks wererecorded in 1952, Kaye had become an internationally famous movie star,performed before presidents and royalty, and was one of the world's best-lovedshowmen. His phenomenal rise tothe pinnacle of his profession was hardly an overnight success. Kaye spent years transforming himselffrom that of a Borscht Belt \tummler" (one who keeps audiences enter-tained inbetween acts) to that of one of the most versatile entertainers in showbusiness.
Born David Daniel Kaminski in Brooklyn, NY, on 18 January1913, Kaye began his career in 1929 as part of a duo with a friend named LouEisen. The two sixteen-year-oldswere employed at the White Roe Hotel, a popular Jewish summer resort located inthe Catskill Mountains in mid-state New York. It was at this time that David decided to use "Danny" (hismiddle name) for his stage name. He also shortened his surname to Kamin, but after a brother came homefrom the army and changed his name to Kaye, Danny did likewise.
The following summer, Kaye was upgraded to the role ofstooge and began developing his own zany brand of humour. Having grown up listen-ing to Yiddishsongs, Kaye became fascinated with the vocal style of cantors, who would oftenimprovise during synagogue services. His use of double-talk and gibberish was partially derived from Yiddishsongs such as "Rumania, Rumania," as performed by Aaron Lebedoff. Kaye's mentor at White Roe, NatLichtman, taught him how to use his body, his face, and his hands to augmenthis comedic delivery, even teaching Kaye to comically "conduct" classicalmusic, a talent that he would use often in later years.
Kaye struggled through the early 1930s, appearing invaudeville shows and eventually winding up on tour in Asia. Unable to speak the languages, Kayecommunicated by using mime and facial expressions. He also developed a talent for dialects and improvising gibberishduring his songs, which were funny in any language. The first phrase he learned was git-gat-giddle with ageet-ga-zay, which he then would embellish, incorporating it into one of thefirst songs he used in his act, Cab Calloway's Minnie the Moocher. Kaye worked it into his Saturday nightrepertoire, cajoling his audience into repeating every line he sang. The payoff would be when he woulddeliver an extra-long string of nonsense syllables that would prove impossibleto copy.
During this early period, Kaye also added the jazz standardDinah to his repertoire, beginning the song with a spoken introduction inRussian dialect. Kaye wouldpronounce the title "Dee-nah," which in effect changed every other rhyming wordin the song (China became "chee-nah;" Carolina became "Caro-lee-na," etc). Toward the end he launched into ahigh-speed chorus of git-gat-giddle gibberish. The song became popular in his American stage shows butaudiences in Asia initially did not understand Kaye's irreverence. Danny recorded Dinah, mispronunciationsand all, at his first recording session for Columbia in May 1941 (he wouldlater name his daughter Dena after the song).
Eventually, Kaye became so proficient at high speeddouble-talking, that it threatened to type-cast him. Almost in self-defence, he strengthened the other parts ofhis style. He became an excellentsinger and actor and also proved to be an elegant and graceful dancer as well.
By 1937 Kaye was appearing in two-reelers and was courting achildhood friend named Sylvia Fine. Sylvia was a budding songwriter who aspired to compose musicalcomedies. Her speciality waswriting sharp, smart, and witty lyrics, with a penchant for politicalsatire. When she fell in love withDanny Kaye, she found in him the ideal vehicle for her songs. Kaye had all the tools she needed: thefacial expressions, the gestures, and the accents. In time, Sylvia would become Danny's Svengali, and virtuallycreated his on-stage persona. Asmall-time director named Max Liebman, who would go on to create Your Show ofShows with Sid Caesar, also supplied material for Kaye.
Danny and Sylvia married in 1940, after Kaye had signed toappear on Broadway in Lady in the Dark, starring Gertrude Lawrence, with songswritten by Moss Hart, Kurt Weill, and Ira Gershwin. Recognizing Kaye's talent and his fast tongue, Gershwinwrote what would become Kaye's breakthrough number and his only song in theshow. Tschaikovsky (And OtherRussians) consisted simply of Kaye rattling off the names of 49 Russiancomposers in 38 seconds. Gershwintook the names from the back covers of piano music in his brother'scollection. He included tworingers: Russian-born songwriter Vernon Duke, whose real name was VladimirDukelsky, and Joseph Rumshinsky, a writer in the Yiddish Theatre. Kaye's performance of Tschaikovskybecame a showstopper. He was sosensational that Gertrude Lawrence, a notoriously competitive performer, wouldtry to upstage Danny at every performance. The two engaged in an ongoing battle to outdo the other,which enabled Danny to further develop his talent for hilarious stage businessand gestures.
Abandoning her ambitions to become a star on her own, SylviaFine devoted all of her energies to her husband. She became his coach, publicity agent, manager, and evensurrogate spokesperson when Danny didn't feel like answering inane questionsfrom interviewers. One of theearly numbers that she wrote for him was Anatole of Paris, in which Kaye sangin the voice of a fey designer of women's hats. He added the song to his nightclub act and eventually,Sylvia worked it into the score to his 1947 motion picture hit, The Secret Lifeof Walter Mitty.
Kaye's second Broadway show was Cole Porter's Let's Face It!in which he played a larger role. Porter's witty and elegant lyrics for songs such as Let's Not Talk AboutLove were perfect for Kaye, and in 1944 Samuel Goldwyn hired him to star in hisfirst motion picture, Up in Arms. The highlight of the film was Kaye's bravuraperformance of Lobby Number, a Sylvia Fine parody of a typical Hollywoodwestern.
During the next decade, Kaye starred in a series of filmscapitalizing on his extraordinary likeability, including The Court Jester, TheInspector General, and White Christmas. Many of these movies showcased his versatility by having him play dualroles or split personalities; usually an austere macho hero vs. a cowardly twit. In addition, his knack for connectingwith children was best displayed in the 1952 film Hans Christian Andersen, whichfeatured a splendid Frank Loesser score (Inchworm and the King's New Clothesare included herein).
Despite his success in film, Kaye still preferred performinglive, due to his innate ability to create a rapport with his audiences. During one of his shows, he was apt atany moment to break into a conga and shimmy through the aisles, or just sit atthe edge of the stage and reminisce about his career.
In 1954 he became the spokesperson to raise money forUNICEF, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. After a run as host of his owntelevision variety show on CBS ended in 1967, Kaye devoted the remaining yearsof his life to efforts benefiting UNIC