Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Son of Goldwyn Helped Spread Kaye Stories

Producer Sam Goldwyn's son began producing shows himself not long after Kaye appeared in his sixth and final Goldwyn film, Hans Christian Andersen (1952).

Samuel Goldwyn Jr., son of the independent studio head who brought Danny Kaye to Hollywood and produced his first five films, died Jan. 9 at the age of 88.

His legendary father saw Kaye on Broadway in Lady in the Dark in 1940 and immediately began to pursue him for films. It took him until May 14, 1942, to sign Kaye and his songwriting wife, Sylvia Fine, to a five-picture deal, the first—the war comedy Up in Arms—to begin production a year later.

It was followed by Wonderman, The Kid from Brooklyn, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and A Song Is Born. After Danny left to “freelance,” he returned to Goldwyn one last time, for Hans Christian Andersen (1952).

Goldwyn Jr. became a respected producer in his own right, first in television in the 1950s and eventually in the movies starting in the 1980s. But I’ll always know him as the person who donated—and maintained strict control over—his father’s business papers to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science’s Margaret Herrick Library.

After several years of begging, I was finally able to get permission from Mr. Goldwyn to pore over scripts, treatments, production records, contracts and correspondence concerning the making of the six Kaye films—research that proved invaluable in the writing of my book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters.

Goldwyn Jr. also held on to the rights to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and over the last decade-plus of his life, he continuing searching for the right script and the right star to remake the Kaye classic. He finally settled on Ben Stiller, whose 2013 film would prove to be Goldwyn Jr.’s final screen credit.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Danny Kaye Returns to Mainstream!

Just spotted Danny Kaye at my local grocery store! RedBox is offering the new Blu-Ray of White Christmas.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Do You Want to Buy Danny Kaye’s Roadster?

Do you have a spare million to buy this beauty?

Next week, some lucky car collector will become the new owner of a treasured piece of Danny Kaye movie history:  the tricked-out sportscar Danny hijacks in Knock on Wood.

The car, a 1952 Woodill Wildfire roadster, is one of 142 cars from the Ron Pratte collection being sold at the Barrett-Jackson Car Auction Jan. 13-18, 2015, in Scottsdale, Az. The Discovery and Velocity cable TV channels will broadcast portions of the auction.

The Woodill Wildfire became famous for being the first car built all of fiberglass. For publicity, one of the first off the line in Downey, Ca., was sent to nearby Hollywood and affixed with plenty of gadgets that Kaye could play with as he pretends to be a British car salesman. Months later, the car was slightly restyled to make it look like a racing car, for the Tony Curtis movie Johnny Dark. A year later,
it was driven by Rock Hudson in Written on the Wind.

The company only produced about 15 cars and sold another 285 as kits. Fewer than 10 are known to exist today, the most recent one—a 1955 model—selling three years ago for $100,600. Kaye’s older, storied model will fetch a far higher price. No word on whether it still contains the original overhead, underslung, oscillating compression decravinator.

In Knock on Wood, Danny's character disguises himself as an English car salesman and bluffs his way through a demonstration of a new, gadget-laden vehicle.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The World of Danny Kaye Gets a Little Smaller

The late Eli Wallach joined Danny Kaye in the TV drama Skokie.

Every year, the direct connections to Danny Kaye become fewer and fewer, as we lose another batch of wonderfully talented folks who worked with him. Here are 10 who passed away over the last 12 months:

Stu Miller, 87, the San Francisco Giants pitcher immortalized in the tongue-twisting "Miller-Hiller-Haller" climax of Danny Kaye's "D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song" (1962), passed away Jan. 4, 2015.

Ernest Kinoy, 89, screenwriter of Kaye’s acclaimed TV movie Skokie (1981), died Nov. 10, 2014.

Richard Kiel, 74, most famous as the towering James Bond villain Jaws, also made a hilarious comic turn in the first Danny Kaye Show episode ever taped in color (episode 65, taped 1965, aired 1966). The sketch stars orchestra leader Paul Weston, who wants to sing “I’m Telling You Now” with his troupe, Paul Weston & the Weston Brothers—played by two midgets and a young, 7-foot-tall Kiel. He passed away Sept. 10.

Paul Mazursky, 84, the Academy Award-winning director and writer who got his first break as a sketchwriter on The Danny Kaye Show (1963-67), died June 30. Mazursky and his writing partner Larry Tucker were the only writers to work on the show all four years, and they later considered Kaye for the lead in their movie Harry and Tonto (instead opting for multi-appearance Kaye Show guest Art Carney).

Johnny Mann, 85, the first composer and choral arranger on The Danny Kaye Show (1963), passed away June 24.

Eli Wallach, 98, the legendary actor who co-starred in Skokie, left us the same day.

Martha Hyer, 89, Danny’s sweet love interest Lucy in The Man from the Diners Club (1963), died May 31.

Bern Bennett, 92, the staff CBS announcer whose work included intros for The Danny Kaye Show in the 1960s, died May 29.

Sid Caesar, 91, who succeeded Kaye as revue producer Max Liebman’s lead comedian in the 1940s and whose seminal variety show Your Show of Shows provided the template—and the majority of the writing staff—for The Danny Kaye Show, died Feb. 12.

Arthur Rankin, 89, stop motion puppet TV animation auteur, who with partner Jules Bass turned Danny into the puppet host of Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971), died Jan. 30, 2014.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Danny Kaye’s First Talk Show Appearance

What may have been Danny Kaye's first talk show appearance ever was just released this week on DVD.

First, a little background:  Early on, Danny was wary of television. Initially, he thought himself above the fledgling medium. He also saw that TV chewed up material at a ferocious pace, and was fearful it would quickly consume all the specialty numbers he had spent decades perfecting on stage.

In the 1950s, he appeared on a handful of TV specials, such as the Academy Awards, but it took until 1960 before a new agent convinced him to appear in three hour-long TV specials, one a year, to rejuvenate his sagging movie career.

To promote the first two specials on CBS, he made guest appearances on his favorite game show, What’s My Line. But the third special, co-starring Lucille Ball, would run on NBC, so he needed to find NBC shows on which to promote it. He consented to something he’d never done before: talk shows.

With the Lucy special set to air Nov. 11, 1962, he appeared for the first time on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson Nov. 8, The Andy Williams Show Nov. 8, and was interviewed on Here’s Hollywood Nov. 9. He also appeared on NBC’s brand-new Merv Griffin Show, taping the episode Nov. 8-9. The episode aired that second afternoon, so while it may have been the first talk show set Danny ever set foot on, it was his third broadcast.

And it's that hilarious appearance on the Merv Griffin Show that was released on DVD this week, as part of a 12-disc box set of the series.

After the Lucy special, Kaye started his own weekly variety show, which ran for four years, after which he’d sporadically return to talk shows, like David Frost and Dick Cavett, to promote other projects.

New Merv Griffin Show box set kicks off with an early appearance by Danny Kaye.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wish List: The Next "Best of Danny Kaye Show" DVD

Any future Best of the Danny Kaye Show release would be wise to include a Louis Armstrong episode.

We're still a few weeks away from the release of The Best of The Danny Kaye Show DVD, featuring six terrific shows. But that's still not too early to begin planning for the next batch (assuming sales of the first set are strong, along the lines of the two Christmas shows released two years ago).

Here are the six shows I'd like to see on the next disk:

Episode 13 (originally aired Nov. 27, 1963) Similar to next month's initial "Best of" collection, I'd be content with one disk featuring three black-and-white episodes from the funnier first two seasons and three living-color episodes from the more musical last two seasons. I'd start out with this wonderful time capsule:  taped the night after JFK was assassinated. The emotion is real, with Danny bravely holding guest performer Mahalia Jackson and the rest of his team together.

Episode 29 (April 8, 1964) This episode is not only historic (featuring the first time Jim "Gomer Pyle" Nabors ever sings on TV), and nostalgic (Nabors is joined in a cameo by former co-star Andy Griffith), but it's also great fun. (Kaye plays Fat Daddy, a comically ruthless Southern tyrant in a spoof of The Long, Hot Summer, to such great effect, it became be a recurring character).

Episode 49 (Dec. 23, 1964) Season 2 featured the series' best Christmas show, marking the debut of Billy Barnes' classic "Waltz Around the Christmas Tree;" Danny reteaming with his favorite co-star, Gwen Verdon; and the first appearance of Victoria Paige Meyerink, the pint-sized sensation who would change the direction of the show. This is the episode where it all began. (If the DVD producers decide to save this gem for another special Christmas DVD, I'd happily substitute another Verdon classic, Episode 36, which features a stunning three-act musical spoof, Top Hat, White Tie, and Green Socks. Other solid choices are Episode 16 with Dick Van Dyke and Episode 42 with Lucille Ball, but those are among the few shows you can already find a bootlegged copy of, if you look hard enough.)

Episode 76 (Nov. 10, 1965) Whereas most of the musical guests in the first two seasons were featured interacting with Danny, starting with Season 3, younger pop singers and bands began to appear, whom Kaye would merely introduce and then get out of the way. This episode provides a nice balance, with Danny joining Freddie from Freddie & the Dreamers and soprano Marguerite Piazza in a special song Bernie Rothman wrote for—and about—the threesome. It also has a fun sketch with one of Danny's favorite characters, the shy, Brooklynese shoestore clerk, Jerome.

Episode 104 (Nov. 16, 1966) Louis Armstrong swings with Danny, and it's not just another "Five Pennies Saints"(which Satchmo would return a few weeks later to again perform).

Episode 119 (March 8, 1967) Besides Jerome, Danny's other favorite character from the series was a gentle, old Italian named Giovanni (featured in a sketch on the first Christmas with Danny Kaye DVD release from 2012). By the spring of 1967, the series was nearing the end of its run and the writers decided to send the character off in fine fashion, by devoting an entire hour to a five-act musical, "Giovanni's Wedding." The episode, which generated a record amount of fan mail, also has Danny breaking the news to his audience that the series was about to end.

Hopefully we won't have to wait another two years for the next DVD release!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New DVD Does Contain Kaye's Best

Does the new Best of The Danny Kaye Show DVD really contain the series' best episodes?

After a two-year wait, a second collection of episodes of The Danny Kaye Show are finallly about to be released on DVD. Come Oct. 7, The Best of The Danny Kaye Show will contain six episodes on two discs—three black-and-white shows from the first season and three color shows from seasons three and four.

Usually, those who put together any “Best of” collection aren’t overly concerned with selecting the absolute best. It’s a marketing ploy. They typically opt for the episodes or clips that are easiest to get the rights for (which explains why the “Best of Danny Kaye” VHS release of 20 years ago lacked third-party songs and big-name guest stars).

And, certainly, ease of rights issue must have been a factor with this new DVD. Nevertheless, the producers are indeed telling the truth: the release does feature the Best of The Danny Kaye Show.

Here’s what they chose:

Episode 1 (aired Sept. 25, 1963) Critics consider the premiere to be the finest episode in the history of the series. It guest-stars Jackie Cooper, short-lived co-star Lovelady Powell, and a terrific cameo by Jack Benny. Three baseball-themed versions of popular musicals (like My Fair Umpire) are the highlight, and Danny also does a sketch playing the mishap-prone “Victim,” which would become his first recurring character.

Episode 5 (aired Oct. 23, 1963) Even though this episode had a troubled production, with Lovelady Powell’s scenes all cut out and Michelle Lee stepping in to tape replacements, the installment is considered a minor classic. You can thank guest Gene Kelly, who works wonderfully with Kaye, performing “Ballin’ the Jack,” a medley, and Danny’s linguini recipe. Kaye, in drag, also introduces beauty expert Miss Schmeckenvasser—his second recurring character.

Episode 20 (aired Jan. 22, 1964) Another winner, the show—taped on Danny’s 53rd birthday and airing four days later—guest stars Art Carney (who was always at the top of his game during his three appearances on The Danny Kaye Show) and includes a Twilight Zone spoof featuring Rod Serling.

Episode 70 (Sept. 15, 1965) The episodes on the second disk (like most of the series’ third and fourth seasons) aren’t nearly as funny as earlier shows, but they’re always sunnier (few series gained as much from switching to color as did Kaye’s) and a notch above musically. Guest Harry Belafonte worked wonderfully with Danny, who seems particulary at ease—his old director returned to direct this one episode. It was so good that the five episodes taped before it were aired later in the season, so this one could be the season premiere.

Episode 83 (Jan. 5, 1966) Visits from Liza Minelli, Alan Young, and singer John Gary, whom Danny’s production company was grooming to host a variety show as Kaye’s summer replacement.

Episode 101 (Oct. 5, 1966) Danny hits it off with Ella Fitzgerald and performs one of his ethnic fairy tales, this one Irish: “Little Green Riding Hood.”

All in all, it would be difficult to pick six better episodes. That won’t stop me from trying. Next week, I’ll share six episodes that I’d love to see on the next Best of The Danny Kaye Show release.