Monday, December 24, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 1. And a Snowstorm on the Cutting Room Floor

Okay, it’s time to wrap this series up and go unwrap some presents! So, let’s finish by looking at what was supposed to be the final shot of White Christmas:

Our heroes have rescued the general by inviting his old Army pals to fill up the empty rooms at the inn and, best of all, it’s finally started to snow, promising a steady stream of visitors well into the winter. The camera slowly pulls back and outside to show the exterior of the Vermont lodge and surrounding grounds being absolutely blanketed with flurries of white, as “The End” in distinctive Paramount Script appears in the foreground.

The exterior set was actually to be a finely detailed, handmade miniature. It was the perfect ending… except for the cost.

So producer Robert Emmett Dolan made the call to cut the scene, explaining that the studio “could not, in all honesty, spend $40,000 or $50,000 on a shot that we had no assurance the audience would still be in the theaer to see.”

Instead, we ended up Bing signaling the show crew to open the barn doors behind the stage to reveal a painted backdrop and then yelling, “Merry Christmas!” as if to assure as that there was a veritable blizzard outside.

Now go enjoy your Christmas, and thank you for spending a little bit of your holidays at The Danny Kaye Show.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 2. Two Trademark Tunes

Early drafts of White Christmas began on the theater circuit, at a performance of song-and-dance team Wallace and Davis. It was producer Robert Emmett Dolan who got on the idea to start the movie on the battlefield, with Wallace and Davis as soldiers performing for their fellow troops.

For years, Dolan had been receiving mail from ex-GI’s begging him to recreate the common wartime sight of soldiers listening to the song “White Christmas” overseas, as it stirred up memories of their families back home.

Best of all, adding the new beginning meant Bing Crosby didn’t have to wait until the end of the picture to sing “White Christmas.” He could croon it twice—once at the start, then a reprise with his co-stars at the finish.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 3. Eight from the Trunk

Considering White Christmas: The Motion Picture was based on a song Irving Berlin had written more then a decade earlier for another movie (Holiday Inn), it shouldn’t be surprising that Berlin actually borrowed the majority of his score from earlier projects:

• “Abraham,” like “White Christmas,” was also written in 1941 for Holiday Inn.

• “We’ll Follow the Old Man” and “What Can You Do with a General?” both were written in 1948 for the unproduced show Stars on My Shoulders.

• “Snow” was composed in 1950, with largely different lyrics as “Free,” for the stage musical Call Me Madam, but dropped during tryouts.

• “I’d Rather See a Minstrel Show” and “Mandy” were written in 1919 for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1919—and, in fact, “Mandy” was itself a reworking of “The Sterling Moon,” which Berlin wrote in 1918 for Yip, Yip, Yaphank.

• “Blue Skies” was written in 1926 for the stage musical Betsy (and reused in several movies including, of course, Bing Crosby’s Blue Skies).

• “Heat Wave” was written in 1933 for the stage musical As Thousands Cheer (and also reused in multiple films, including Blue Skies).

Berlin did write “Sisters,” “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Choreography,” and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” expressly for White Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 4. Do You Have a “White Christmas” TV Under Your Tree?

For as long as I can remember, movies have been projected on screens nearly twice as wide as they are deep, unlike television shows, which were traditionally produced in a width only one-third greater than their depth (thus, the dimensions of the standard 4:3 TV screen). But for the first 50 years of commercial movie-making, films were also produced at this aspect ratio.

When TV came along, the public realized it could gain an experience comparable to that watching a movie, but for free and in the comfort of their own homes. So, in the early 1950s, movie studios became desperate to lure people back into theaters by presenting “incomparable” experiences—using stereophonic sound, 3-D, and widescreen. The most highly touted among the widescreen processes was CinemaScope, which presented a width more than two-and-a-half times its depth. The effect was powerful, but often difficult to film, project and enjoy. Audiencces who looked at the left side of the screen might miss what was going on on the right side. Film directors complained that CinemaScope forced them to stretch their action too broadly. And most theater owners, who didn’t have obnoxiously wide screens, were forced to drastically cut down on their projection’s height, so the entire image would fit on their screens.

Paramount, alone among the big studios, decided to pass on CinemaScope. Instead, it would create its own, more practical widescreen format. At a width-to-height ratio of 1.85 to 1 (vs. CinemaScope’s 2.55 to 1), VistaVision would offer an easier-to-view image that could be shown on standard movie screens. And, the image was considerably sharper, because the movie contained twice as many frames; it was filmed at half-speed and then projected at double speed.

To introduce the new process, Paramount tapped White Christmas. The excitement about VistaVision—and the film’s near-$1 million ad budget—helped make the holiday picture the top-grossing movie of 1954, collecting $12 million. Paramount would employ VistaVision on about 30 productions through the 1950s, including The Court Jester (1956) and The Five Pennies (1959). Yet the process proved unduly expensive for the studio, which went through twice as much film stock, as well as theater owners, who were handling more reels of film rattling twice as quickly through their projectors.

According to White Christmas editor Frank Bracht: “The VistaVision system, although beautiful to see, proved impractical due to difficulty in handling and added cost to the exhibitors, as extra men were required in the projection room.”

But by this time, VistaVision’s 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio was on its way to becoming the industry standard in filmmaking. Studios moved to more affordable “anamorphic” processes for reaching the wider dimensions using standard 35mm film, such as Paramount employing Panavision for On the Double (1961). Today, widescreen HDTVs mimic film’s 1.85:1 aspect ratio with their slightly downsized 16:9 viewing areas. So, in a way, you can thank White Christmas for the shape of your new TV!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 5. Five Illustrated Clooneys

A flood wall painting in Maysville, Ky., features five images of Rosemary Clooney, including (lower right) the leads of her most famous picture, White Christmas, and (black-and-white on right) a reproduction of a newspaper photo taken during a parade in her honor, celebrating the premiere of her first movie.  (Photos by Sheryl Hamlin)

You can pay your respects to the cast of White Christmas by visiting Maysville, Ky.—the birthplace of leading lady Rosemary Clooney.

Clooney, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen are pictured in their White Christmas GI costumes in a mural on a massive flood wall along the Ohio River. The artwork actually depicts five different scenes of Clooney, and is one of many beautiful murals adorning the flood walls of Maysville.

After making her singing debut at age 3 at the local Russell Theatre in Maysville, Rosemary Clooney made sure her first movie, The Stars Are Singing (1953), premiered at her hometown cinema. The Russell Theatre is currently under restoration.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 6. One Big Fat Contract

Danny Kaye really had no interest in appearing in White Christmas. He simply did not care for supporting roles. A few years earlier, he’d agreed to co-star with Gene Kelly in a musical Huckleberry Finn for MGM, but—just as filming was about to begin—he backed out. He knew that he’d disappear behind Kelly in any MGM musical.

Consequently, he didn’t think his role would be any better appearing alongside Bing Crosby in a movie built around Crosby’s most famous song. But Kaye also didn’t want to just say no to Paramount. His personal production company had just completed its first picture, Knock on Wood, and Paramount had provided funding, equipment, crews, offices, and distribution—and agreed to do the same for a second film. Indeed, production had gone so well, Kaye’s partners were in the midst of negotiating a second two-picture deal with Paramount.

In addition, Paramount’s liaison to Kaye—Don Hartman—was a close personal friend of Danny's. He oversaw the writing of Kaye's first three movies in Hollywood (Up in Arms, Wonder Man, and The Kid from Brooklyn) and nearly teamed up with Danny to form their own production company in the late 1940s.

In August 1953, when Hartman begged Kaye to take the role, he was desperate, after already losing Fred Astaire and Donald O’Connor. The script, music, costumes, sets, everything was ready and waiting.

So Danny agreed to appear for the ridiculous amount of $200,000 (more than double O’Connor’s price) plus 10% of the profits, convinced that Paramount would pass. Paramount had already promised to split the profits in thirds with Crosby and Berlin, but—out of options—consented to pay the $200,000, if Crosby and Berlin each gave Kaye 5% of their cuts. Both happily agreed, figuring that the picture—and, in turn, they—would make more in the long run with Kaye in the cast.

Ironically, the role Kaye didn’t want turned out to be the most lucrative of his career.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”… Number 7. Six Names a-Changin’

Rosemary Clooney's character and her nightclub both got name changes.

After each screenplay draft of White Christmas was submitted to the studio, producer Robert Emmett Dolan and director Michael Curtiz would sit down with the writer in a story conference to review what they liked, what they didn’t like, what was missing, and what the lead performers were concerned about.

Norman Krasna wrote his first two drafts with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in mind as the leads. The scripts had basically the same plot as would the eventual finished movie, except for the lead characters, who were venerable show business contemporaries (which Astaire didn’t like) and romantic rivals (which Crosby didn’t like).

Despite their stars' lingering concerns, in analyzing the second draft, the biggest changes Dolan and Curtiz suggested were changing most of the names. Instead of “Chuck Wallace,” they said Crosby should go by the mellower “Robert,” “Bob,” or “James.” (“Bob” stuck.) Instead of “Johnny Davis,” Astaire should be renamed “Phillp.” (It ended up as “Phil.”) Wallace’s love interest, “Helen,” sounded more attractive yet still level-headed as “Betty” or “Beth.” (They went with “Betty.”) “Judy” was fine for her kid sister. New York TV gossip columnist “Steve King” was to be renamed either “Ed” or “Walter” (to conjure up the image of Ed Sullivan or Walter Winchell. They went with the Sullivan-esque “Ed Harrison.”).
Dolan and Curtiz also wanted the two nightclubs renamed. For the Florida club, instead of “Fancy Free,” they suggested “Heads Up” or “Fiddle Sticks.” (It became the benign “Florida Theatre.”) And in New York, in place of the “Kit Kat Club,” they asked for either the “9 O’Clock Club” or “The Carrousel.” (They used the latter.)
All the characters’ personalities, however, remained the same.
The name changes were insufficient. A few weeks later, both Crosby and Astaire walked. Fortunately, one of them was eventually persuaded to return.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 8. Bing Loses His Money Song

Bing's character prefers bucks over babes and originally had a song to express this preference.

The first song Irving Berlin wrote expressly for White Christmas never made it into the picture. Berlin composed the song “Sittin’ in the Sun (Countin’ My Money)” in August 1952 for Bing Crosby to sing in the film’s “Palm Beach” sequence, to illustrate that Bing’s character was perfectly content without romance.

Although the tune would not be included in White Christmas, it was recorded in 1953 by Louis Armstrong (click here to hear) and Frankie Laine (click here).

Once you know what the song was written for, its lyrics make a lot more sense:

Sittin’ in the sun
Countin’ my money
Fanned by my summer breeze
Sweeter than the honey is counting my money
Those greenbacks on the trees
Comes the summer shower drops of rain falling
Sweeter than the Christmas chimes
Hearing those jingles upon the roof shingles
Like pennies, nickels and dimes

Though it’s known that what I own
It’s not a large amount
Fields of gold that I behold
Are in my bank account
Yeah, sittin’ in the sun
Countin’ my money
Happy as I can be
And to top it all when shadows fall
I look to heaven and I see
There's a silver dollar
In the sky shining down on me

Sittin’ in the sun
Countin’ my money
Happy as I can be
And to top it all when the shadows fall
I look to heaven and I see
There’s a silver dollar
In the sky and it’s shining
It goes shining in
Shining down on me

® Irving Berlin

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Twelve Days of "White Christmas"... Number 9. Six Secret Screenwriters

White Christmas may have turned out to be the top-grossing movie of 1954 and to this day a perennial holiday favorite, but after screenwriter Norman Krasna had his first look at a rough cut, he was appalled. 

Yet, while there were five other writers paid to work on the picture, the work was mostly Krasna’s. He spent more than a year on the film, writing four versions of the screenplay, in addition to years before creating an unproduced stage musical that he borrowed the basic plot from. In comparison, writers Jack Rose and Mel Shavelson (The Five Pennies, On the Double) spent a mere one week polishing Krasna’s third script, while Norman Panama and Mel Frank (Knock on Wood, The Court Jester) worked for just three weeks tweaking Krasna’s fourth script for Danny Kaye. 

Gag man Barney Dean was also paid to sit in during filming to make suggestions, as he did on most of the pictures starring his pals Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, but his contributions were usually minimal. 

Director Michael Curtiz and producer Robert Emmett Dolan also made numerous suggestions that were incorporated into the script—but they were all incorporated by Krasna.

Nonetheless, Krasna was so upset, he requested that the producers withhold his screenwriting credit and credit him instead for original story. But when news of Krasna's demands reached composer Irving Berlin, he said that if there were going to be a credit for original story, he wanted part of it, since (a) he worked on that unproduced stage musical with Krasna and (b) the real inspiration for the whole project was his song “White Christmas.”

In the end, Krasna relented, and shared screenwriting credit with Panama and Frank.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Twelve Days of “White Christmas”... Number 10. Two Geezers a-Grumblin’

Neither Bing Crosby nor Fred Astaire were too crazy about the early drafts of White Christmas. In particular, they were paranoid about how their characters would be portrayed—but for opposite reasons.

Astaire didn’t want his character to come across as too old. He preferred the spry, reckless playboy character that he’d been cultivating in films for the past 25 years, not the script’s grizzled show biz veteran who was old enough to have served in World War I and to have appeared in minstrel shows in vaudeville (even though—then in his mid-50s—that’s exactly what he was).

Crosby, however, didn’t want his character to come across as too young. He’d been pursuing a long-term image of wise, calm, reasonable, sage. The first scripts did have Fred as the playboy and partner Bing as his watchdog. Still, Crosby felt all the skirt chasing made him appear “too frivolous” and “young” in nature.

So, privately, Crosby was relieved when Astaire stepped out and Donald O’Connor was signed. The casting of O’Connor allowed the relationship to change from that of two buddies on the prowl to that of a mature older GI and an adoring younger GI, a dynamic preserved when Danny Kaye joined the cast.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Twelve Days of "White Christmas"... Number 11. Two Hoofers Limping

The best things don’t always happen while you’re dancing, particulary if you’re trying to sing “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” at the same time.

Irving Berlin composed and Robert Alton choreographed one solo (“Choreography”) for Donald O’Connor and one duet (“Best Things”) for O’Connor and Vera-Ellen. When Danny Kaye took over the role, it quickly became obvious that while Kaye was a good dancer, he lacked the technical skills required to carry a complicated solo. So, during the “Choreography” number, he sang the song and performed a few basic moves, then stepped to the side and let a professional take over.

That wouldn’t really work for a “falling in love” song like “Best Things.” So the hope was that Vera-Ellen could cover up—if not elevate—Danny’s dancing. Unfortunately, while rehearsing the number, Vera-Ellen injured a finger on her right hand while sliding on a rail. She went to the hospital the next day for X-rays and had to wear a splint on her finger for several days.

Rehearsing the number again three days later, this time it was Danny's turn to get hurt. While performing a swinging turn on a bar, he landed on the side of his right foot and turned his ankle. A medic tended to his injury on the scene.

Miraculously, the number turned out beautifully—by far Danny’s most accomplished dance on film. And somehow nobody got killed. Although if you watch really closely at the very end, as Vera-Ellen twirls behind a kneeling Kaye, she trips over his leg.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Twelve Days of "White Christmas"... Number 12. Ten Tunes a-Warblin’

Every day from now through Christmas Eve, I’ll be celebrating the “Twelve Days of White Christmas,” by sharing a little-known aspect of the production of this holiday classic.

Let’s begin by testing your White Christmas intuition. As you may have heard (perhaps from that great new book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters), Danny Kaye wasn’t the first choice to play Bing Crosby’s co-star. Paramount’s original intention was to recreate the magic of the movie that introduced the song “White Christmas,” Holiday Inn (1942), by re-teaming Crosby with Fred Astaire. But Astaire didn’t care for the script and eventually bowed out, so Paramount signed Donald O’Connor. Then O’Connor ended up contracting Q fever from Francis the Talking Mule and, unable to recover quicky, was replaced by Kaye.

With each casting change, the role of Phil Davis had to be significantly revised, from Astaire’s tap-happy playboy, to O’Connor’s fancy-footed greenhorn, to Kaye’s mix between the two, with more comedy but less dancing.

As well, Berlin had to constantly rework his score, depending on the Phil of the day.

Considering their ages and personalities, can you deduce which Phil Davis—Astaire, O’Connor, or Kaye—Berlin had in mind for each of the following songs? Answers below.

• “Blue Skies”

• “Sisters”

• “The Seven-Piece One-Man Band”

• “Choreography”

• “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing”

• “Monahan & Callahan”

• “A Singer—A Dancer”

• “A Crooner—A Comic”

• “Snow”

• “Santa Claus Number”


• “Blue Skies” Kaye. Crosby may have made another movie with Astaire named Blue Skies (in which he also sang “White Christmas”), but the song was incorporated into a duet with Kaye at the last minute.

• “Sisters” Astaire. Berlin first envisioned Bing and Fred in drag.

• “The Seven-Piece One-Man Band” Astaire. Fred suggested this number as his virtuoso solo.

• “Choreography” O’Connor. Since Kaye wasn’t a comparable dancer, he stepped aside and let a professional dancer fill in during the most strenuous moves.

• “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” O’Connor. Kaye did perform this number without a stand-in, to his great pain. But more about that tomorrow.

• “Monahan & Callahan” Astaire. Inclusion of the vaudeville duet—salvaged from an unproduced Broadway show along with the film’s premise and two other songs—made sense when the two leads were both about the same age. It was rewritten as…

• “A Singer—A Dancer” O’Connor. When Kaye, better known as a funnyman than for his footwork was recruited, the song was rewritten again, as…

• “A Crooner—A Comic” Kaye.

• “Snow” O’Connor. Berlin intended to have an elaborate “Winter Fantasy Number” during the train trip to Vermont, but budget constraints turned the dream sequence into a song instead.

• “Santa Claus Number” Kaye. Costumed Danny and Bing were originally supposed to entertain the general with this tune as they passed out presents.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Defective Discs Plague Christmas DVD

The new Christmas with Danny Kaye DVD is receiving rave reviews for its wonderful mix of song, dance and comedy—with one curious exception: the second “Peggy Lee” episode runs more than seven minutes shorter than the first episode and one of the sketches ends abruptly, with no payoff.

At least one customer has accused Inception Media of shenanigans by advertising the DVD as containing two “complete” episodes, but then trimming one show, theorizing there must have been some song that they couldn’t secure the rights for and secretly snipped it.

The truth is the only thing “missing” is the last two-thirds of the eleven-minute sketch “Giovanni’s Christmas Gift.” And it really isn’t “missing”—you can view the full sketch by loading the DVD onto a computer and accessing the individual VOB file that contains the sketch (file VTS_02_6.VOB in folder Video_TS).

Unfortunately, due to an “authoring” problem at the factory where the first batch of discs was pressed, DVD players cut the sketch abruptly at the 3:45 mark and, consequently, their counters register the entire episode as under 43 minutes, instead of its true 51-minute running time.

The good news is that all defective discs appear to have been pulled out of the distribution pipeline and all new orders are being fulfilled from a corrected second pressing from the first week of December. Anyone who bought theirs earlier and ended up with a defective disc can return it for an exchange.

But probably the most amazing thing: 50 years ago, due to the high quality of entertainment and the greater engagement of audiences, a TV show could actually stage an eleven-minute sketch!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Centennial Starts on High Note with Gala

The Danny Kaye Centennial celebration kicked off in high style Wednesday evening Dec. 5 with a (variety) star-studded tribute at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.

Now I’ll admit, when I first learned of the panel that had been assembled for the event—Dena Kaye, Carl Reiner, Michelle Lee, producer George Schlatter, choreographer/director Tony Charmoli—I was a little skeptical. With the exception of Charmoli, who was at Danny’s side on a daily basis for four years, in addition to individual projects in the early 1960s and into the 1980s, none of the others worked all that much with him. They obviously were chosen for their star power (or availability).

The panel featured (left to right) Tony Charmoli, George Schlatter, Michelle Lee, Carl Reiner, Dena Kaye, and moderator Leonard Maltin. (The back of the reddish head in front of Reiner belongs to Vin Scully.)

Certainly, there were others who could have provided deeper insights about his work, such as Danny Kaye Show director Bob Scheerer and writers Bernie Rothman and Paul Mazursky. In fact, another Kaye Show writer—Ron Friedman—was in the audience. I was fortunate enough to sit with Roz Memel, the daughter of Danny’s longtime pianist Sammy Prager, and Gloria Kaye, widow of his drummer, Sid Kaye.

Fortunately, all the panelists were great storytellers, and each had a few choice anecdotes to share. The reminisces were supplemented by mesmerizing clips from The Danny Kaye Show. Some of the snippets hadn’t been publicly aired since their original broadcast nearly 50 years ago. It made for a wonderful evening and hopefully the first of many events designed to restore the shine to Kaye’s star.

There were just two concerns that hopefully organizers will address with future festivities. The venue, with just 150 seats, was small and sold out quickly. Guests with tickets who arrived late were forced to sit in an overflow room and watch the proceedings televised.

“The Paley Center gave us 30 tickets to distribute to special guests, and we handed out all 57 of them,” said Robert Bader, who’s assisting Dena with the centennial celebrations. “When you get a call at the last minute that Peter O’Malley and Vin Scully want to attend, do you want to say no to Peter O’Malley and Vin Scully?”

Ideally, any future show will be booked into a significantly larger venue, exposing Kaye and his work to even larger audience.

More troubling, I don’t think I saw a single person in the audience under 30. Danny’s work, as proven by the laughs and tears sparked by the clips we viewed, is powerful and timeless, and will appeal to all audiences. The challenge of preserving Danny’s legacy is not so much successfully rattling the memory banks of us old-timers, but of introducing his talents to new eyes.

Among the most personable celebrities at the post-show reception were Danny Kaye Show guest stars Julie “Catwoman” Newmar and Michelle Lee.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Danny Kaye's Christmas Album

For some reason, I don't think anyone has ever released a Danny Kaye Christmas album.

He recorded at least 10 holiday tracks, as singles and for other albums, that could be repackaged to fill a CD—“A Merry Christmas at Grandmother’s House (Over the River and Through the Woods)” and the kiddie-voiced “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” with the Andrews Sisters, the novelty songs “Santa Claus Looks Like My Daddy” and “Eat Eat Eat,” “Snow” and “White Christmas” with his White Christmas co-stars, a jazzy “Jingle Bells” for the Five Pennies soundtrack, and holiday standards “Deck the Halls,” “Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” and “The First Noel.”

But there are also at least a half-dozen more numbers that could be used, now that Danny’s daughter, Dena, has shown a willingness to crack open the vault that for decades has held hostage his radio shows, TV series and specials. “Jingle Journey,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” “Waltz Around the Christmas Tree,” “We Won’t Be in England for Christmas,” and “Some Children See Him” could all be pulled off the soundtracks of his variety series’ annual Christmas shows to be used on a CD.

Over the years, Danny’s wife, Sylvia Fine, would write well over 100 songs for her husband to perform. Ironically, she didn’t write any of these 16 holiday songs. The one Sylvia Fine Christmas song I could find a lyric sheet for Danny never recorded. It’s a short ditty called “Why, Mommy?”:

It’s a funny thing about Santy Claus –
It suddenly just came to me –
I saw him in all the department stores
And he never looked the same to me.
In Macy’s he was tall and fat,
In Gimbel’s he was short and flat,
At Rogers Peet he was red as a beet,
At Lord & Taylor he looked much paler;
At F.A.O. Schwartz his nose had warts,
Next day at Sears – they disappears;
Then came an even worse dilemma:
Two of him were at Hammacher Schlemmer.
Poor old Santy Claus, alack and alas,
How does he know when it’s him in the looking glass?
® Sylvia Fine

Maybe we’ll see a “Christmas with Danny Kaye” CD released in time for next Christmas. It just won’t include “Why, Mommy?”

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thumbs Up from "Library Journal"

My thanks to "Library Journal," the leading trade magazine for libraries, for a solid review of "Danny Kaye: King of Jesters" in their most recent, November 15 issue.

The bottom line:

"Lovers of classic film and everything Danny Kaye will enjoy this chronological outline of the entertainer's life. Fueled by information from personal papers and interviews, Koenig succeeds in showing what it took for Kaye to make it in Hollywood. Laced with details of each of Kaye's projects, this title is both a leisurely read about one of Hollywood's greatest comedic actors and a useful reference to his career."

The full review is here:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ben Stiller Returns to the Scene of the Crime

While writing recently about the original Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Tales for the Easily Distracted, blogger Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci wondered about the location of the gorgeous Tudor-style mansion owned in the movie by villianous Uncle Peter “The Boot” Van Hoorn. She imagined it in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, not far from Walter’s publishing office in Manhattan.

In fact, the home was—and still is!—located at 1050 Arden Street in Pasadena, California. Built in 1912, the sprawling, 11,573-square foot mansion has 13 bedrooms and eight baths on nearly two acres. It is currently owned by pharmaceutical magnate Milan Panic, who continues to rent the property out for use in films and TV shows.

Pull the property up on Google Maps to get an idea of just how huge this property is—and how much it still looks like it did during the filming of Mitty, 65 years ago.

Recent street-level view of the Panic mansion in Pasadena shows it looks very similar to when it was used as The Boot's home in the original Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947).

Or, to get an even closer look, check out the movie Starsky and Hutch (2004). Just like in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the mansion served as the home of the villain. The movie’s hero? Ben Stiller, who is currently remaking... The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The All New "Dodgers Song"

Fifty years ago, Danny Kaye recorded what would be one of his most unique and enduring recordings—“The Dodgers Song.”* As a Brooklyn native, Danny was a die-hard Dodgers fan—a passion that lasted until his dying days, even during the period he co-owned the Seattle Mariners! In fact, when Kaye sold his share in the Mariners, he admitted that he was never able to adjust to the constant losing of his expansion team and that his heart still belonged to the Dodgers.

Following a big victory, Danny (back) visits with the red-hot Dodgers during the summer of 1962.  Jim Gilliam (front) and shirtless Johnny Roseboro and Tommy Davis would make appearances in Danny's "Dodgers Song."

“The Dodgers Song” was written for him by his wife, Sylvia Fine, and her occasional partner Herbie Baker, to celebrate the summer of 1962’s particularly fierce pennant race between the Dodgers and the hated San Francisco Giants. The Dodgers would lose the crown to the Giants in a season-ending, best-of-three playoff series.

The song centers on a fictional game between the two rivals, featuring high drama by the likes of Dodgers speedster Maury Wills, power hitter Frank Howard, and eccentric coach Leo Durocher and the Giants’ Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda. The highlight is a tongue-twisting finale, as the ball flies between Miller, Hiller and Haller (actual Giants pitcher, infielder and catcher), reminiscent of the best of Danny’s famous patter songs.

Writers Fine and Baker also included a nod to Danny’s old radio show, where they first worked together in 1946. As a running gag, the show featured weekly variations on the old joke “My sister married an Irishman.” “Oh, really?” “No, O’Riley.” In “The Dodgers Song,” it became “Oh, really? No, O’Malley.”

Danny recorded the number on August 18, 1962, but by that time had already been performing it on stage during his July 23-August 4 engagement at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles.

Fast forward 20 years:  The Dodgers, having won the World Series the previous year, once again find themselves locked in a heated, back-and-forth pennant chase with the Giants. And once again, just as in 1962, the Dodgers are eliminated on the final day of the season by the Giants.

What’s not as well known is that during the season, Sylvia updated her “Dodgers Song” for Danny to perform at an end-of-the-season special appearance. The new version featured the same melody and—at least at first—a similar storyline. She substituted Peter O’Malley for owner Walter O’Malley. “Sandy Koufax, Oh, my Drysdale. Maury Wills, I love you so!” became “Dusty Baker, Oh, my Garvey. Hey Ron Cey, I love you so!” Instead of Cepeda, Jack Clark would hit a grand slam off Fernando Valenzuela, while Willie Mays’ triple would instead be slugged by “ex-Dodger Reggie Smith.”

Frank Howard’s mighty strikeout was replaced by:
“Then up stands a guy named Monday
Who, one memorable Sunday,
Hit a screamer in Montreal.
Come on, Rick, belt me one today!
Monday hits—into a double play.”

In place of Wills being unexpectedly called out on a steal that causes manager Alston to glower in the dugout, Steve Sax is unexpectedly called safe, causing Lasorda to choke on a Chinese chicken leg. The inning is extended a little longer for:
“Pedro Guerrero, Pedro Guerrero,
He give de ball a mighty ride.
But Chili Davis the centerfielder
Catch it in de final stride.
The rally died.”

The song ends with Danny looking back and repeating the crazy finale of the first version, with one difference: For the final line, he sings (instead of “Do you really think we’ll win the pennant?”) “We didn’t win the pennant that year either! Bums!”

Unfortunately, Danny never recorded version two.

* The number was written under the working titles “Baseball Number” and “The Dodgers” before being issued as “D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song.”

Friday, November 16, 2012

"King of Jesters" Interview

I share some great Danny Kaye stories today in an interview with John Greco, the blogger behind Twenty Four Frames. Check it out here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Catskills Farewell

Welcome to my new Danny Kaye blog, designed to contain the latest Danny Kaye news and even more fascinating tales and rare images than could be held in my new book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters. (The mere existence of this blog does not imply that the book isn't exhaustively comprehensive. The stories about Danny are endless; the book is not. It's 304 pages of sheer joy. Trust me. Check it out.)

But to kick off this new blog, let’s go back to the very end of the very beginning:  Danny’s final days as a “tummler.”

He spent six summers at White Roe Lake Resort in Livingston Manor, N.Y., entertaining the summer campers from sun-up till the wee hours of the morning. Although Danny grew to hate the unstructured, “social” requirements of his job (the constant “pepping up” of the guests, the impromptu “porch sessions,” the mandatory romancing of all the single women), he did seem to enjoy the more professional aspects of appearing in plays, concerts and revues.

Come September 1, 1935, he was determined to make it his final appearance at White Roe. The final revue of the season, called “Curtain Calls,” contained the best numbers of the year, and Danny was featured on the cover of the program. He began the show with his popular number “Black Coffee,” appeared in several other sketches and solos, and starred in the ambitious show-closing production number “Song of the Miners.” Danny’s biggest concern was performing well for his father, Jacob, who came up to the camp for the weekend.

As Danny recounted days later in a letter to his girlfriend, showgirl Holly Fine:

“My Dearest Baby-Doll,
Well, it’s all over and the summer is ended officially, although there are still a few people left.
My father was here over the weekend and he said he wouldn’t have taken a $1000 for the good time he had.

Every time he walked by, someone would say, that’s Danny Kaye’s father, and boy did he feel proud.
We did some marvelous shows over Labor Day and all the single numbers like “Black Coffee,” “Cheder,” and “Miners” and a new Russian song went over tremendously, and the shows as a whole, killed ‘em. I was really glad everything went well because he felt very proud of me.

There was a dramatic coach up here named John Hutchins who coached Ginger Rogers and a lot of other big people. He was very much impressed by my work in Accent on Youth, and he asked me to come and see him in the city. He said he wanted to talk to me…”

Danny, as always, had high hopes as the summer ended. He was determined never to return to the White Roe stage. He assembled a nightclub act, but two years later, he was back in the Borscht Belt, albeit playing master of ceremonies at the Presidents Hotel. He did lay down the lay: he would not tummle.