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.


  1. Good blog post, David. Don't forget that the Danny Kaye Film Festival to be held in Pasadena, CA on January 12-13, 2013 will highlight 10 of Danny Kaye's movies and
    hopefully introduce his work to the younger generation (who will love it !)

  2. Thank you for this very interesting post. I'm a Danny Kaye fan from Europe and I would like to add that Danny Kaye's appeal is not only timeless but also international. I really wish there would be some event to celebrate his memory in Europe as well (London, perhaps?. In the meantime, us European fans will have to make to with your posts and whatever is available on Youtube, so, please, keep those posts coming.

  3. Thank you, Theresa. That's a great suggestion, considering Danny's huge following in Europe and his celebrated performances at the London Palladium. Yes, I'll keep the posts coming and, in the meantime, perhaps check out the new book "Danny Kaye: King of Jesters"?

    1. Already done so, loved it. Interesting information without jealousy or spite. Thank you for that too. Best regards, T.

  4. I'm really looking forward to reading David's book !
    And buying at least 3 copies......
    **I meant to add the website up above for the
    Danny Kaye Film Festival, January 12-13, 2013,
    in Pasadena, California . Check for the movie schedule. Depending on his schedule, David Koenig may do a book signing (!) at the film festival as well as make a presentation about Danny, and books will be for sale there. Come to the festival and see 10 Danny Kaye movies in 2 days. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster.
    Part of the proceeds from the film festival will be donated to UNICEF in Danny's name. A fun event...