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.