|In The Court Jester, Danny sings a lullaby to the rightful heir to the throne, played by young Larry Stalley. Or was it Gary?|
In celebration of Danny Kaye's "centennial" birthday, I’m sharing an interview I conducted recently with one of the few surviving stars of The Court Jester. No, not Angela “Princess Gwendolyn”/Muder She Wrote Lansbury. And, no, not Glynis “Maid Jean”/Mary Poppins Johns. But rather the King from the 1956 movie. (Uh... but no, I don’t mean Cecil Parker, who played King Roderick. He would be 114 today, if he hadn’t died 40-some years ago.)
I mean the rightful king—the infant whose throne Roderick usurped. That role fell to a pair of months-old Southern California twins, Larry and Gary Stalley. “My mother learned of a need for a set of identical twins for the making of a Danny Kaye movie, perhaps from an advertisement in the newspaper,” Larry recalls. “She told me there were something like 50 sets of twins that inquired or tried out for the role.”
Hollywood often looks for twins when casting roles for babies, since the chores can be split between two little ones—and the film-makers have twice the chance of getting the desired “performance.” In fact, as babies are wont to do, Larry or Gary occasionally would act up and had to be swapped out.
Larry notes that during the lullaby in the cottage, “when Danny Kaye is holding the child in his arms while singing a song, both babies would begin to act up or cry when he got to a certain point in the song. It didn’t matter which baby was used, we both began to act up at a certain point. At that point in the song you can see Mr. Kaye hold the child closer to his chest in order to quiet or cover up the cry.”
In fact, in the scene where Kaye places the baby inside the wine barrel, the twins’ father stood in for Danny, playing the part with his back to the camera.
It would be the boys’ only movie role. Larry shares, “My mother said she was told we could probably make a career in Hollywood. At the time, they were looking for a baby Little Ricky on the I Love Lucy show. She said there was also an opportunity to appear on a Northern Bathroom Tissue commercial. However, my mother was a Christian and was concerned influence from a career in Hollywood would not be best.”
Her decision proved prescient. Today, Larry is a pastor, at New Beginnings Christian Church in Spokane, Wa. His brother, Gary, lives in Costa Rica, where he rents out rooms in his house to tourists.
Over the years, their big Hollywood break has earned them little acclaim. As the boys grew up, their mother told them about the role, but it took 12 years before they had a chance to see it for themselves. “As you know, in those days there was no such thing as VCRs or DVDs,” says Larry. “One day, during my 6th-grade school year, a flier was passed out to the children informing all of us that there would be a special movie showing at the school on Saturday. The flier said the movie would be The Court Jester, and there would be popcorn. I began to tell my friends that I was in the movie. But they didn't believe me. I don’t think my teacher did, either. That was the first time I saw the movie.”
Worse, they can’t tell themselves apart on screen, in any of their scenes, so they don’t really know if that’s them up there in any particular shot. The crew—and family members—had the same trouble.
“My brother and I apparently looked very much alike,” Larry says. “At some point in making the movie, my grandmother insisted that we had been mixed up on the movie set. However she distinguished us apart, returning home one day she was convinced that I was actually Gary and now Gary was really Larry. Twice my mother went on Queen for a Day. Both times she was a selected as a finalist. Each time, if she became Queen, her wish was to have a fingerprint expert determine whether or not her twins had been mixed up. Which one is which? But neither time was my mother chosen to be the Queen for that particular day. So who am I? Maybe I’m really Gary. Maybe Larry is over in Costa Rica right now!”
Alas, neither has a purple pimpernel berthmark to confirm his true identity.