Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Danny Kaye's "First Film" a Fraud

Check most any online film resource for Danny Kaye’s motion picture debut and the answer will come up Moon Over Manhattan, a 1935 short subject produced by Educational Pictures.

This tidbit is confirmed on Wikipedia, IMDB,, and more than 16,000 other sites—according to a Google search of “Moon over Manhattan” + “Danny Kaye.” The only problem is that Danny Kaye is not in this movie.

Moon over Manhattan is a 17-minute romantic musical comedy about an advertising illustrator who convinces the woman in the next apartment building to model for him, leading to her being discovered as a singer. As a romantic musical comedy, it has lots of romance, two songs by Sylvia Froos, and lukewarm comedy. But no Danny Kaye.

My suspicion is that few if any of the people and websites who swear Kaye is in the film have ever seen it. Some folks at the Library of Congress have viewed Moon over Manhattan, but remain convinced that Danny’s in it, if for no other reason than their Danny Kaye & Sylvia Fine Special Collection (donated by Sylvia and daughter Dena) contains a copy of the movie. Watching the movie, their experts postulated that Danny must have played the part of an extra, since there are two scenes where you see the back of a guy’s head who just might be Danny.

The first suspect appears less than a minute into the movie and we never see his face, as he sits painting with his back to the camera. He looks tall like Danny, but his short hair and the shape of his head don’t seem to match Kaye’s.

In the second scene of Moon over Manhattan, the artist (at center) looks more like Donald O’Connor than Danny Kaye.

The second suspect appears throughout the film’s final scene, as a party guest. His hair is darker and more moppish, like Danny’s, but for one split second he turns to his right and reveals a face that looks nothing like Kaye’s.
The party guest toward lower right looks a little more like Kaye…

… until he turns to the side.

I suppose there’s a one-in-a-billion chance that one of these chaps could be Kaye. But, despite the visual dissimilarities, it also defies logic. These extras received no billing, so there would be no public record that Kaye was in the film.

In addition, Danny was finishing up a year-long vaudeville tour when this movie was filmed in January 1935. (According to personal letters, his troupe began an 11-day engagement in Zanesville, Ohio, in mid-December and was then headed for Chicago.) So he may not have even been in New York by the time filming began.

So where did this erroneous credit come from?

I am convinced that it started with a listing in an old industry trade paper like Motion Picture Herald or Film Daily, since until now everything known about this film mirrored such periodical’s new film announcements:  title, production company, director (Al Christie), release date (Feb. 15, 1935), running time, genre (Young Romance Comedy), stars (Sylvia Froos, Marion Martin, Danny Kaye?), and a brief synopsis (“A country boy becomes an artist.”)

Evidently, some well-meaning researcher reprinted this listing online somewhere and it spread from there. Most likely, our intrepid researcher was compiling a list of Educational credits, mixed up his notes, and accidently typed “Danny Kaye” in place of “Warren Hull,” the actual romantic lead of the Moon over Manhattan. (After all, Kaye’s first film was made for Educational, but nearly three years later:  Dime a Dance starring Imogene Coca.)

Or, less likely but still possible, the trade paper did list “Danny Kaye” in the cast, whether by bizarre error (Kaye was a relative unknown at the time, even more unknown than the typical star of an Educational short) or perhaps he was supposed to be in the movie, but ended up being replaced (note that the purported synopsis also differs from the actual plot).

Okay, you reluctantly admit, that all makes sense. Except for one thing: How did a copy of Moon over Manhattan end up with the personal items Sylvia donated to the Library of Congress? Aha! Why would Kaye have owned a copy of this movie (along with his other four Educational shorts) if he wasn't in it?

My guess is that the video held by the Library of Congress, like several other pieces in the collection, wasn’t included in the materials originally donated by Sylvia, but rather something the library already possessed. I suspect they duped it and added a copy to the Kaye collection on their own, to be as complete as possible. Just a little too complete.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love Letters from Danny

Happy Valentines Day, Young Lovers!

Picking up from last time, I’ve reprinted some of the tender passages from Danny Kaye’s love letters of mid-1935, as he headed for one last summer at the White Roe summer camp, while girlfriend Holly Fine remained with the A.B. Marcus show traveling up the East Coast, headed for Canada and then Asia.

June 1, 1935
… Well, Holly dear, it’s as I expected. I find myself looking for you and wondering where you are. I miss you SO much. I hope the show doesn’t sail in July…

June 3
My Dearest Baby,
Please believe me, darling, when I say that whatever I told you was the truth. I was sincere when I told you I loved you. Holly, my darling, I miss you terribly, honestly I do. Not just because we’ve been together so long but because you’ve come to mean a hell of a lot to me.

Please don’t write that you’ll never understand me. You know me better than anyone does and you know it. I’m through with Jessie, so as far as that goes you don’t even have to think about it. Believe me, Holly, we were correponding, but I realize now that you are first with me and have been for a long, long time…

Why do you say that your vacation is wasted up? I want you here, Holly, and I’m looking forward very anxiously to your arrival. Please say you’ll come, please. I’m fighting like hell to keep from bawling, honest.

Holly dear, please write and tell me you undestand. I’m very unhappy here. It’s not the same as it was when I was there before. I’m going to make it just another job and wishing it was all through. I’ve felt like throwing it up, but I’ve got to try and make a go of it. Please say you will come up here and please say you love me.

I’ll be wraiting for a letter. Anything more about Japan? I hope it’s not true for a little while anyway…
Now you know how I feel about you being away from me. It’s awful.

Write me soon,
Love, Danny

June 8
My Dearest Baby,
I’m really walkin’ on air. Now if you just sit tight, I’ll explain the reason.

In the first place I was very blue when I left Charleston. When I got up here, it seemed as tho’ I had outgrown the place (White Roe) and that it was going to be a very long summer, which it probably will be. On top of that I received your wire saying the show was sailing in July, and when I read that, honestly, I felt like packing it all in and going back. Thinking of you so far away made me go to sleep about 9:30 and bawl like a baby. I really felt low. Then you wrote about Jessie and said you weren’t coming up and that didn’t help. In fact, it made matters a lot worse.

I went home and my brother asked me what I was so mopey about. I was going around in a fog. I received your wire at home and things brightened up. You said the show wasn’t going until Sept. and I knew I could finish the summer and catch up to you, if a job was still open for me. When I got up here and read your letters, boy oh boy! I was really sailin’. I did want you to believe me and you said you did and that was O.K. for me. Honestly, baby, you have no idea how happy I was. That takes me up to tonight and I really feel good now, thanks to your letters…

Well, my darling, now that I know you’re not going away and you believe me and love me, I’ll rest a lot easier. I’m going to take it easy and try to put on some weight...

I bought a nice suit and some shoes and shirts and etc. I’m going to lay in the sun every day and get nice and healthy looking. Maybe you’ll like me better when you see me looking healthy.

Write me soon.
Love and kisses, Your baby, Danny

June 11
Dearest Baby,
Received you last letter and I was glad to hear the show is going to play Atlantic City. You write and tell me where you’re going to play there and I’ll figure out if you can come up before then and then again when you play there. There’s a possible chance that I might drive down to see you on a Sat. night and spend Sun. with you. Would you like that? I know I would…

Gee, I think about you constantly, baby, and it seems so long since I’ve seen you. Does it to you, too? Well, honestly it looks like it won’t be long before I see you…

Meanwhile, be good and take care of yourself and think of me, darling, because I’m always thinking of you…

Well, darlin’, I gotta go eat now so I can get fat. Write soon and regards to all.
For you, baby, Danny

June 13
… Listen, darling, you are coming up here, aren’t you? I don’t want anything to change your plans, because I’m looking forward to seeing you. When we are rehearsing the play, it’s not so bad, but as soon as we stop, I start thinking and go nuts. I miss you llike the devil, honey, I really do…

Don’t worry, sweetheart, I haven’t changed my mind about what I said to you in one of my letters. In fact, I realize it much more now…

June 20
Dearest Baby,
Received you letter and your licorice, and the birthday booklet and I want to tell you that I think it was very sweet of you. I couldn’t imagine what that package was. At first I thought it was the hair oil, but when I opened it and found the licorice I was really surprised and I enjoyed every bit of it, too…

Well, baby doll, do you still miss me? I do, as much as ever and let me tell you it’s not a particularly good feeling…

June 24
... Please tell me you are not angry, sweetheart, because if you are I’ll feel terrible. You know how I feel about you, now. Wait till I see you. I’ve got a lot to tell you. I hope you are missing me as much as I miss you. If you do it’s plenty because I think of you all the time…

You know, Holly, it’s my job to be nice, but nobody interests me around here. I’m always wonderin what you’re doing and whether you’re thinking of me the same time I’m thinking of you. Do you ever do that?

… Well, my baby, I have to eat now. but will write again tonight. So long, my baby.
Your baby, Danny

June 25
How are you, my darlin’?
It won’t be long before I see you. Gee, I’m all excited about your coming up. Are you?

… Well, sweetheart, I’ll close for now, but I’ll write again very soon. I don’t want you to think I’m forgetting you. I’m not, baby, I want you to believe me. You do, don’t you? I miss you and want you.
Love, Your baby, Danny

June 16
… Well, darling, it sure made me happy to see you, and blue when I left. But it’s only a matter of a couple of days now. I’ll be seein’ ya’ Fri. nite.

So long my baby and lots of love, Danny

August 9
… Baby darlin’, you know I’ll be good. I’d feel very small if I wasn’t…

Well, it won’t be long now. The summer is practically over.
Remember what I told you on the phone? Well, I do.

Your baby, Danny

August 10
It’s only been a couple of days since you left, but it seems like such a long time. It won’t be long tho’ before I see you…

Everybody here tells me what a nice girl they thought you were. They thought you were very pretty and charming and very quiet and refined. Dat’s sompin, ain’t it?

… Give my regards to the gang and my love for yourself That’s cute, ain’t it?

Be good and think of me.
Your baby, Danny

August 16
… Listen, my darlin’, whatever happens always remember what I’ve told you is true. You mean a lot to me and even tho’ I don’t show it sometimes, I feel it…

August 19
Gee, Baby, I sure do miss you. In fact, I miss you more than  before and dat’s a hell of a lot. Honestly, honey, I’m wacky about you and no matter what Cathleene says, I’m still being very good. “Cross my heart and hope to die if not”…

Well, darlin’, remember that you and no one else is my baby and I hope I’m yours always, too.
Gotta go eat and get fat now. Think of me.
Your baby, Davey

August 24
… Baby, I miss you terribly and if you miss me as much as I miss you, it’s tough on you too.
I don’t make much of a fuss, but I’m really serious when I say anything to you, baby. I want you to believe that.

… Don’t worry, baby, I’m not feeling badly about what Dave (Harvey) said (about Danny’s chances for returning to the Marcus show in the fall). The only thing that would make me feel badly would be if you wrote and told me that you didn’t love me no more. That would really make me feel badly…

August 27
… It seems a long time since I’ve seen you, baby, and I miss you more than anyting in the world. Write me soon, my darlin’, and let me know what’s what.
Love, always yours, Danny

August 29
… Well, my baby, so long for now and remember I love you very much, too.
Yours faithfully, too,

September 5
… Well, baby mine, I love you and miss you terribly and I hope it won’t be long before I see you, if only for a visit. I’m tryng to get Phil (Goldfarb) to take a trip to Montreal (where Holly and the Marcus show were). If I can talk it into him we’ll take a trip up to Montreal.

… Well, my little “wife,” I’ve been thinking of you and wanting you and I do miss you terribly…

Your own, Love, Danny

September 9
My Dearest Baby,
From now on, baby, I’ll write regularly…

I’ll try to go home Tues. or Wed. Anyway becaue I’m pretty well tired of it altho’ even when I look back at it, the nicest time and the best part of the summer was when you were here, baby.

Everybody here has admired my behavior this summer and thought it was very sweet that I should stay true to one girl. That’s the way I am, my darlin’, and I want you know that I was happy doin’ it. I love you, baby, and I know that you were and are on the up and up with me. For that and every other reason I love you, darlin’, and I hope you love me as much as ever…

I tried my darndest to get a car to go to Montreal and I couldn’t get one. I was very disappointed in not being able to come, but I’ll see you in Syracuse or one of those towns you wrote about. I’ll take a bus up from the city. I want to see you, baby and I’ll come up when you play there…

Well, baby, that’s all for a while. Keep writin’ me here until you hear from me.

Be good, my little–
Yours, Danny

September 12
My Dearest Baby,
Received your letters and was so happy to hear from you as you were to hear from me, and from what you say, dat’s sompin.

No, baby, your dream wasn’t quite true. I had your picture out all the time and I told my Dad that was the girl I was going with for two years. He thought your picture was pretty. I showed him the tie clasp you gave me and he thought it was very nice, so you see your dream was just a dream.

Don’t be sillly about writing to my home. Write just as often as you write now. It’s perfectly all right…

You ask me if I’m blue for you, too. You know I am, baby, bluer than I ever thought I’d be for anybody. After all we were together for a long time…

Baby, you want to know sompin? I weigh 160 pounds. Nat Lichtman and I are having a race who can put more weight on. I hope I stay like that when I get back to the city…

September 13
… Well, how is my little darlin’ today? I hope she is all right and thinking of me all the time just as I’m thinking of her.

You know, baby, as I’m writing this letter I feel good because in a coule of weeks I’ll be seein’ you. By the time I get my things all straightened out and get some things I need it will be time to come up and see you. Happy? Boy, I am and when I see you, oh boy!

I don’t ever get tired reading your letters and if they came twice as often I’d enjoy reading them over and over as I do now.

Do you read my letters over and over? I almost know your letters by heart, I read them so often…
I’m getting a nice tan and I hope I can keep the weight I’ve gained until I see you…

September 27
… You see, I’m in a fog. The days seem to be draggin’ by. I can’t wait until you get to Boston…
Be good, baby, and keep writing. You know, I felt funny because there wasn’t any mail this morning…

Monday, February 11, 2013

Prelude to Valentine's Day: Danny Kaye the Romantic

One unfortunate misconception that has arisen over the last 20 years is that Danny Kaye was perpetually remote, dispassionate, uninterested in love, and sexually confused.

Certainly, I have no undercover video from Kaye’s bedroom. I never witnessed him out on a date. None of us can know for certain what he did with whom behind closed doors. But going by the testimony of his closest friends and co-workers, Danny had a deeply passionate, romantic side to complement his frequently withdrawn side.

Admittedly, over the last 50 years of his life, onlookers saw few public displays of romance. Although Kaye clearly loved his wife, there’s no evidence that he was ever in love with her. Best as I can tell, Danny cared for Sylvia Fine, he admired her talent, and he was indebted to her role in his career. Yet after they married, Kaye’s future wooing would involve Other Women and usually take place away from publicity cameras.

Danny's six-year affair with Eve Arden (clubbing with, at left, Humphrey Bogart) was one of Hollywood's worst kept secrets in the 1940s.

Most notably, within two years of marrying Sylvia, Danny began a torrid, six-year affair with Eve Arden. Eve eventually left her husband for Danny. Shortly thereafter, Danny left Sylvia for Eve, but returned home six months later. He vowed to never leave Sylvia again, but not to be faithful.

In the years before he met Sylvia, Danny was like the other young bucks employed by the White Roe Resort of the Catskills—he was expected to keep the guests entertained, particularly the young females. So, as Kaye’s skills as a performer improved, so did his reputation as a ladies’ man.

His first “head-over-heels” romance began in 1933 during a break from White Roe, on a cross-county-turned-Asian tour with the A.B. Marcus troupe. He met a tall, blonde, 23-year-old dancer named Holly Fine (no relation to Sylvia) and fell madly in love.

But even after Danny left the tour at the end of 1934 and then returned to White Roe in the summer of 1935, he continued writing to Holly on an almost daily basis—and calling her whenever he could commandeer the phone in his boss’s office.

The long-distance romance continued in fits and starts over the next several years, until Holly finally left the tour in 1939 and settled down in Florida, where she married a local grocery store owner. About the same time, Danny became permanent partners with Sylvia. But Holly would always treasure her letters from Danny and, after she died in 1998, her estate donated many of her papers to the University of Michigan.

On Valentine's Day, we’ll peek into some of those touching love letters…

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Somebody's Fool: Setting the Record Straight

Much of what is considered common knowledge today about Danny Kaye and his career is based on the book Nobody’s Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye (1994, by Martin Gottfried). Which is a shame.

To be honest, there are several things I admire about the book:  mechanically, it is expertly written. The author interviewed several old-timers I never had the chance to meet (Danny’s childhood chum Louis Eisen, Catskills writer Dick Diamond, comedienne Imogene Coca, singer Georgia Gibbs). And, consequently, the book contains a number of revealing stories you won’t find elsewhere.

Yet there’s even more that’s maddening about the book:  the author dwells on Kaye’s faults, perpetually making snide asides and including anecdotes of questionable accuracy (such as page after page on a supposed affair with Laurence Olivier that even the author admits is unlikely). Speculation on Danny’s sexuality and psychological makeup is frequent, even when it has little relation to the topic at hand. And, Kaye is made out to be so evil, that you get the impression that the author despises him. Why anyone would want to spend years researching the life of someone you detest bewilders me. Interestingly, during my research of Kaye’s 1970s musical Two by Two, I came across dozens of disparate reviews. Some critics loved the show, others not so much, but most everyone agreed on one point: Danny was sensational. Well, most everyone but one: Women’s Wear Daily reviewer Martin Gottried, who confessed his distaste for all things Danny.

Unfortunately, many of the mistakes in an earlier Kaye biography have become accepted as fact.

In Nobody’s Fool, Gottfried also build minor players whom he interviewed (childhood friend Rosie Kaye, comedian Alan King) into major figures in Kaye’s life.

But, worst of all, the book is riddled with errors. I suspect there may be factual mistakes on every single page (as a test, perhaps someone could throw out a random page number from 13 to 337, and I’ll respond with a corresponding error). Alas, because—until the recent publication of my book Danny Kaye: King of JestersNobody’s Fool was the only new book on Kaye since 1985, many of Gottfried’s errors have become accepted as fact (thank you, Wikipedia).

So I did a quick browse of Nobody’s Fool and jotted down some of the errors that I’ve seen repeated beyond the book’s pages.

Again, this is—unfortunately—a far from exhaustive list, but does point out some of the errors I’ve seen repeated in other places:

Page 16. Danny was born in 1911, not 1913. His family did not immigrate together in 1910; his father arrived in America in 1906, with his wife and two sons arriving three years later.

Page 22. Danny’s hitchhiking trip to Florida wasn’t in 1929 with his Red & Blackie partner, Louis Eisen. It was five years earlier, with another pal, Max Tirsch.

Page 38. The Marcus tour lasted eight months, not a year and a half.

Page 40. Danny didn’t resume a romance with Rosie Kaye in 1935, he was still going steady with Holly Fine, a dancer from the Marcus tour. And it was 1937, not 1936, that he joined the Presidents Hotel.

Page 43. Danny didn’t make three short films for Educational; he made four. He wasn’t an extra in any of them. He had a supporting role in the first (Dime a Dance), a co-starring role in two others (Getting an Eyeful and Money on—not orYour Life, filmed in 1938, not 1937), and the lead in the fourth (Cupid Takes a Holiday).

Page 45. Max Liebman didn’t direct Sunday Night Varieties, the revue on which Danny met Sylvia Fine. Liebman didn’t have anything to do with the show (except going to watch it once). It was directed by Danny’s Catskills mentor, Nat Lichtman. And Danny didn’t audition for the show (he was one of Nat’s first signings); Sylvia did.

Page 46. Sunday Night Varieties didn’t close after one show; it played for multiple performances in two different venues. And Liebman didn’t hire Sylvia because of her work on the show (she’d already worked for him the previous summer at Camp Tamiment); it was Danny he hired because of the show. And Sylvia didn’t write the Yiddish Mikado; it was written by Liebman and Herman Shapiro.

Page 47. Famed actor Alfred Drake didn’t appear at Camp Tamiment; he was hired after the summer for Broadway’s Straw Hat Revue.

Page 48. Sylvia didn’t write “The Wolf of Wall Street” at Tamiment. Sam Locke wrote the sketch for Sunday Night Varieties. And Sylvia didn’t write “Pavlowa” in 1939; it’s “Pavlova,” and she wrote it with Liebman in mid-1940, six months after he was said to be singing it on page 53.

Page 49. As well, Sylvia didn’t write “Stanislavsky” at Tamiment in 1939. She wrote it for Danny’s nightclub act in January 1940.

Page 50. Liebman did not demand 10% of their future earnings in exchange for allowing Danny and his co-stars to appear in the Straw Hat Revue. This story is complete hogwash (as can be confirmed by a review of Danny and Sylvia's separate financial ledgers, held at the Library of Congress), and is later alluded to on pages 53 and 86.

Page 58. Kitty Carlisle’s story about Danny’s reluctance to perform “Anatole of Paris” (repeated on p. 252) is really about “Pavlova.” “Anatole” had been written more than a year earlier and had already been performed about 75 times on Broadway.

Page 91. Up in Arms’ screenplay was not—and never was intended to be—based on the play The Nervous Wreck; it only reuses the idea of a hypochondriac from Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee!, which was based on The Nervous Wreck.

Page 101. Goodman Ace wasn’t the first producer of Kaye’s radio show. He replaced Dick Mack for the second season. None of the three writers named—Shelly Keller, Tony Stemple, and Mel Tolkin—ever worked on the show. The first episode didn’t begin with a monologue and it didn’t contain an “Oh, really?”/“O’Reilly” joke.

Page 116. “Pavlova” (again, not “Pavlowa”) was written less than five years before it was filmed not “almost a decade.”

Page 122. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’s planned Courtroom Dream was never filmed.

Page 132. Charges that Danny “was never a romantic” and that he “was not the type to fall rapturously in love with anyone” would come as news to his girlfriend from the 1930s, Holly Fine; his affair partner from the 1940s, Eve Arden, and other lovelies, as I hope to illustrate in a special Valentines Day story next week.

Page 170. Danny’s $200,000 contract for Hans Christian Andersen wasn’t his “biggest yet,” but rather the standard deal he’d received for On the Riviera and the never-produced Huckleberry Finn.

Page 212. Knock on Wood wasn’t filmed in London (except for some second-unit work), but rather in Southern California.

Page 241. “I Am an Is” from Kaye’s second TV special wasn’t a “baby routine.”

Page 252. Harvey Korman wasn’t hired before the premiere as a regular on Kaye’s weekly TV series, but rather discovered several shows into the season.

Page 254. The dress rehearsal was taped Saturday afternoons, not Fridays. And the baseball number was on the series’ first show, not second. Lovelady Powell’s second episode didn’t come until the fifth episode (and all her scenes were cut).

Page 263. Bob Scheerer did produce all of season three, but he directed only one episode. Before that season, all the writers were not let go, just the ones who had worked for Sid Caesar. And Paul Mazursky wasn’t a new hire; he’d been there since early in season one.