|Jack Benny (far right) found just about anything his buddy Danny Kaye (left) did hysterical, to the point where he would often fall to the floor in convulsions.|
Playfully taking on the characteristics of other types of people was a favorite hobby of Danny Kaye’s, especially when he would get together with his show-biz pals like Don Hartman, Dore Schary, Johnny Green, and Leonard Spigelgass. They would all pick up different characters or languages. As Spigelgass recalled, “We’d speak a little Yiddish together, we’d speak French. Of course, I can’t tell if he’s speaking French or making it up.”
Kaye got a special kick out of a silly voice done by songwriter Green—a squeaky eastern European professor-like character. Danny liked it so much, in fact, he copied the Czechoslovakian voice when he performed “Symphony for Unstrung Tongue” in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
For Benny—and only for Benny—Kaye would oftentimes assume the identity of a meek little Jewish man: Mr. Kaplan from Youngstown, Ohio, who worked for the Acme Rubber Company. Danny, in a heavy Jewish accent, would start a silly conversation and Jack would talk as if he were actually speaking with Kaplan about the Ohioan’s family, his life, and his adventures in the rubber business. In fact, whenever Jack made stage appearances in various corners of the world, he would usually receive a congratulatory telegram from Mr. Kaplan.
With some of Danny’s other friends, he didn’t have to come up with a new character. If they had a pronounced accent, Kaye would simply become them. For instance, violinist Nathan Milstein would say something in his heavy Russian accent, and Danny would reply in an even thicker accent, “You hev spaht on my coat. Brosh off. No. There, on der bottom. So? Play someting.”
And no sooner would Kaye say his hellos to Maurice Chevalier before the elder gentleman would respond, “Ah-ha! You’re do-eeng eet ah-gayn!”