Friday, June 21, 2013

The Court Jester an Impostor?

Did Paramount pilfer the idea for The Court Jester?

In late 1955, as Paramount was finishing up post-production on The Court Jester and readying the Danny Kaye picture for a January 1956 release, an angry author threatened to sue the studio, claiming it had ripped off the plot of one of her books.

Years before, Aimee Torriani had sent a copy of The Jester’s Prayer: A Tale of the Troubador to Paramount, hoping it would turn her 1942 novel into a movie. But Norman Panama and Mel Frank claimed they never heard of the book when they were writing “a Robin Hood story” for Kaye.

To be sure, Paramount studio hand John Darby analyzed the book side by side with Panama and Frank’s script. He was not persuaded. He noted only two “rather weak similarities”:

First, in both stories, the jester is trying to help a rightful heir regain their position. (In Torriani, the jester is more interested in protecting a young lady who is heir to land. In The Court Jester, the heir is a young king, who has been overthrown.)

Second, both plots incorporate a temporary loss of mental faculties. (The heiress suffers a blow on the head, which leads to temporary memory loss. The Court Jester is hypnotized by a witch into taking on a new personality.)

The differences were acute. Kaye’s film was “slapstick,” Torriani’s book serious drama. Kaye’s took place in an English setting, Torriani’s in 1222 France. Kaye’s heir is a child, in a minor role, Torriani’s a lady, the lead of the story. Kaye’s jester is the lead, Torriani’s a supporting player. Kaye plots against the phony king, Torriani’s jester works to protect the lady.

Paramount wisely ignored the threats.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Fathers Day Edition: Danny's Pop

Danny Kaye's ever-proud father (left), Jacob Kaminsky, with his famous son and Sarah Weiner, matron of Danny's old stomping Catskills grounds, the White Roe Resort, reunite in the 1950s at the Plymouth Hotel in Miami Beach, Fl.

Danny’s father, Jacob Kaminsky, was the performer’s earliest benefactor and continued to provide room and board for the struggling performer into his mid-20s. Kaye’s brothers would complain to their father that Danny was lazy and should get a real job, but “Pop” continued to support Danny’s dream, if even he didn’t fully understand it, regularly slipping hard-earned $5 bills under his youngest son’s pillow (and pretending to himself that he was sending Danny through medical school).

So, as Danny’s biggest, longest-standing fan, it gave Pop special delight when his son’s star took off in the early 1940s. In January 1946, Danny paid for Pop to spend the coldest winter weeks in Florida. Mr. Kaminsky was set to fly from New York to Miami. But at the airport, the other passengers noted the gloomy weather and said they hoped they wouldn’t get airsick. “I’m Danny Kaye’s father,” Jacob announced proudly. “Does anyone think I’ll get airsick?”

When he arrived in Florida, his son called him up to see if he wanted to make the return trip by train. “Train?” Jacob shouted into the phone. “What’s that?”

Danny was happy to learn that Pop had met up with his friend Jack Benny’s father down in Miami. Mr. Kaminsky and Mr. Kubelesky became good friends during that winter, spending most of their time swapping stories about their successful sons.