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.


  1. This is not related to the Court Jester, but to an incident referred to in your book, which took place after Danny Kaye's first appearance at the Palladium. As you mention in your book, he met the legendary theatre critic Hannen Swaffer who, after complimenting him for his triumph, added: Mind you, you didn't make me laugh. Well, recently I had been watching (yet again) that beautiful footage available on the British Pathé site of Danny rehearsing for the Royal Command Performance ( At some point he tells somebody in the audience using a heavy voice: you didn't make me laugh. I think he was referring to that very incident. At the actual royal command performance he mentions that his hair looks like Hannen Swaffer's. I think that Mr Swaffer's commnent didn't go down very well with Danny!

  2. Great pick ups, Theresa! I'm going to have to re-watch that footage with a closer eye!