Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Danny Kaye Show's Wish List

Jose Ferrer was one of the first guest stars targeted early on by the producer to appear on The Danny Kaye Show.

In the spring of 1963, when producer Perry Lafferty and his writers were trying to think up what a Danny Kaye variety show should be, they figured every episode should feature at least one high-profile guest star.

Laffery compiled a list of his top choices. “We are trying to secure the following people for guest appearances on the show,” the producer wrote in a May 27 memo to his staff. “Naturally, we won’t get them all, or even half of them, but, for various reasons which we have discused together, we feel that each one of them has something to offer us.”

The Stars Lafferty Got
Of the 24 stars the producer targeted early on, he was able to personally sign seven of them:

• Jose Ferrer (the actor who replaced Kaye on Broadway in Two by Two was an early yes, starring in show #2)

• Eileen Farrell (the soprano was a frequent soloist with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, and Danny wanted to perform an opera parody. She appeared on show #12.)

• Terry Thomas (gap-toothed English comedian, who appeared in show #18)

• Buddy Ebsen (his Beverly Hillbillies, just finishing its debut season, was the top-rated TV program for the year. But The Danny Kaye Show wanted him mostly because he could dance. He agreed to appear on show #24, but insisted he get to play his sitcom character, Jed Clampett. But Kaye’s writers thought that using the character would confine them to creating a standard sitcom sketch. Instead, they suggested casting him as Jed’s twin brother. Ebsen worked out so well, he came back for show #37 early in season two and show #69 early in season three, alongside his Davy Crockett co-star Fess Parker and Clint Eastwood.)

• Andy Griffith (although he initially declined, he did agree to a cameo in show #29 to support his Andy Griffith Show co-star Jim Nabors. He returned in a larger role in the fourth and final season, in show #96.)

• Dick Van Dyke—with or without Mary Tyler Moore (Moore clicked so well with Kaye in both sketches and musical numbers, that after appearing in show #6, she was asked back for shows #17, #30 and #41. And, she even consented to a cameo in show #16, starring Van Dyke.)

The Stars Lafferty’s Successors Got
Even after Lafferty left the show after the second season, his wish list remained and his successors were able to come though on a few:

• Caterina Valente (The Italian singer signed on for back-to-back shows early in the third season—#71 and #72—and again midway through the fourth—#103 and #104.)

• Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (Newman declined, but Woodward finally appeared in show #90, late in the third season.)

• Peter Ustinov (The actor finally agreed to appear in show #109, midway through the final season.)

The Stars The Danny Kaye Show Never Got
And then there were the hopefuls on Lafferty’s wish list that never appeared on the show:

• Fred Astaire (Although Lafferty could never book Astaire, he did sign the next best thing—Gene Kelly—for show #5)

• Guilletta Messina (Italian actress, famed from La Strada)

• Melina Mecouri (Greek actress)

• Jose Greco (flamenco dancer)

• Peter Sellers

• Leonard Bernstein

• Lee Remick (Days of Wine and Roses)

• Vivian Leigh

• Laurence Olivier

• Debbie Reynolds

• Anne Bancroft

• Janet Leigh (whose musical Bye Bye Birdie had just premiered)

(Lafferty also wanted to book Ann-Margaret, but had discovered she was unavailable before putting together his list.)


  1. The Danny Kaye Show was the best show ever on television !
    I have loved it for 50 years !! We need to find out who owns the rights and how all four seasons can be released on DVD to the millions of Danny Kaye fans out there..

    (There must be millions; every time a post about Danny is posted on the official Danny Kaye site, there are immediately thousands of "Likes" for those posts, indicating thousands of Danny Kaye fans out there). The TV show DVDs would be cherished and much sought after, if they were released.

    David, can we find out who owns the rights and how we can encourage getting the four television seasons of "The Danny Kaye Show" out on DVD finally so it is available to the world ? thx.

  2. Danny's daughter, Dena, owns the rights.

    Unfortunately, the music rights for a weekly variety show are very expensive, so usually such shows will be released either as individual episodes or in sketch-heavy best-of collections (Carol Burnett's Favorites, Best of Saturday Night Live, etc.).

    So while I would LOVE to see complete seasons of The Danny Kaye Show released, I think the best that would be possible would be more individual episodes or mini-collections.

  3. DK Show should be released. Period. He's a genius--the guest stars are dazzling. It's a crime this remains hidden. I was thrilled at the Xmas release (great shows!) and the Gene Kelly episode on TCM (classic!) They are a national treasure--as he is--and deserve to be available. Judy Garland's variety series is on DVD--Carol Burnett's is--Danny's should be.

  4. It's such a shame that even after many decades there can be no meaningful negotiation to make music rights affordable in circumstances like this. Nobody is going to get rich off a release of an old variety show, not even one as exceptional as Danny's, so in the name of preserving TV history we need some compromise.

    It's truly tragic and a case of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. Nobody wins, everybody loses, and classic artistry is lost and forgotten. :-(

  5. It's not lost, but is fast becoming forgotten. I wish there was something more we could do.