Friday, November 15, 2013

Danny Kaye: King of Klutzes

A dozen members of the cast and crew were injured during the production of The Court Jester, including Kaye and several pint-sized co-stars.

One of the most surprising discoveries I made in conducting research for my recent book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters was that Kaye, for such a graceful performer, was a magnet for injury. He suffered countless breaks, bumps, scrapes, cuts, tears and twists on the job, many of them detailed in the book.

But at least he had company, as fellow performers—primarily dancers and stuntmen in his movies—experienced their fair share of injuries. Not unexpectedly, the two films that racked up the most accident reports were the one with the most elaborate dance sequence (Knock on Wood, with its ballet climax) and the one with the most elaborate stunts (The Court Jester).

During the production of Knock on Wood, in addition to Kaye cutting and bruising his knee in the shower scene, a stand-in stepped on a nail, choreographer Michael Kidd was struck by a “fake-flower wire,” a dancer injured his wrist taking falls, another dancer skinned her knee, and yet another ballerina complained of a “splinter injury.” The worst fate befell dancer Pat Denise (who played Danny’s mother in flashback), who pulled her calf muscle while rehearsing the title song dance number. Kaye personally drove her to the doctor, who advised Denise to stay off the ankle for a while, shutting down production and delaying filming for more than three weeks.

The cast and crew of The Court Jester sustained roughly a dozen injuries, several of them suffered by the acrobatically inclined midgets. One wee actor, while rehearsing a scene in a tree, struck his head on a protruding stump. More seriously, as another midget was rehearsing sliding down a rope, his left leg struck his right leg as he tried to make a “false landing,” sending him tumbling. He tried to break his fall with his left hand, and ended up breaking his left wrist and his left ankle.


  1. Ouch! I always thought that Mr. Kaye was so graceful...I didn't even realize a person can get injured while making a movie. I still love Danny Kaye!

  2. Yes, it was a very strange discovery. But if there was any conceivable way to bump into or trip over something, he would find it!

  3. Tony Charmoli mentioned that Danny was liable to bump into things on the set (of The Danny Kaye Show) if they were not set up carefully, and get bruised easily, and so people called Danny the "porcelain princess". Fascinating.. See the video of Tony discussing his work on the show and Danny's propensity to trip, get bruised, etc. This was no doubt because of Danny's willingness to really throw himself into his work with abandon and not pay attention to his physical protection: