Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving Special: Danny Kaye Chows Down

Elsa Lanchester looks on as Danny Kaye finally performs his "Busy Eater" routine in The Inspector General.

Although Danny Kaye never wrote his own material for his movies, he did dream up a collection of dialects, characters and routines to amuse his friends that ended up inspiring his screenwriters (the most famous being his “surgery scat” that his wife Sylvia Fine used as the basis for “Melody in 4-F,” which made it into his first movie, Up in Arms).

The head writer on his first three movies was Don Hartman, one of Danny’s closest pals, who was intimately familiar with Kaye’s formal and informal material. Consequently, Hartman was always trying to work Danny’s bits into his storylines. Another chum was Phil Rapp (creator of radio’s The Bickersons and Baby Snooks), who was brought in on Kaye’s first six movies to doctor the scripts (i.e., to add as many gags as possible).

For The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), Rapp hoped to include Danny’s “Busy Eater” routine. Kaye, a serial mocker, thought the act up one night while dining with friends at a Chinese restaurant. Sitting nearby was a man energetically filling his face without taking a breath. Kaye was so intrigued by his eating style that he spontaneously began imitating the customer. From then on, Danny could send friends into convulsions whenever he sat down at a dinner table.

Unfortunately, the bit was a poor match for the Kid from Brooklyn storyline and was dropped. But two years later, Rapp tried again, slipping it into a rewrite for A Song Is Born. Once again, the plot had to be stretched too far to create a situation in which Kaye’s character is so starved that he pigs out in fast motion.

A year later, however, Rapp got his golden opportunity. The script that he was brought in to doctor for The Inspector General already contained a scene in which Danny’s character is starving and is treated to a feast by the unsuspecting townspeople. The set-up was waiting for him! Finally, Kaye could be filmed maniacally chewing, chugging, cutting, buttering and seasoning for posterity.

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