Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Victoria Clammed Up

Not quite 4 years old, Victoria Paige Meyerink rejuvenated The Danny Kaye Show in its 1964-1965 second season.

It was my great joy yesterday to finally meet Victoria Paige Meyerink, the little girl who captivated Danny Kaye—and Danny Kaye Show audiences—back in the mid-1960s.

As Victoria tells the story, the series was slumping in its sophomore season and looking for a ratings boost. When she—a week shy of her fourth birthday—hit it off with Danny during an interchange at the end of the annual Christmas show, fan mail poured in. The producers quickly called her back again, and again, and again.

But after about a half-dozen appearances, Victoria started to clam up. The magic was gone. The producers tried everything to get her talking again—clearing out the audience for her bit with Danny, creating a whole “Vickie’s Room” set—but nothing worked.

For my book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters, producer Perry Laffery speculated on a possible cause:  “I don’t know whether her mother was pushing the kid or what.”

Victoria, drawing upon a photographic memory, insists her mother was nothing but supportive. The problem, she says, was Danny.

Kaye, as I can attest others have shared with me, had a tendency of occasionally needling co-workers, just to see if he could push their buttons. Victoria says Danny liked to call her “Vickie,” knowing she hated to be called that. He even had songwriter Billy Barnes write a song about her (and also about singer Vikki Carr) called “Vickie.”

Kaye supposedly also knew that she disliked the color yellow. But the Vickie’s Room was set done all up in yellow. And, during one fateful episode, Danny asked her what color her gold necklace was. She replied, “Gold.” Danny corrected her, “No, it’s yellow.” The audience laughed. But Victoria was confused, convinced that her buddy Danny had turned on her and was encouraging the audience to laugh at her.

After seven appearances, the producers cancelled her contract for the remainder of season two. She would return for a Christmas-themed show in season three and for seven episodes in season four, now a grizzled show biz pro at age 6. She would remain close friends with Danny for the rest of his life, working with him one last time: as a co-presenter at the 1983 Emmy Awards.

To hear more of her tales of life with Danny, download Victoria and my 2.5-hour appearance on Stu’s Show (it’s a 99-cent download—program 307—from Victoria is also set to return to Stu’s in the near future to talk about her work post-Kaye:  as a regular on Green Acres, appearing with Elvis in Speedway, twice turning down the lead in The Exorcist, and more!

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Court Jester’s King Speaks!

In The Court Jester, Danny sings a lullaby to the rightful heir to the throne, played by young Larry Stalley. Or was it Gary?

In celebration of Danny Kaye's "centennial" birthday, I’m sharing an interview I conducted recently with one of the few surviving stars of The Court Jester. No, not Angela “Princess Gwendolyn”/Muder She Wrote Lansbury. And, no, not Glynis “Maid Jean”/Mary Poppins Johns. But rather the King from the 1956 movie. (Uh... but no, I don’t mean Cecil Parker, who played King Roderick. He would be 114 today, if he hadn’t died 40-some years ago.)

I mean the rightful king—the infant whose throne Roderick usurped. That role fell to a pair of months-old Southern California twins, Larry and Gary Stalley. “My mother learned of a need for a set of identical twins for the making of a Danny Kaye movie, perhaps from an advertisement in the newspaper,” Larry recalls. “She told me there were something like 50 sets of twins that inquired or tried out for the role.”

Hollywood often looks for twins when casting roles for babies, since the chores can be split between two little ones—and the film-makers have twice the chance of getting the desired “performance.” In fact, as babies are wont to do, Larry or Gary occasionally would act up and had to be swapped out.

Larry notes that during the lullaby in the cottage, “when Danny Kaye is holding the child in his arms while singing a song, both babies would begin to act up or cry when he got to a certain point in the song. It didn’t matter which baby was used, we both began to act up at a certain point. At that point in the song you can see Mr. Kaye hold the child closer to his chest in order to quiet or cover up the cry.”

In fact, in the scene where Kaye places the baby inside the wine barrel, the twins’ father stood in for Danny, playing the part with his back to the camera.

It would be the boys’ only movie role. Larry shares, “My mother said she was told we could probably make a career in Hollywood. At the time, they were looking for a baby Little Ricky on the I Love Lucy show. She said there was also an opportunity to appear on a Northern Bathroom Tissue commercial. However, my mother was a Christian and was concerned influence from a career in Hollywood would not be best.”

Her decision proved prescient. Today, Larry is a pastor, at New Beginnings Christian Church in Spokane, Wa. His brother, Gary, lives in Costa Rica, where he rents out rooms in his house to tourists.

Over the years, their big Hollywood break has earned them little acclaim. As the boys grew up, their mother told them about the role, but it took 12 years before they had a chance to see it for themselves. “As you know, in those days there was no such thing as VCRs or DVDs,” says Larry. “One day, during my 6th-grade school year, a flier was passed out to the children informing all of us that there would be a special movie showing at the school on Saturday. The flier said the movie would be The Court Jester, and there would be popcorn. I began to tell my friends that I was in the movie. But they didn't believe me. I don’t think my teacher did, either. That was the first time I saw the movie.”

Worse, they can’t tell themselves apart on screen, in any of their scenes, so they don’t really know if that’s them up there in any particular shot. The crew—and family members—had the same trouble.

“My brother and I apparently looked very much alike,” Larry says. “At some point in making the movie, my grandmother insisted that we had been mixed up on the movie set. However she distinguished us apart, returning home one day she was convinced that I was actually Gary and now Gary was really Larry. Twice my mother went on Queen for a Day. Both times she was a selected as a finalist.  Each time, if she became Queen, her wish was to have a fingerprint expert determine whether or not her twins had been mixed up. Which one is which? But neither time was my mother chosen to be the Queen for that particular day. So who am I? Maybe I’m really Gary. Maybe Larry is over in Costa Rica right now!”

Alas, neither has a purple pimpernel berthmark to confirm his true identity.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Centennial Celebrations Continue

Danny Kaye did not live long enough to see his 100th birthday, but did masquerade as an addled geezer in The Court Jester.

I just returned from this weekend’s Danny Kaye Film Festival in Pasadena and must say I greatly enjoyed my visit. The audience was small but passionate, and seemed to enjoy the stories and 50 rare images I shared from Danny’s earliest years.

Additional festivities in conjunction with the Danny Kaye Centennnial celebration continue through the spring. This Friday January 18, 2013, marks Danny’s actual birthday—and the day he would have pretended to be 100 years old. (He was actually born in 1911, but shaved two years off his age as he was nearing 30 and hoping to make it big on Broadway as a fresh-faced youngster. I suspect he considered shaving even more than two years off, but that would have made him younger than his new bride, Sylvia Fine, and that wasn’t going to happen.)

To celebrate Danny’s anniversary, “The Danny Kaye Show” blog will publish some amazing, extra-special tales from The Court Jester, stories you won’t find anywhere else—not even in the astounding new book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters! So check back on Friday for an extra special birthday present!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Danny Kaye Rarities

Danny Kaye clowns on the set of The Court Jester with his little princess, Dena. Author David Koenig will share rare images from Kaye’s early years and tales from the making of The Court Jester Jan. 12, 2013, during the Danny Kaye Film Festival.

This Saturday January 12, 2013, as part of a two-day Danny Kaye Film Festival in Pasadena, Ca., I’ll be dellivering a multimedia presentation on “Danny Kaye Rarities,” featuring about 50 rare photos of the pre-famous Danny.

You’ll see images of his earliest years as a Brooklyn tike, at Borscht Belt summer camps, and in New York nightclubs. I’ll also share extremely youthful images of his wife/content provider Sylvia Fine and even a few of daughter Dena!

Admission to the presentation is included with registration for the festival at the Pasadena Convention Center, and gets underway about 8 p.m., right before the showing of Kaye’s whimsical MGM musical Merry Andrew.

About 7 p.m., right after the showing of The Court Jester, I’ll also be delivering a brief presentation on “Tales of the Court Jester” and signing copies of my new book, Danny Kaye: King of Jesters.

Cost for the festival is $50 for one day or $95 for both days, Saturday Jan. 12 and Sunday Jan 13.

The tentatiave schedule is:
Saturday, January 12, 2013
9:30 a.m. The Kid From Brooklyn
12:30 p.m. Hans Christian Andersen
3:00 p.m. Wonder Man
5:00 p.m. The Court Jester, followed by “Tales of the Court Jester”
8:00 p.m. “Danny Kaye Rarities,” followed by Merry Andrew

Sunday, January 13, 2013
9:30 a.m. Up in Arms
12:00 p.m. The Inspector General
2:30 p.m. On the Riviera
4:30 p.m. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
7:30 p.m. A Song is Born

More info at

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Danny and the Plane Crash

Not long after Danny Kaye's first ride in an aiplane, disaster struck.

Although Danny himself would become an accomplished pilot, his first recorded ride on an airplane came during the summer of 1932, when he was 21 years old. His Borscht Belt mentor, Phil “Fishel” Goldfarb, convinced Kaye to join him on a short private plane trip around Livingston Manor, home base of their Catskills resort, the White Roe Lake House.

White Roe’s newsletter remembered the flight as Danny’s “most thrilling experience... He hasn’t been the same since. For all we know, he may still be up in the air. And was he scared stiff? Ask him. Upon request, he will show a permanent display of scars—on Fishel’s thigh, together with a set of fingerprints that has never been duplicated.”

Not long after, on July 19, 1932, Danny wasn’t on board when White Roe hired the private plane to fly staffers overhead to shoot publicity photos of the resort. Going up were Morris “Moishe” Weiner (19-year-old son of White Roe proprietor Meyer Weiner), cousin Joey Frumkes (the resort’s 21-year-old riding master), and 24-year-old pilot Douglas North, who unfortunately had little more experience in the air than did Danny.

About 6 p.m., the novice pilot began flying extremely low—so his companions could take better photos—when he crashed into a tree in front of the Trojan Lake Lodge, two miles away from White Roe. North was killed instantly, and his passengers were seriously injured.

That’s when Danny stepped in. Ever the one to comfort his friends when they were hurting, Danny organized a parade and party to celebrate Weiner and Frumkes’ return from the hospital.

I have to wonder if the 1932 plane crash played in Danny’s mind 27 years later, when Merry Andrew director Michael Kidd brought him up in his plane—and Kaye decided he, too, would learn to fly. Or maybe back in 1949, when Kaye was returning to New York from Ireland when one of the jet’s four engines caught fire over the Atlantic. The pilot quickly changed direction and headed back, 640 miles, to Ireland, losing a propeller along the way.

Kaye (in dark jacket with arm around woman) joins White Roe co-workers at the crash site.

As noted in the White Roe-Stir newsletter of July 22, 1933: "Airplane Crash Party: The Grill Room of the Casino was the scene, on Monday evening, July 17, of a party to commemorate the first anniversrary of the airplane crash from which Moishe Weiner and Joey Frumkes so miraculously escaped with their lives.
"It was an evening of stories. First Moishe and Joey recounted their recollection of what had happened. These were supplemented by accounts from Danny Kaye and Johnny Weiner.
"Stories were followed by refreshments and dancing, and a good time was had by all."