|Danny's one-man show was taped when he played the Greek Theatre in 1962.|
As wonderful as Danny Kaye’s performances could be on film, television and records, few would argue that his genius shone most brightly on stage. He had a powerful way, like few others, of connecting with his audience so that thousands of guests would leave the theater convinced that Danny had spent an hour playing especially for them. They were convinced he shared a part of himself with them.
I saw him perform live but once—at his final show, comically conducting at the Hollywood Bowl in 1987. But it was his celebrated one-man show, developed in the 1940s, perfected in the 1950s, and performed to sold-out audiences until the end of the 1960s, in which he truly excelled.
Unfortunately, there are no recordings of these shows, apart from a handful of snippets, mostly silent, shot for British newsreels.
With some creativity, a good editor could cobble together a reasonable facsimile of the content of a typical show. He always performed several numbers he made famous on film, such as wife Sylvia Fine’s specialty numbers, like “Anatole of Paris” and “Pavlova,” and songs from Hans Christian Andersen. A considerable number of his stage bits made it the three television specials he made in 1960, 1961 and 1962, in most cases performed exactly as he would on stage (unlike in the movies, where the numbers had to be reworked to fit into the plot). And, his stage act’s trademark “sit down spot” became the regular, episode-ending feature of his weekly TV series.
Yet, there was one performance of Danny’s one-man show that was in fact recorded, in its entirety. It was in July 1962. Kaye was appearing at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. At the time, producer Jess Oppenheimer was gathering ideas for Kaye’s third TV special (which would be taped three months later). Oppenheimer was convinced that the best way to present Danny in his special would be to carry over the charm, magic and spontaneity that came across when he was on stage. So, Oppenheimer had his production company, O&O Productions, tape one of Danny’s shows at the Greek, so he and his writers could study it. During his run at the Greek, Danny performed an assortment of old favorites, a few new numbers he was breaking in, and, probably for the first time ever, his brand-new “Dodgers Song.”
After the special aired, Oppenheimer retained the tape, hoping to be reimbursed for the cost of producing it. This would lead to a back-and-forth between Oppenheimer and Dena Productions lawyer Simon Bricker. The Kayes, it turned out, weren’t nearly so upset about the money as they were that a tape of Danny on stage even existed. They demanded that the tape be erased. “Obviously we would not like to have a tape of Danny’s performance at the Greek Theatre floating around,” Bricker explained.
Presumably, as part of their deal, Oppenheimer erased the tape—and in doing so may have obliterated the greatest hour Danny Kaye ever recorded.