Monday, April 21, 2014

Rare Footage Released of Danny Kaye on Stage... and Backstage

Sylvia and Danny Kaye are greeted by newsreel cameras and throngs of fans during his November 1948 trip to London to appear in the Royal Command Performance.

Last week, newsreel archive British Pathé uploaded its entire collection of 85,000 historic films, in high resolution, to its YouTube channel. The treasure trove of vintage footage includes everything from the Wright Brothers’ first flight to the Titanic and the Hindenburg—and at least 29 films featuring Danny Kaye.

Most of the material was filmed during Kaye’s November 1948 trip to London to appear in the Royal Command Performance. British Pathé footage of the show and the trip had been available on YouTube for several years, but only abbreviated snippets and without sound.

Now, we can watch and hear most of Kaye’s performance, marking a rare glimpse of Danny on stage—and backstage.

The best of the films—Danny Kaye 6 Royal Command Performance, Danny Kaye 7 Royal Command Performance, Danny Kaye 8 Royal Command Performance, and Danny Kaye 9 Royal Command Performance (all sound)—contain clips of almost the entire show, albeit in pieces. (Some day someone should edit together these clips to recreate the performance in sequence.) Kaye sings “Bali Boogie,” “Pavlova,” “Begin the Beguine,” “Minnie the Moocher,” “Ballin’ the Jack,” “Deenah,” Because I’m a Londoner,” and “Underneath the Arches.” An extra-special moment is halfway through “6,” when Danny introduces his piano accompanist Sammy Prager and then his wife, “Mrs. Danny Kaye.”

Royal Command Performance 1948, Danny Kaye 12 Royal Command Performance, and Danny Kaye 13 Royal Command Performance (all silent) contain raw footage.

Danny Kaye 10 Royal Command Rehearsal and Danny Kaye 11 Royal Command Rehearsal (both sound) are equally mesmerizing, showing Danny rehearsing for the appearance. It shows Danny’s loose yet professional attitude toward rehearsals (he did not enjoy them and wanted to get them over with as soon as possible, hoping the final performance would come off as more spontaneous—yet he still had to get in sync with the orchestra and the lighting crew. His energy is noticeably lower than it would be during the show that evening.

Danny Kaye 5 Dressing Room (silent). Eight fascinating minutes capturing Danny behind the scenes—dressing for the show, putting on his makeup, consulting with Sammy Prager, and ending with shots of the Royal Command Performance filmed from backstage.

Danny Kaye Comes Back (sound, final cut), Danny Kaye Comes Back (rough cut), Danny Kaye & Wife Arriving to UK (sound/silent mix, raw footage), and Danny Kaye 4 Arrives in London (silent). Danny and Sylvia are greeted at the airport as they arrive for the Royal Command Performance.

Danny Kaye and Danny Kaye’s Royal Show (both narration). Newsreels covering the Command Performance.

Danny Kaye 1 Waxworks (sound). Kaye appearing at the unveiling of his wax likeness at Madame Tassauds, following the Royal Command Performance. He sings “Ballin’ the Jack.”

Danny Kaye 2 Waxworks (sound). More footage from the event, including his singing “Lily of Laguna” and “Deenah.” Prager is shown throughout.

Danny Kaye 3 Waxworks and Danny Kaye 14 Waxworks (both silent). Raw footage of the event.

Danny Kaye at the Tower of London (first two-thirds silent, last third sound). Danny goes sightseeing, for photo opps.

Danny Kaye in Rome (silent). Kaye visits Rome during the 1948 trip.

Danny Kaye’s Farewell Luncheon (silent, with Kaye’s speech in sound). Nice speech with anecdote by Danny, during a luncheon in his honor at the end of his 1949 trip to London.

Danny Kaye OK’s Britain (narration). Final cut of newsreel culled from the farewell luncheon footage.

Golf - Palladium v Arsenal Fc (silent) and Sportlights from 3 Continents (narration). Danny goofs around on the golf course.

Danny Kaye in Canada (first half silent, second sound). Kaye visits Canada in 1949 for stage appearances.

Danny Kaye Arrives in Sydney (sound). Newsreel marking Kaye’s arrival in Australia for a stage tour in 1959.

Theatrical Garden Party (mix of silent and sound). A couple of quick shots of Danny at a celebrity party. Pathé claims this is from 1940, but Danny looks several years older.


  1. Thanks for posting this stuff, David! And making it very easy
    for everyone to link to. It's riveting watching Danny in these performances so long ago in London when he was at the top of his fame and so loved by the British. I wonder why British Pathe decided to post all of these wonderful videos now. Do you know? (Were they inspired by the online collection of the Library of Congress?)

  2. My pleasure, DKFF! For most of us, this is the first and quite possibly the only opportunity we'll have to watch Danny doing what he did best: his captivating one-man stage show.

    British-Pathe ceased production 40-some years ago, and since then its archives have been bought and sold several times. The company that purchased the footage in 2009 evidently sees greater value in disseminating it to the world for free, vs. repackaging it for sale.

    I'm sure it's no relation to what the Library of Congress is doing. Releasing the newsreel footage to YouTube has been in the works for years, and the Kaye material represents about 1/300th of a percent of the total footage uploaded.