Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Top 12 Roles Danny Kaye Turned Down

Danny Kaye's hit recordings of Gilbert & Sullivan songs earned him an offer to appear with the world-renowned  D'Oyly Carte company

Walter Mitty, Hans Christian Andersen, the Court Jester—Danny Kaye played several iconic roles over the years. But there were several more huge parts that could have been his, had he wanted them.

Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof  (Kaye’s wife/de facto manager Sylvia Fine allegedly said Danny was not interested in playing a character so old that he had marriage-age daughters. That, of course, didn’t stop him from six years later, playing 600-year-old Noah in Two by Two.)

Harold Hill, The Music Man  (Meredith Willson wanted fast-talking Kaye to originate this role on Broadway, but Sylvia thought the part of a huckster wasn’t right for him. But after the show became a hit, Danny campaigned to star in the movie version. This time it was Willson who refused, insisting on no one but Robert Preston.)

Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady  (Kaye declined the opportunity to fill in on Broadway while Rex Harrison took a three-month break in the early 1960s.)

Fred/Petruchio, Kiss Me Kate  (According to Howard Keel, Danny was MGM’s first choice to star in the 1953 movie version of the Cole Porter musical.)

Various Roles, Gilbert & Sullivan Operettas  (After Kaye’s acclaimed recordings of eight Gilbert & Sullivan songs, the prestigious D’Oyly Carte company invited him to tour with them in the 1950s. He declined.)

Francois, Can-Can  (Five years after On the Riviera, 20th Century Fox asked Kaye to make this similarly themed musical, but Danny let the part fall to Frank Sinatra, under On the Riviera director Walter Lang.)

The Dauphin, Huckleberry Finn  (Kaye actually signed on to play Gene Kelly’s sidekick in this big-budget musical. He even began rehearsals in mid-1951, but pulled out, along with Kelly, and the entire project was scrapped. Gene claimed Danny was dissatisfied with playing a supporting role.)

Harry, Harry and Tonto  (Writer Paul Mazursky wanted his former Danny Kaye Show boss to star in his 1974 comedy-drama, until Kaye insisted on “joking up” his script. Mazursky instead hired Art Carney, who would win an Oscar for the role.)

Frosch the Jailer, Die Fledermaus  (In 1950, the New York Metropolitan Opera asked Kaye to play a comic non-singing role in the Johann Strauss operetta, but his busy schedule prevented it.)

Remy Marko, Stop, You’re Killing Me  (Danny was supposed to follow up The Inspector General with a musical version of the Damon Runyon play A Slight Case of Murder for Warner Bros. Unfortunately, the first film was so difficult for all involved that Kaye and the studio mutually ripped up his contract. The part went to Broderick Crawford instead.)

Bert, Mary Poppins  (Walt Disney supposedly briefly considered casting Kaye as the Cockney chimneysweep immortalized by Dick Van Dyke, although there’s no record he was formally offered the part.)

Jerry, Some Like It Hot  (Billy Wilder first envisioned Kaye in the Jack Lemmon role, playing alongside Bob Hope.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Danny Kaye Almost Wasn't the Man from the Diners Club

Frank Tashlin (lower right) directs Danny Kaye and Martha Hyer in The Man from the Diners Club. He very nearly could have been instructing Jack Lemmon and Elizabeth Montgomery.

In almost every movie role he played, Danny Kaye became the character, in large measure because most of his movies were written (or, in the case of The Kid from Brooklyn and White Christmas, rewritten) especially for him.

The only role he seems a little mismatched for is his final starring comic turn, as the slapstick-prone credit card salesman Ernie Klenk in The Man from the Diners Club. The role seems much better suited for Jerry Lewis.

And it’s no coincidence. The movie was directed by Frank Tashlin, who helmed many of Lewis’ best comedies. But when Tashlin was signed by Columbia to make Diners Club, Lewis was under contract to Paramount.

So the studio made up a wish list of the actors they’d like to play each role. Danny Kaye? He was choice #16 as Ernie. The top picks were Jack Lemmon, Tony Randall, Andy Griffith, and Sid Caesar. Others ahead of Kaye were Tab Hunter, David Wayne, Donald O’Connor, Tom Ewell, Eddie Bracken, Tom Poston, Louis Nye, and Tony Perkins.

Martha Hyer was the eighth choice to play Ernie’s girlfriend, Lucy, behind Jean Seberg, Nancy Kovack, Jeanne Crain, Elizabeth Montgomery, Joanne Dru, and Rhonda Fleming.

Telly Savalas wasn’t even on the list to play the heavy, Foots Pulardo. Envisioned were Jackie Gleason, Keenan Wynn, Eli Wallach, or Carl Reiner.

To play his moll, Sugar Pye, they most wanted Mamie Van Doren, Janet Leigh, Tina Louise, or Edie Adams. They got Cara Williams, who was dead last—#22—on the list.

The top pick as Pulardo’s henchman was Maxie Rosenbloom. The part went to option #9, George Kennedy.

It’s interesting to imagine how different the film would have been had they cast many, or any, of these actors instead. No matter, I still don’t think it would have been much of a movie.