Thursday, May 7, 2015

Dr. Who Was Danny's Double

Comic Jon Pertwee looked so much like Danny Kaye, he was hired to play him.

Although he became best known as BBC’s time-traveling Dr. Who in the early 1970s, Jon Pertwee started out as an English comedian who was so often mistaken as Danny Kaye, that in time he was hired to play Danny Kaye.

Pertwee didn’t just look like Danny. He was also equally limber-limbed and nimble-tongued. So, after Kaye’s triumphant appearances at the London Palladium in 1948, Pertwee worked an impersonation of Kaye into his vaudeville act. His impression was so well received, that it was featured in the British film Murder at the Windmill (1949, released in the U.S. as Mystery at the Burlesque), which was really just an excuse to show off a bunch of vaudeville acts.

The comparisons to Kaye, however, soon began to irk Pertwee. Worse, autograph-seekers were constantly walking up to him and asking for Kaye’s signature. During one music hall appearance in 1951, he told a reporter, “I am tired of being mistaken for Danny Kaye. I am waiting for the day when I hear of Danny Kaye being mistaken for me.”

Yet that resemblance did get Pertwee more work. In 1953, writer/directors Norman Panama and Melvin Frank had hoped to film their new Danny Kaye picture, Knock on Wood, entirely in London and Zurich, and cast Swedish beauty Mai Zetterling as the leading lady. Yet as soon as they laid out their shooting schedule, to begin June 1, news came that Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, televised nationally, was to take place June 2. Suddenly it seemed easier and less expensive to make the movie on a Paramount soundstage, with a Paramount crew.

Instead, a second-unit crew would spend the last two weeks of May filming Zetterling and a body-double for Kaye running around England and Zurich. And the obvious choice to hire as Danny’s lookalike? Pertwee. Unfortunately, Pertwee had a prior commitment, so a stand-in for the stand-in had to be hired for the last three days of filming. Those exteriors in Zurich at the airport, clinic and hotel? Pertwee. The shots in England, on the country road, river bank, clinic, railroad station, hotel, alley, and driving to and from the castle? Also Pertwee. But the exteriors about two-thirds into the movie in England at a crossroads, on the streets, and outside the pub and hotel? Some other guy, who’s noticeably taller and lankier than Pertwee (or Kaye, for that matter).

Zetterling, too, had to get on a plane to Hollywood, so after the first three days of second-unit work, a double for Zetterling was used in the remaining far shots.

As a sly nod to Kaye’s double, Panama and Frank in their next Kaye picture, The Court Jester, named one of the assassinated lords Sir Pertwee.

But that wasn’t Pertwee’s final Kaye connection. In 1975, he sang Danny’s fairy-tale tunes on the soundtrack to Hans Andersen, a stage version of Kaye’s Hans Christian Andersen musical (1952). (Pertwee’s 1959 movie The Ugly Duckling, however, had nothing to do with Andersen or Kaye).

Pertwee died in 1996, like Kaye at age 76, and was compared to Danny till the end.

British comedian Jon Pertwee gained famed as the third Dr. Who, after years of living as a Danny Kaye lookalike.

4 comments:

  1. David, thanks for posting this. This is fascinating trivia not available anywhere else...
    However, telling us all the scenes where doubles were used does kind-of take some of the movie magic away... now we know to look for the doubles rather than Danny... Spoiler alert !
    ..

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  2. Really enjoyed this post, particularly the bit about Pertwee himself requiring a stand-in! Quite appropriate for a Danny Kaye movie, where dual identities were often part of the plot. I do think that the younger Pertwee most resembles Danny, while the older Pertwee reminds me just a tad of Margaret Rutherford!

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  3. Good point about the doubles, Debra!

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