Friday, September 25, 2015

Danny Kaye’s Symphonious Sidekick

Orchestra leader Paul Weston (at far left, on Danny Kaye's right) could be a goofy foil to Danny and was a fine comedian in his own right.
I’m anxious to see next month’s DVD release of a new batch of Danny Kaye Show episodes, containing several I’ve never seen before and most of which have never been rebroadcast since their airing 50 years ago.

Yet from our vantage point, watching the series today is a vastly different experience, apart from the styles in music, comedy, pacing and fashion. Many of Kaye’s once-big-name special guests are now all but forgotten, including one minor celebrity who was there every single week for four years: his orchestra conductor, Paul Weston.

Those unfamiliar with Weston may look back on his playful exchanges with Danny or his occasional appearances in songs or sketches, and assume he was some sort of “Ed McMahon” character, over whose jolly, diminutive head many of Kaye’s jokes would sail. In fact, in addition to being an accomplished conductor, arranger, composer and pianist, Paul was also an veteran comedian. For decades, he and his wife, singer Jo Stafford, created a series of comedy albums, in which they played an unconventional lounge act, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards.

But what most of the Danny Kaye Show crew I interviewed for my book Danny Kaye: King of Jesters remembered was just how beloved Weston was.

As production assistant Maggie Warren Scott recalled in her unpublished memoirs “When It Was Fun”:

We all loved Paul Weston, the orchestra conductor. What a great, great guy, and what a sense of humor. Danny loved to sing and I think he thought he knew more than he did about music.

One evening during musical rehearsal, Paul was conducting and Danny gave him one of his “looks” and said, “The tempo’s slowing up.”

Paul, without losing a beat, looked over his shoulder and said, “Not over here, it ain’t!” Paul just kept going.

Another tempo problem one day, Danny gave Paul the glare and Paul was sitting on his stool watching Danny. The song had already been prerecorded.

There was one time that Danny got back at Paul, big time. The audience was in and the orchestra guys were in their seats. Paul hadn’t come in yet. Danny went over to the orchestra and whispered something to them.

We always opened Danny’s show with him making an entrance and then he would go into his opening number. Paul entered, went to his podium, got the cue from the booth, raised his baton, and started. The musicians just sat there. Paul tried again and nothing. Finally, off stage, Danny was in hysterics and Paul knew he had been had, BIG TIME!

We all had out own “areas,” as we called them. When you got into someone else’s area, it was, “Stay in your own area!” Paul would leave the bandstand and run over with his comments about a sketch, a prop, or anything he felt was wrong, and we would say, “Stay in your own area!”

Someone got a piece of carpet and put it under Paul’s stool and music stand, so that every time he’d start to move, it was, “Get back on your carpet and stay in your own area!”

Paul had now named the City Slicker (a bar near CBS studios), the “Chicken Room.” After every show we would invade the “Chicken Room.” Every Saturday night, the phone would ring and it would be Jo Stafford, one of the all-time great singers and Paul’s wife. She would ask, “Has Paul left yet?”

The anwer, “Oh, yeah, he just left.” You want to bet?

1 comment:

  1. Paul always seemed like a very nice guy on the show. It looked like Danny was sometimes a little acerbic to him, and made cutting remarks, but Paul seemed to let his boss's comments roll off his back and just kept on smiling. I admired his composure. He was also a great musician and excellent accompanist when Danny sang a song.