Thursday, December 17, 2015

Danny & Stannie

Danny Kaye stepped up to receive Stan Laurel's special Academy Award, after the comedian fell ill.

Danny Kaye and Stan Laurel didn’t exactly run around in the same circles. Kaye hob-nobbed with the elite in all fields—the finest actors and musicians, nationally known doctors and politicians. Laurel’s closest friends were his fellow screenwriters and other behind-the-scenes show biz folks.

Yet Danny greatly admired Stan’s work and talent, and in the early 1960s was among the many who visited the elderly Laurel at his beachside Santa Monica apartment. There, Laurel would welcome all who called, whether famous admirers like Dick Van Dyke and Marcel Marceau or just plain regular folks who’d always dreamed of meeting their idol.

Stan finally gets his hands on the prize.
In 1961, Laurel was selected to receive an honorary Academy Award, but shortly before the ceremony, he developed a hemorrhage in his left eye. He had Danny Kaye accept the Oscar for him. Soon after, Dick Van Dyke personally delivered the statue to Stan.

(Ironically, one other special Oscar was presented that same year—to Gary Cooper, who was also too ill to attend and had his award picked up by Jimmy Stewart. Four weeks later, Cooper was dead of cancer.)

Laurel would live four more years. By the time Stan passed away, on February 23, 1965, Danny—through his weekly variety show—had become a fixture on CBS. Not long after, a photographer who had visited Stan at his apartment several times thought the Tiffany Network should pay a proper, posthumous tribute to Laurel and recruited Van Dyke and other celebrities to convince CBS.

CBS agreed. But instead of showcasing the work of Laurel and Hardy, CBS used only quick, seconds-long clips and instead turned A Salute to Stan Laurel into a variety show featuring dance numbers and a parade of CBS sit-com stars in unfunny skits (from Lucille Ball to Fred Gwynne dressed as Herman Munster). Kaye’s second banana, Harvey Korman, appeared in one sketch as a cop.

Danny was also asked to participate and wisely declined to appear in any sketches. Instead, he consented to briefly reminisce about accepting Laurel’s Oscar and introduce a clip of Stan receiving it. The short bit was reminiscent of the “Sit Down Spot” Kaye would do at the end of each week’s Danny Kaye Show. Though he appeared for less than 60 seconds, Kaye received equivalent billing of those who were cursed with larger parts. The show was widely panned by audiences.

For those interested in Laurel and Hardy and the full story of the awkward variety show tribute, check out the forthcoming book Laurel & Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies, which is being launched in a special collector’s edition pre-sale on KickStarter. In fact, those who buy a copy of the new book can also add on Danny Kaye: King of Jesters at a discounted price (see "Me and My Pal" package)! So there is a Santa Claus!

2 comments:

  1. So glad I discovered you. This site looks amazing!..I was initially searching the net for a Danny Kaye sketch I remembered watching back in the 1960s on TV here in London. I found it (4 August 1964..Deep South...long hot supper) and desperate to see it again. I was 14 then and still remember how much the whole family cried with laughter! Is it on a dvd? Best wishes.

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  2. Pamla,
    Thanks for writing! Unfortunately that episode is not yet available on DVD.
    Indeed, it is a GREAT episode, primarily for including that Long Hot Supper sketch, which was so well received, Danny repeated the character in sketches on several shows over the next season.
    As well, that episode is famous for marking the first time Jim "Gomer Pyle" Nabors sang on TV.
    And, interestingly, it was right after taping that episode, that Danny went over to his choreographer's house for a Late Hot Supper with his co-workers. He volunteered to cook the spaghetti, spilled the pot of boiling water on his leg, and was forced to spend the last few weeks of his series' first season in a cast.
    It sounds to me EXACTLY like the kind of episode that should be included on the next "Best of" DVD collection!

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