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As production assistant Maggie Warren Scott recalled in her unpublished memoirs “When It Was Fun”: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

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What to Expect on the New Danny Kaye Show DVD

Christmas is coming early again this year, with the October 15, 2015, release of another batch of six great Danny Kaye Show episodes.

This third collection, called “Danny Kaye – Legends,” features Kaye swinging with A List guests, like Lucille Ball, Louis Armstrong, and George Burns.

The two previous releases included one disc with black-and-white episodes from the series’ sketch-centric first two seasons, and a second disc with color episodes from the music-heavy third and fourth seasons. As a bigger fan of the early shows, I’m not crazy about the idea of this time offering just two Season Two shows and four from the latter years, but completely understand the decision, since the bigger musical stars and the full color do make those shows seem much more contemporary.

Here’s what to expect:

The Lucille Ball Show. Including this disc was a no-brainer. Danny and Lucy work great together, from the balloon dance opening to the quick-change sketch finale. This episode has been viewable in pieces on YouTube for several years, but it will be great to see it cleaned up and reassembled. (Episode 42, originally aired 11-4-64)

The Tony Bennett Show. The crooner may be the reason for including this episode, but Danny reuniting with Imogene Coca, his Camp Tamiment co-star, from the 1930s, in spoofs of Swan Lake and the Mikado, will be my main reason for watching. (Episode 47, 12-9-64)

The Shirley Jones Show. This episode may have been “love-themed,” but taping it was anything but, as recalled director Steve Binder (who would be fired after the next episode). On the plus (and perhaps more accurate) side, the Righteous Brothers perform “Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” (Episode 68, 9-29-65)

The Liberace Show. I’m really looking forward to this one, Liberace notwithstanding. It features Danny in one of his James Blonde spoofs, in a Giovanni sketch, and teaming with two lovely frequent guest stars (Victoria Meyerink and Vikki Carr) in the song Billy Barnes wrote for them, “Vickie.” (Episode 106, 1-11-67)

The Satchmo Show. Louis Armstrong actually taped two episodes of The Danny Kaye Show a month apart in late 1966. Whichever one the DVD’s producers choose, whether the one with the Salute to St. Louis medley and Danny’s Paul Revere number or the one with “The Five Pennies Saints” and Kaye’s Spanish fairy tale “Jose and the Beanstalk,” they can’t go wrong. (Episode 104, 11-16-66, or Episode 107, 1-4-67)

The George Burns Show. Burns’ wife and longtime comedy partner Gracie Allen died just a couple of years before this episode was taped, so it will be great to see the master back performing. He works flawlessly with Kaye, in a medley of old standards and in a Jerome sketch. (Episode 113, 3-1-67)

My thanks to DVD producer MVD Visual for continuing to make these shows available and for picking out another group of winners. Keep releasing them, and we’ll keep buying them.