Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Undiscovered Danny Kaye's Around-the-World Burlesque Show

A.B. Marcus played up the girls whenever he advertised “La Vie Paree” (1933).


Danny Kaye’s 16 months touring with the A.B. Marcus Show from 1933-34 changed his life. After five summers mired as a toomler in the Borscht Belt, it made him part of a professional stage troupe, sent him across the country and around the world, and helped him discover new singing, dancing and comedic talents he didn’t even know he had.

It started in the fall of 1933. Danny, then 22, was in Detroit, having tagged along on a vaudeville tour with the lead dancers from his Catskills resort, Dave Harvey and Cathleene Young. They called themselves “The Three Terpsichoreans,” but when girly revue producer A.B. Marcus hired them (reluctantly including Danny as the third-wheel in the ballroom dance team), he’d bill them as merely “Harvey, Young & Kaye.”

They were among about a dozen groups and soloists who performed in the 20-some acts. Harvey, Young & Kaye usually did straight dance acts that developed into some comical overtones. Danny was good at ingratiating himself with the other performers and quickly found work in supporting roles in other dance routines and skits. By the time the show was headed overseas, he had worked himself into more than half the acts.

Harvey, Young & Kaye joined the troupe in the Midwest, played through Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor, Michigan, in early October 1933. Seventy entertainers, musicians and artisans piled into two Pullman cars, with their props and belongings carried in three 70-foot baggage cars. The plan was to head up into Canada, then hopscotch back down to the East Coast, through the Southeast, and then head westward, performing one-night stands along their way to San Francisco.

Mr. Alvord, the advance manager, furiously worked weeks ahead to book midnight shows at theaters in any town their train would stop. Stops included Winnipeg, Mason, Iowa; East Liverpool, Ohio; Bluefield, West Virginia; Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Charlotte, Spartanburg, Charleston, Birmingham, Atlanta, Mobile, Alabama (where the New Orleans police chief sent a representative to check out the show to see if it would be acceptable for his fair city. It wasn’t; he withdrew the permit); Dallas, Wichita, Amarillo, and a farewell performance February 7, 1934, in San Francisco, before they set sail on the steamship MS Asama Maru the next day for the Far East.

Harvey, Young & Kaye were featured on the lead page of the program for one of the shows performed in Asia.


In the U.S., they called the revue “La Vie Paree,” which Marcus said was conceived “to portray a glimpse at the night life of Paris, including such resorts as the Follies Bergere, Moulin Rouge, and Casino de Paris.” It did get a little racy, so no one under 16 was admitted. Alvord would tell theater owners that they could have their choice of either the G-rated show or the naughty, midnight version. Invariably, they wanted the latter.

Joining Harvey, Young & Kaye on the playbill:

• featured dancer/dance producer Leon Miller, a “diminutive chap with saucer-like eyes and feet that just won’t behave”

• Ben McAtee, headline comedian with horn-rimmed glasses whose routines included “a droll travesty on mind reading”

• charming comedienne Margo Busch, whom one reviewer described as “statuesque… as blondely lovely as Jean Harlow and as graceful a kicker as Charlotte Greenwood”

• comedienne Georgene Millar, “Marcus’ version of Zazu Pitts”

• Elmer Coudy, former lead comic who’d been with Marcus since the early 1920s and had made his name back then by singing blackface

• Eula Coudy, Elmer’s wife and leader of the 11-piece California Night Hawks band; she claimed to be “the only woman orchestra director in the world with a major musical show”

• Dorothy “Dottie” Coudy, their daughter and a featured singer/dancer

• blonde prima donna Lillian McCoy

• accordionist Les Sechrist

• singer Lee Mason, “a lad with curly hair and an appealing tenor voice”

• Six Bounding Ali Babas, “swarthy” acrobats/“gymnasts from Araby”

• The Brady Sisters, a “neat dancing specialty”

• Ha Cha San, an exotic dancer famous as the “Silver Goddess” for appearing in nothing more than a coat of heavy Vaseline mixed with silver paint (and presumably a tiny pair of silver-painted panties); when the tour returned to the U.S., Marcus claimed they’d discovered the Chinese native in the Orient and convinced her to come to America; in fact, she was American and Marcus had seen her act at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and convinced her to join his tour once the Fair shut down in the fall.

• La Fanette, Ha Cha San’s sister who also danced unclothed, with fans. She claimed to have originated the fan dance at Le Cafe du Rat-Mort in Paris, and that Sally Rand copied her.

• dancers Karels’ Adagio Four, “three husky chaps who toss a doll-like miss around”

• The Marcus Peaches, nearly three dozen showgirls, who provided pretty scenery, which helped audiences to overlook their lack of song and dance training. Danny’s first hard-core romance, Holly Fine, was a Peach, whom Marcus had discovered sipping a soda at a drugstore. He’d teach her to dance. Marcus even admitted his Peaches “have been chosen solely for their beauty and they display that beauty in gorgeous stage sets just as completely as the law will permit.”


Kaye (far right), with girlfriend Holly Fine and unknown.

In the many reviews I was able to track down for the shows, I could only find one that mentioned Danny, sort of—it mostly referred to Cathleene Young, “a gorgeous blond with the grace of a gazelle, accompanied by two partners, compose the dancing trio of Harvey, Young and Kaye.”

The world tour, which Marcus anticipated could last up to three years, was to begin February 26 at a massive new theater in Tokyo, the Nippon Eiga Gekljo. The showplace cost 21 million yen ($6.5 million in 1934 dollars) and seated almost 1,000 more people than Radio City Music Hall, making it among the largest theaters in the world. Marcus hoped his troupe would play two shows a day there for three months, assuming they could keep extending their work permits.

After seven weeks, “La Vie Paree” (and two complementary revues, “Broadway Merry-go-Round” and “Fantasies of 1934”) had entertained a quarter of a million Japanese theatergoers and took in 400,000 yen.

“Then something happened,” said Mr. Alvord. “Further extension was refused. The reason was a technicality of the law, according to the officials. Although the statute had never before been invoked, it plainly stated in the book that only one extension of a work permit might be granted. We had enjoyed two. Engagements were cancelled in Osaka and Nagoya and we sailed for Shanghai.”



Kaye (front row, third from left) & crew enjoy the nightlife in the Orient. Partners Cathleene Young & Dave Harvey are standing, middle of second row. I assume most of the Asians in the back row work at the restaurant where the photo was taken. Other educated guesses would be the girl to the right of Danny is either his girlfriend Holly Fine or comedienne Margo Busch. The muscular gents are likely Bounding Ali Babas. The darker girl in front of Young might be Ha Cha San?

Fortunately, after playing in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Canton, Manila and Singapore, Japanese authorities let the troupe return to Japan and finish up their tour in Osaka. Since enough time had passed, they were able to grant a new permit by terming the Osaka booking “a new deal.”

Out of welcoming ports, Marcus called the troupe back to the U.S. to regroup, after just short of seven months away. The group sailed on the MS Heian Maru from Kobe, Japan, on October 1, 1934, arriving in Seattle 15 days later. Danny stayed on with Marcus performing shows in the States until January 1935, when he had had enough—gaining plenty of experience, despite most of the attention going to his more unusual co-stars.

3 comments:

  1. Fascinating history of a little-known period in Danny's life as well as a description of how troupes of entertainers traveled and performed in unlikely places in the 1930's. The photos are very interesting, too. Wish we could have seen these shows. They were probably great entertainment and full of talent..Thanks for posting this..

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  2. Thank you, DKFF!
    You'd asked earlier for a photo of Holly Fine. There she is!

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  3. I have just downloaded iStripper, so I can watch the sexiest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

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