Danny Kaye was born as “David Daniel Kaminski” on January 18, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York. His father and mother, Jacob and Clar Kaminski, along with their two older sons, Mack and Larry, had relocated from the Ukraine just three years earlier.
Kaye grew up in Brooklyn, and he attended school there. When he was fourteen, he dropped out of school and started working. His first job was as a busboy in the Borscht Belt of the Catskill Mountain resorts. The experience was a valuable one. Because, the teenager was able to pick up some fundamentals about showbiz.
As a young man in 1933, Kaye finally started his professional career in vaudeville. He hooked up with the “Three Terpsichoreans”. It was at this time when he changed his name to “Danny Kaye.” The team took their act, “La Vie Paree”, and toured across the United States. Afterwards, the “Three Terpsichoreans” traveled to the Far East to perform. The Brooklyn-born entertainer crafted his talent of pantomiming and distorting his face. He also created a hilarious bit where he sang almost completely in babble. Every now and then Kaye would utter an understandable word, and that made the act even more comical.
The red-haired Danny Kaye finally took to the big screen in 1937 when he performed in the movie, “Dime a Dance.” In 1939, Kaye expanded his career when he moved to the Broadway stage and performed in the show titled, “Straw Hat Revue.” Other than those short side adventures, he continued to perform in vaudeville across the United States and out of the country as well.
The following year, in 1940, Kaye married lyricist Sylvia Fine. Fine was a perfect match for the comedian. Not only did she manage his growing career, but she also helped him write and develop new skits, gags, and other material for his acts. Most of the songs Kaye sang were actually written by his wife. Some of these songs included, “Stanislavsky,” “Pavlova”, and “Anatole of Paris” which were from the “Straw Hat Revue.”
The red-haired star returned to the Broadway stage in 1940 when he performed in ” Lady in the Dark.” By this time Kay’s talents as a comedian, singer, actor, and dancer, were becoming very well-known.
In 1943, his movie career really took off when Samuel Goldwyn put him in several films. His first movie, “Up in Arms” was released in 1944. (Besides acting, in 1945 and ’46, Kay had his own self-titled radio show.) That was followed with, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in 1947, “The Inspector General” in 1949, “White Christmas” in 1954, and “The Court Jester” in 1956, just to name a few.
Now, many people can act, and sing and dance, but what set Danny Kaye apart from the rest was his uncanny ability to pronounce tongue-twisting material. For example, when he performed in “Lady in the Dark”, Kaye sang a song titled, “Tchaikovsky.” The number was written by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin. Kaye rapidly sang- without missing a beat- the names of a slew of
Russian composers, in the song.
Another example is in the movie, “The Court Jester.” Danny Kaye made the tongue-twisting line, “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true” famous.
In 1963, “The Danny Kaye Show” began its run on television. It wowed audiences until it ended in 1967.
During his successful career, Kaye won two Golden Globe awards, a Tony, an Emmy, and two Oscars. He had the honor of being one of the “world’s best-known comedians.”
Kaye also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1982 for his work with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). The red-haired entertainer was a Goodwill Ambassador for the organization for many years.
Danny Kaye passed away on March 3, 1987. He was seventy-four years old. He left behind his wife Sylvia and a daughter named Dena.