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Danny Kaye

KAYE, DANNY (David Daniel Kaminsky; 1913–1987), U.S. actor and entertainer. The son of a tailor, Kaye was born and brought up in Brooklyn, New York. He turned to entertaining after a brief career as an insurance agent and, starting in the Catskill Mountains, was a great success on the "Borscht Circuit." In 1939 he played ten weeks on Broadway in The Straw Hat Revue, a show partly devised by Sylvia Fine, whom he married and who continued to write material for him. His spectacular rise to stardom began in 1941, when Moss *Hart saw him at a New York night club and decided to write a part for him in the musical Lady in the Dark, in which Kaye scored an immediate success. His other Broadway performances were in Let's Face It (1941–43); Danny Kaye Revue (Tony Award, 1953 and 1963); and, later in his career, Two by Two (1970).

He became a favorite on both sides of the Atlantic, with appearances on stage and screen. His versatile gifts were fully displayed in the film version of James Thurber's short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947). His other films include The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), A Song Is Born (1948), The Inspector General (1949), On the Riviera (Golden Globe for Best Actor, 1951), Hans Christian Andersen (1952), White Christmas (1954), The Court Jester (1956), Merry Andrew (1958), Me and the Colonel (Golden Globe for Best Actor, 1958), The Five Pennies (1959), On the Double (1961), and The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969).

Kaye developed a highly individual style that relied on mime, song, irony, and a sunny personality. His specialty was reciting tongue-twisting songs and monologues. Those powers were perhaps seen at their best in the theater, where he could hold an audience with an hour-long act of song and patter.

In 1960, he began doing specials on television, which led to his own TV series, The Danny Kaye Show (1963 to 1967). He won an Emmy for his variety show in 1964. In 1955 he won an honorary Academy Award for his unique talents, and in 1982 he was honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

He retired from show business in 1967, serving as ambassador-at-large for the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) and conducting symphony orchestras in fund-raising concerts. He was a frequent visitor to Israel and wrote Around the World Story Book (1960).


M. Gottfried, Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye (1994); M. Freedland, The Secret Life of Danny Kaye (1985).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.