My childhood was shaped by television events like the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz and classic movies on Friday nights when I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch the whole thing. I have told you before how much I loved the comedy of Red Skelton. Another comedian who shaped who I am through his wondrously manic movie performances was Danny Kaye.
One of those Friday movie classics that really struck home was the wonderful, kid-friendly movie Hans Christian Andersen.
The movie was about a storyteller from a previous century and embroidered his biographical story with his famous children’s stories in the form of songs. And Danny Kaye could trip through multi-syllabic, fast-paced musical numbers like no other rubber-faced clown I have ever seen. I wanted to be such a story-teller from a very early age. I even wanted to write the kind of stories that could be made into songs. Let me show you a few of the bits that amazed me and killed me with laughter.
This song from the Inspector General was doubly engaging because the corrupt businessmen were trying to poison the character Danny played with the wine he was supposed to drink during the drinking song.
The movies Danny Kaye was in were mostly about the musical comedy. But sometimes they were just about the music. He appeared in musicals like White Christmas with Bing Crosby and stage musicals like Lady in the Dark which won him awards on Broadway. He made movies about music like The Five Pennies and A Song is Born. He always said he couldn’t read music, but he demonstrated perfect pitch and scored a number one hit with The Woody Woodpecker Song recorded for the animated cartoons of Walter Lantz. How cool is that?
And you already know that The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie of all time. In 1964 Danny became the host for CBS’s annual showing of the film. He was able to do funny songs that made you snort your hot cocoa through your nose from laughing, and he could also do beautiful ballads like these.
I will always take the opportunity to watch a Danny Kaye movie one more time, whether it comes on YouTube or a Netflix oldie or a $5 DVD from the bin at the front of the Walmart Superstore. And I will always think of him in his role as Hans Christian Anderson.
Oh, and he was a very funny comedian too when he wasn’t singing, as in The Court Jester and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.