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A detailed portrait of a paradoxical entertainer explores his rise from the streets of Brooklyn, his turbulent marriage, and the claims about his homosexuality
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Brooklyn-born in 1913 as David Daniel Kaminski, this kinetic comedian with the crooked smile got his start in summer vaudeville. Beginning at age 16, he learned the hard way and learned well. He could mesmerize a nightclub audience, reduce it to tears of laughter and then get everyone to dance the conga. His rags-to-riches career took him to Hollywood, Broadway, the London Palladium (where he performed a triple act with Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh and drank champagne with Princess Margaret). Through all this he was coached by his wife, Sylvia Fine, who wrote the songs and devised the comic business that launched his career. The couple stayed together for 47 years (Kaye died in 1987). However, Gottfried (All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse) isn't telling a fairy tale here. Despite worldwide acclaim, good works with UNICEF and a mega-movie hit with Hans Christian Andersen, there was a cold and dark side to Kaye. No one quoted in this detailed biography felt close to him; even Sylvia played more the role of mother and manager than wife or lover. Convincingly discredited as well are recent assertions that Kay and Olivier were once lovers. "Perhaps he could not be intimate with any individual," Gottfried writes, "but he certainly could be with an audience." Audiences everywhere loved him and felt loved by him. Perhaps that is the way to remember him: the redheaded singing elf who spread happiness. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Generation X types might ask, Why all the fuss about Danny Kaye? Perhaps because, in his prime, the energetic Kaye was one of the most beloved of all American entertainers--singer, dancer, actor, comedian, and master of his own unique brand of double-talk, "git-gat-giddle." Supplementing his research with numerous interviews, Gottfried paints a portrait of a man who exuded warmth in public yet was chilly if not frigid in private. There is much discussion of Kaye's long but troubled marriage to Sylvia Fine, who wrote the majority of her husband's early material and became so linked with his career that it was often noted that Danny had "a Fine head on his shoulders." Gottfried also addresses the issue of Kaye's rumored homosexuality, concluding that although he may have had homosexual affairs, it's unlikely he was Laurence Olivier's lover, as Donald Spoto claimed in a recent biography of Olivier. Are there enough Danny Kaye fans out there to get this perfectly serviceable Hollywood bio off the ground? Just barely, thanks to the AMC (American Movie Classics) cable channel, but don't expect high demand. Ilene Cooper
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