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Dena Kaye Remembers Her Father During Danny Kaye’s Centennial Celebration


They just don’t make them like Danny Kaye anymore. The beloved entertainer was so multi-talented that he was able to succeed at just about anything he tried, including dancing, performing, acting, medicine, charity, cooking, and so much more. He even owned a baseball team for a period of time. Kaye’s legend is truly remarkable and The Danny Kaye Centennial is about to wrap up its yearlong celebration of his contribution to the arts by highlighting some of his most celebrated films’ arrival on Blu-ray and DVD this holiday season. Parade sat down with Danny’s only daughter, Dena Kaye, to talk about her father’s films, life, and his ongoing legacy. 

What does it mean to you to be promoting and celebrating your father’s centennial?
It means several things to me: 1) It kind of brings me close to him again. 2) It’s allowed me to look at his films, and his whole career, as an outsider rather than just his daughter. So there’s a much different appreciation of who he was as a performer and entertainer and humanitarian and a chef and a baseball owner. Audrey Hepburn was a friend of mine. I had the privilege of meeting her through UNICEF and she once said to me, “We all come with certain baggage and we really have to respect and honor that baggage.” Baggage in the sense of what you’re born with or what your legacy is. And so this centennial and having his work come out is a great satisfaction. To have him stay alive and be remembered by people who knew him, and by younger generations, is my goal. He was a unique talent. He was a trailblazer in his humanitarian work, and he was passionate about everything he did in his life.

How nice has it been for you, through the years, to meet your father’s fans and hear how much they love his work?
I never get tired of people telling me how much they like his work because I’m proud of what he did. I was very close to my father and we were great friends. He was a part of my life, especially as an adult, and I admire him so the fact that people remember is an honor.

How has your father and his work influenced your work as a journalist?
I did a lot of travel writing for a while and design stories in different parts of the world. The foundation I run has a global view. I think I got a non-snobbish approach to the world from him as well.

How thrilling was it for you, as a child, to ask for Frank Sinatra to come to your birthday party and then have him actually show up?
That’s a hard question for me to answer. It’s like the question, “What’s it like being Danny Kaye’s daughter?” My answer is always, “I never knew anything else.” It was thrilling, though, to have Sinatra there. When I was in college and I finished a term paper, my great reward was to put on my new Sinatra album. To me, the mark of a great entertainer is that you are moved emotionally. Sinatra did that.

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Exclusive Interview: Dena Kaye

Though he was really born in 1911 (see below), Danny Kaye’s centennial is being celebrated this year. Fox has just released On the Riviera on Blu-ray, and Kaye’s daughter Dena phoned staff reviewer Jeffrey Kauffman to discuss the film and her father’s life.


Hello, Mr. Kauffman, this is Dena Kaye.

Hi, Dena, what an incredible pleasure to be able to talk to you today. First of all, you have to call me Jeff.

Okay, Jeff—where are you?

I’m in a suburb of Portland, Oregon called Lake Oswego.

Oh, really? My father and his partner used to own some radio stations in Portland!

Really? Which ones? My wife was a news anchor for several years on one of the biggest stations in this market.

Oh—let’s see. You know, I just can’t remember, you know how that goes.

Yes, I deal with a failing memory virtually daily. In fact, that brings up something I was trying to remember last night as I prepared for this interview. I looked for this last night but couldn’t find it, and dealing entirely from memory now—somewhere in papers I inherited I have a note your Dad wrote to my late Uncle which says something like ‘thank you for all your efforts’, which I think was probably dated 1971 when your Dad was doing Two by Two on Broadway. My Uncle was a big real estate impresario in Manhattan and I’m wondering if maybe he helped find your Dad a place to stay during the run of that show.

Oh, no, absolutely not, Daddy had a suite at a hotel. I was always “Eloise” with him when we were in New York.

Well, I guess those “efforts” will have to remain a mystery. Also, I was a friend of the late actress Susan Gordon, who played you in a manner of speaking, appearing as your father’s daughter in The Five Pennies. Did you know Susan?

No, I really didn’t. I may have met her at some point, but I don’t think so. But I have to say she was so lovely in that movie, and that scene of my Dad and Susan singing The Five Pennies is so touching to me, it’s one of my favorite scenes in any of my father’s films.

Well, Susan told me and my wife on several occasions what a sweet man your Dad was on the set, helping to put her at ease, both during takes and especially between them.

Well, that I can believe, quite easily.

I never trust Wikipedia for accurate information, but according to the article on your father, it’s intimated that your parents separated shortly after your birth, so I’m wondering what your childhood with your father was like.

Well, that’s absolutely not the truth—they were together my entire childhood, in fact my whole life. They were often working in different places of course, but they were always together.

Which is exactly why I never count on Wikipedia for accurate information. So did you have a lot of contact with your Dad—did you go on set with him, for example?

No, not really, though speaking of The Five Pennies, I did have a bit in that film in the hospital scene. But that’s really about it. I had a really boring, normal childhood. We always lived in the same house in Beverly Hills. But I’ll tell you some of my early memories. My Dad was an avid golfer and he used to take me to Palm Springs where he’d golf, and he used to let me drive the golf cart around the course, which of course delighted me. And he used to take me to an old place called Beverly Pony Land where I got to ride the horses. And believe it or not, he used to regularly help me with my homework. And he was part of my adult life as well. We were very close friends. As you probably know, I’ve made my living as a journalist and when I did a piece on a cooking school in Bologna, he said “Why don’t I go with you?”, for he was a wonderful cook. He also took me to Israel. He was always an incredible friend to my friends. Most of all, he was an incredible listener.

That’s wonderful.

And I’ll tell you some unusual things. You know, growing up you don’t really have a concept of how others treat your parents. But when I was nine I came straight from camp to meet my Dad in Toronto, where he was performing. And there was a police escort with traffic being stopped—now that’s unusual. And something else about that trip—he was a huge ping pong fan, and they were having a tournament there, and believe it or not, he had a suite in a hotel and he had a ping pong table brought into the living room so that he could play!

I have a kind of bifurcated career where I split my time between journalism and working as a professional musician, and for me, your mother’s (note: Sylvia Fine, who wrote much of the specialty music material Kaye performed during his career) contributions to your Dad were immeasurable. Did she ever feel her talents were underappreciated, that maybe she was just basking in the reflected glow from your Dad?

Well, I think in New York she felt very much appreciated. You know, New York was authentic. She wrote for Broadway, she wrote my father’s material, and she of course accompanied him at their very successful run at the Martinique, and she was valued for who she was. Los Angeles was a different story. People there had a tendency to simply refer to her as Danny Kaye’s wife, but, you know, it’s two completely different cultures.

To get back to the not very reliable Wikipedia, the article on your Dad also states that you “confessed” to Ben Mankiewicz that your Dad was actually born in 1911, not 1913, so tell us why we’re celebrating The Danny Kaye Centennial this year.

He actually was born in 1911, but when we started planning the Centennial, we decided to use the year that he chose. [Laughs]

Why do you think he changed his birthyear? Typically only female stars tended to do that.

Isn’t it strange—and especially only shaving off two years! It’s just a mystery to me. I have absolutely no idea why he did that, but you’d be surprised to see how many official documents have 1913 listed as his birthyear.

Do you have a favorite Danny Kaye film?

That’s kind of like asking, do you have a favorite city? [Laughs] Each film he did has a special place in my heart for completely different reasons. But I’ll tell you one I really love is Me and the Colonel, because that showed a dramatic side to my father’s talents.

Did you ever see The Grand Tour?

The Grand Tour? What’s that?

It’s a musical based on the same source material as Me and the Colonel. Jerry Herman musicalized it and it starred Joel Grey on Broadway. It was a huge flop, but it has an incredibly charming score. I highly recommend it.

You’re kidding. I never knew that, thanks so much for telling me about it. I’m going to have to check it out.

Tell us what this Centennial Celebration has meant to you personally.

Well, let me put it this way. There are a lot of people who have a little Danny Kaye in them, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has all of Danny Kaye in them. There was his talent and humanitarianism and work with UNICEF—he was the first celebrity to do anything like that. And all of his different hobbies, I mean he was a jet pilot and owner of a baseball team, the list just goes on and on. What’s important to me is that he’s being remembered and of course that we’re getting new releases of some of his films.

Including On the Riviera!

Yes! I’ll tell you what I love about that film—it shows Daddy to be a musical comedy star, and a wonderful dancer. You know when I was little, I asked my mother, “Why should I take ballet lessons? Daddy never took lessons, and look at him!” [Laughs] And the film is just classic Danny Kaye, including him playing two characters. You know he so often played the unsuspecting but ultimately triumphant romantic lead. And On the Riviera has one of my all time favorite songs my Dad did, “Ballin’ the Jack”.

I know! Isn’t that a fantastic arrangement? I actually called it “unplugged” in my review of the film. Did your mother do the arrangement?

You know, I’m not sure about that. But he did it again on television with Gene Kelly, which is just amazing.

And there are a number of other wonderful films starring your Dad which are also available on Blu-ray, including On the Double and Knock on Wood.

Yes, and don’t forget White Christmas and Hans Christian Andersen!

Absolutely—and here’s to more offerings in the future. I personally would love to see The Court Jester on Blu-ray. Dena, thanks so much for your time!

Thank you!

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NPR – A Tribute To Danny Kaye And Sylvia Fine Kaye On ‘Song Travels’


Dena Kaye is the only daughter of legendary entertainer Danny Kaye and composer-songwriter Sylvia Fine Kaye. Danny Kaye was a man of boundless talents as a singer, actor, comedian and much more. Known for his roles on Broadway and in films such as White Christmas and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, he achieved international fame on par with Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

Dena Kaye is a journalist and author, but she carries on the legacy of her father’s humanitarian work through UNICEF and the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation. On this episode of Song Travels, host and Dena Kaye look back at the remarkable life of her parents and listen to some of Danny Kaye’s most memorable performances.


Disney Hall’s Danny Kaye, Sylvia Fine exhibit sings their praises


“Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine: Two Kids From Brooklyn,” currently ensconced at Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Ira Gershwin Gallery through Feb. 23, is a treasure trove of lyric sheets, performance materials, scripts, correspondence, business papers, posters, videos and recordings chronicling the lives and careers of the legendary comic actor and his composer wife.

The Disney Hall space, a satellite gallery of the Library of Congress, is open to anyone attending a performance or on a free docent-led tour or a self-guided audio tour of the building.

The exhibit, which recently closed at the Library of Congress, is part of the centennial celebration of Kaye. Born in Brooklyn on Jan. 18, 1913, Kaye began his career as a teenager in the Catskill Mountains. In 1939 he joined the cast of the short-lived New York revue “Sunday Night Varieties,” for which Fine was composing, writing and playing the piano. The two married the following year.

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Kaye conquered Broadway in 1941 in “Lady in the Dark,” performing the patter song “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)” and took Hollywood by storm in such classic musical comedies as 1947’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and 1955’s “The Court Jester.” He starred in his own CBS musical-variety series in the 1960s, performed live onstage, conducted orchestras and worked tirelessly for charities.

Fine wrote 100 songs for Kaye, who died in 1987, during their career.

The Library of Congress received the couple’s personal collection shortly after Fine’s death in 1991. The Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Collection in the Library’s music division has some 300,000 items. The Disney Hall exhibit, said curator Daniel Walshaw, has just under 50.

“They met in the late 1930s and she recognized the talent he had,” Walshaw said of Kaye and Fine. “He was a bit scattered and he threw himself into all sorts of styles. She helped focus him. She wrote specialty songs that were specific to his vocal and physical talents. She helped him define the character of Danny Kaye and every aspect of his career.”

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One of his most popular snappy, tongue-twisting songs was Fine’s “Anatole of Paris,” which Kaye first performed in 1939 at the Pennsylvania summer resort Camp Tamiment and eight years later in the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

“So we have the original program from the production when it was first performed, a page of original handwritten lyrics of this song, a piece of sheet music and a photograph from the film. On the television screen in the exhibit, there is a clip of his song. You really see their collaboration and the evolution of the song.”

Items from Fine’s academic career are also on display.

“She was a scholar of the history of musical comedy,” said Walshaw.

“She taught courses at USC and Yale. Through her scholarship she created [the documentary series] ‘Musical Comedy Tonight’ that aired on PBS. In the second special she had Danny Kaye come on and perform ‘Tschaikowsky’ from ‘Lady in the Dark.’ We have a clip of that.”

And the final area of the exhibit shines the spotlight on Kaye’s humanitarian achievements.

“It’s just amazing what he achieved,” said Walshaw.

“He was the first celebrity ambassador for UNICEF. He did a lot of work for the USO and entertaining troops. He conducted orchestras to raise money for pension funds around the country. We have photographs and programs that show a nice swath of everything that he did.”

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September 3rd, 2013 (New York, NY) – The Danny Kaye Centennial continues its celebratory run beyond U.S. borders in France this September at the 39th Festival du Cinema Americain de Deauville, La Cinematheque Francaise in Paris and during the holiday season, the theater release of the motion picture musical, “White Christmas”.

France has opened its arms, cinemas and prestigious institutions to join in the yearlong tribute to legendary UNICEF humanitarian and entertainer Danny Kaye. The Centennial will conclude with UNICEF’s presentation of the Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award later this year.

Danny Kaye has received two of the highest honors in France. The Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor (1986) and Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (1975). In response to Kaye’s culinary talents, Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France diploma was signed by three of France’s greatest chefs, including Paul Bocuse, for whom Danny Kaye cooked a Chinese meal at his Los Angeles home.


The Festival du Cinema Americain de Deauville is starting a brand new series this year called DEAUVILLE LEGEND. It will honor emblematic stars no longer with us, and who were past honorees at Deauville. Danny Kaye received a lifetime achievement award, and honoring his 100th birthday, he will be the inaugural recipient of DEAUVILLE LEGEND. His daughter, Dena Kaye, will accept this recognition on September 4th. The festival is showing three of Kaye’s classic films: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “White Christmas,” and “On the Riviera” for which he won a Golden Globe (1951) for best actor.


The Cinematheque Francaise in Paris is one of the world’s most prestigious and respected film institutions and will pay homage to Danny Kaye on Sept 18th. Two films will be shown: “The Secret life of Walter Mitty” and “On the Riviera.” Dena Kaye, his daughter, will speak about her father. The Cinematheque houses one of the largest archives of films and movie documents, in a building designed by Frank Gehry.


The epic, evergreen holiday classic, “White Christmas” starring Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby, will be released at the Action Christine movie theater in Paris on December 18th.  This will kick off the 60th anniversary of the release of the film that will be celebrated in 2014.



For more information, photos and video on Danny Kaye’s history with UNICEF, please visit:

“Knock on Wood” and “On the Double” Released on Blu-Ray

On August 20th, Olive Films released “Knock on Wood” and “On the Double” on Blu-Ray for the first time ever!

Danny Kaye stars as a neurotic American ventriloquist performing in Europe. In a parody of the 1946 thriller Dead of Night, Kaye is unable to control the words coming out of his dummy, resulting in a near-nervous breakdown. His manager and best friend (David Burns) orders him to see a famous psychiatrist in Zurich. What follows is a zany adventure involving secret weapons, international spies and the beautiful Mai Zetterling (Only Two Can Play). This classic Danny Kaye comedy was written, produced and directed by the great team of Norman Panama and Melvin Frank (The Court Jester). Panama and Frank received an Academy Awardr nomination for their hilarious screenplay.

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Danny Kaye headlines this wacky WWII comedy he plays a timid American soldier, Private Ernie Williams who bears a striking resemblance to a famous British Colonel. The Military Intelligence decides to use the poor chap as a pawn and recruit the naive soldier to impersonate the legendary Colonel, who’s highly targeted by the Nazi assassins. Co-starring Dana Wynter (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as the Colonel’s suspicious wife, Diana Dors (Blonde Sinner) as the Colonel’s personal driver and mistress, Margaret Rutherford (Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple) as the Colonel’s crazy aunt, Jesse White (It’s Only Money) as Ernie best friend and Wilfrid Hyde White (My Fair Lady) as the Colonel overseeing the mission. This zany action-comedy with classic Danny Kaye routines was directed by Melville Shavelson (The Five Pennies).

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