People would come up to him in restaurant, and quote the ‘Vessel with the Pestle’ routine and expect him to do it with them,’’ recalls Dena Kaye, the daughter of Danny Kaye, who was born 100 years ago last Friday in Brooklyn as David Daniel Kaminsky.
The movie that classic bit comes from — “The Court Jester,’’ perhaps Kaye’s most beloved — is one of 12 being shown today on Turner Classic Movies as part of a 24-hour marathon celebrating the singing comedian’s centennial.
Kaye had years of experience dancing, singing and clowning in the Catskill Mountains’ Borscht Belt and on Broadway when he was signed by producer Samuel Goldwyn to star in a series of lavish Technicolor musicals, beginning with his Kaye’s hilarious turn as a hypochondriac in “Up in Arms’’ (1944), a loose remake of the Eddie Cantor vehicle “Whoopee,’’ at 7 a.m.
Dena Kaye will join TCM weekend host Ben Mankiewicz to introduce four films, beginning at noon with “The Kid From Brooklyn’’ (1946), which casts Kaye as a shy milkman who accidentally becomes a boxing champion (a role previously filled by Harold Lloyd in an earlier version of the story, “The Milky Way’’).
“The Inspector General’’ (1949, 2 p.m.), made at Warner Bros., was Kaye’s first film away from Goldwyn, a lavish and very funny historical farce about a student mistaken for a government official in a small European village.
The rarest film on view today (at 4 p.m.) is the never-on-video “Me and the Colonel’’ (1958).
“I love this one because it’s a total departure from his musical Danny Kaye roles,’’ says Dena. “He’s working in black and white, for once, and playing a Jewish refugee in World War II, which really meant something to him.’’
At 6 p.m., the final film that Dena will introduce, at 6 p.m. is the more typical “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’’ (1947), a Technicolor fantasy with her dad playing a man who daydreams outrageous adventures, based on a story by James Thurber. Boris Karloff co-stars.
Dena Kaye is especially fond of the film that follows at 8, the musical bio-pic “Hans Christian Andersen’’ (1952) with Farley Granger.
“It’s a wonderful movie and it’s perfect for kids, and a departure for my father because he was playing a real person,’’ she says. “But I hated it when I was a kid because all I saw was my daddy in jail!”
“The Court Jester’’ (1956) which follows at 10, features some of the best of the clever, tongue-twisting songs that her mother, Sylvia Fine, wrote especially for her father’s movies.
It was one of several films, including the hugely popular “White Christmas,’’ which is not being shown today, that Kaye made at Paramount Pictures, his home studio for most of the 1950s.
“All of the people at Paramount had bicycles, and he had one with his name on the handlebars,’’ she recalled. “He would get on his bicycle to get his makeup done.’’
Kaye learned to fence for “The Court Jester,’’ in which he’s cast as an actor who gets into hot water when he’s mistaken for a medieval rebel.
“He got so good at it that they had to put his teacher in his fencing scene with Basil Rathbone. Nothing my father did was window dressing — he had his heart in whatever he did.”
“The Court Jester,’’ she says, “was such a wonderful vehicle for him to display his talents. It’s a very physical role, and he’s even a romantic lead, if you will, for Glynis Johns!”
TCM’s centennial celebration includes a 1963 episode from Kaye’s popular CBS variety series (6 a.m.) and a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett (10:30 a.m.).
“Many generations don’t know about Danny Kaye,’’ says Dena of her father, who passed away in 1987.
“He was an interesting guy who had a well-rounded life outside of his work. He was appointed UNICEF’s first ambassador for children in 1954, and he did that for decades.’’
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