Remembering Danny Kaye—and the Emperor’s New Clothes
Describing someone or something as “the emperor’s new clothes,” while a little bit dusty, is still occasionally used on the social circuit, mostly because there’s so much artifice and so many people on the make.
Naturally, it has been overtaken by other, less historical phrases—for instance, “phony,” thanks to Holden Caulfield; “he’s such a Ripley,” thanks to Patricia Highsmith, and, more recently, Matt Damon; “count with [or, alternatively, of] no account,” thanks to wherever that came from; and, the old chestnut, “that outfit is just plain ugly and you’re an idiot for wearing it.”
We were reminded about “the emperor’s new clothes” on Monday because the New York Pops were celebrating Jule Styne, Frank Loesser and the centennial of the performer Danny Kaye.
This is kind of inside baseball—what isn’t, frankly?—but growing up, we would watch Mr. Kaye in “Hans Christian Andersen,” a movie (now out on Blu-ray) for which Mr. Loesser wrote such tunes as “Inchworm,” “No Two People,” “Anywhere I Wander” and “Wonderful Copenhagen.”
He also wrote a variation on “The Emperor’s New Clothes” called “The King’s New Clothes,” in which the king wears what he believes is “all together the most remarkable suit of clothes a tailor ever made.” Everyone else agrees, and only a young boy will tell him the truth that, actually, it’s “all together the very least the King has ever worn.”
Do we really have to spell it out for you? The king was naked!
Situations like this happen all the time in New York, though usually with less public displays of nudity. But sometimes you just can’t tell if an artist is the second coming or just an old bag of bones recycling someone else’s one-trick-pony routine.
Take, for instance, a dinner on Monday to celebrate the relaunch of A Small World, a social-media website for the elite that may have been the Emperor’s New Clothes when it first popped up several years ago. (Facebook FB -0.72% ultimately drowned out its noise.)
At this dinner in Chelsea, there were lots of pretty girls in flowy dresses. The affair was meant to bring attention to the travel focus of the site: At each place setting was a postcard you were meant to fill out with memories of your greatest trip. And dessert involved a cake pop, alone without the stick, hand-painted blue to symbolize the globe, wrapped in a balloon you had to pop with a pin.
Was this the wave of the future in party planning? Or just a shoulder shrug?
Over at the New York Pops Gala, celebrating the symphony’s 30th anniversary, none of the performers, including Donna Murphy, Kelli O’Hara, Liz Callaway and Laura Benanti, tackled “The King’s New Clothes.”
Ms. Murphy, instead, sang “Thumbelina.” Ms. O’Hara did “Inchworm.” Ms. Callaway sang something from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” also a Loesser musical.
Afterward, they all retired to the Plaza, where a black-tie gala dinner was in session. A big presence here was Mr. Kaye’s daughter, Dena Kaye, who was wearing one of her mom’s vintage Don Loper dresses.
Ms. Kaye splits her time between Aspen and Paris, and is currently in the midst of writing a memoir about moving to France later in life. She was in town for the Pops event, and also for the christening—if that’s the right word—of the Danny Kaye Deli Club at the Carnegie Deli earlier that afternoon.
Mr. Kaye was—who knew?—a consummate chef, and his sandwich is a combination of his and his daughter’s favorite kinds of sandwiches. His: corned beef on rye with yellow mustard; hers: turkey, coleslaw and Russian dressing. “We all thought it would be a good idea,” said Ms. Kaye of the sandwich. “Whenever I am in New York, I’ll get that sandwich.”
Ms. Kaye said that the Pops concert was “magical. The whole goal of the centennial is to have people know his work.”
Did she miss hearing “The King’s New Clothes?”
“I love that song,” she said.