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Danny Kaye from Brownsville

March 3, 2018

Actor/comedian Danny Kaye (David Daniel Kaminsky), a marvelous song-and-dance-and-everything man, died on this date in 1987. Kaye was born in 1911 in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, NY, to Ukrainian immigrant parents who called him “Duvidelleh.” After getting his start as a Borscht Belt entertainer, he would go on to star in seventeen movies, including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), Hans Christian Andersen (1952; the Queen of Denmark would knight him in gratitude for his title role), and The Court Jester (1956), where he displayed his tongue-twisting abilities with this explanation of the plot: “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.” In the 1950s, Kaye heightened the baby-boom generation’s awareness of human suffering through televised broadcasts of his UNICEF missions to impoverished countries, which helped motivate thousands of kids to “trick-or-treat for UNICEF” on Halloween. Kaye was also a member, with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Gene Kelly, of the Committee for the First Amendment, which protested the Hollywood witchhunt during the McCarthy days. Beyond all that, he was an airplane pilot, a gourmet chef, and personally raised millions of dollars for musicians’ pension funds. Many of Kaye’s best-known songs and routines were written by his wife, Sylvia Fine. To see Kaye singing with Louis Armstrong, look below. To see him tongue-twisting, look below that.

Life is a great big canvas; throw all the paint you can at it.” —Danny Kaye