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March 3: Danny Kaye

Lawrence Bush
March 3, 2010

200px-Danny_Kaye_2Actor Danny Kaye (David Daniel Kaminsky), a marvelous song-and-dance-and-everything man, died on this date in 1987. Kaye starred in seventeen movies, including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), Hans Christian Andersen (1952), 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 television broadcasts of his UNICEF missions to impoverished countries. This helped impel thousands of kids to go “trick-or-treating” 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 an original owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team, and personally raised 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 him singing with Louis Armstrong, look below. To see him tongue-twisting, look below that.
“I wasn’t born a fool. It took work to get this way.” —Danny Kaye

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.