He held a succession of jobs after leaving school, as
a soda jerk, insurance investigator, and office clerk. Most ended with his being fired. He
lost the insurance job when he made an error that cost the insurance
company $40,000. The dentist who hired him to look after his office at
lunch hour did the same when he found Kaye using his drill on the office
woodwork. He learned his trade in his teenage years in the Catskills as
a tummler in the Borscht Belt, and for four seasons at The White Roe
Kaye's first break came in 1933 when he
joined the "Three Terpischoreans", a vaudeville dance act. They opened
in Utica, New York, with him using the name Danny Kaye for the first
time. The act toured the United States, then performed in Asia with
the show La Vie Paree. The troupe left for a six-month tour of the Far
East on February 8, 1934. While they were in Osaka, Japan, a typhoon hit
the city. The hotel where Kaye and his colleagues stayed suffered heavy
damage; a piece of the hotel's cornice was hurled into Kaye's room by
the strong wind, nearly killing him. By performance time that evening,
the city was in the grip of the storm. There was no power, and the
audience was understandably restless and nervous. To calm them, Kaye
went on stage, holding a flashlight to illuminate his face, and sang
every song he could recall as loudly as he was able.
The experience of trying to entertain audiences who did not speak
English inspired him to the pantomime, gestures, songs, and facial
expressions that eventually made his reputation. Sometimes it was necessary just to get a meal. Kaye's
daughter, Dena, tells a story her father related about being in a
restaurant in China and trying to order chicken. Kaye flapped his arms
and clucked, giving the waiter an imitation of a chicken. The waiter
nodded in understanding, bringing Kaye two eggs. His interest in cooking
began on the tour.
When Kaye returned to the United States,
jobs were in short supply and he struggled for bookings. One job was
working in a burlesque revue with fan dancer Sally Rand. After the
dancer dropped a fan while trying to chase away a fly, Kaye was hired to
watch the fans so they were always held in front of her.
Danny Kaye made his film debut in a
1935 comedy short Moon Over Manhattan. In 1937 he signed with New
York–based Educational Pictures for a series of two-reel comedies.
Kaye usually played a manic, dark-haired, fast-talking Russian in
these low-budget shorts, opposite young hopefuls June Allyson or
Imogene Coca. The Kaye series ended abruptly when the studio shut
down in 1938. He was working in the Catskills in 1937, using the
name Danny Kolbin. Kaye's next venture was a short-lived Broadway
show, with Sylvia Fine as the pianist, lyricist and composer. The Straw Hat Revue
opened on September 29, 1939, and closed after ten weeks, but
critics took notice of Kaye's work. The reviews brought an offer for
both Kaye and his bride, Sylvia, to work at La Martinique,
a New York City nightclub. Kaye performed with Sylvia as his
accompanist. At La Martinique, playwright Moss Hart saw Danny perform, which led to Hart casting him in his hit
Broadway comedy Lady in the Dark.
Danny Kaye, well known stage and screen star, entertains
4,000 5th Marine Division, occupation troops at Sasebo,
Japan. The crude sign across the front of the stage says:
`Officers keep out! Enlisted men's country.'" Pfc. H. J.
Grimm, October 25, 1945. 127-N-138204. 25 October 1945.
Photo courtesy of the U. S. National Archives.
Here is an article that appeared in
the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper on Sunday, October 29, 1939 about the
life and times of Danny Kaye. Hope you enjoy it and learn a bit more
about him. The title of the article is: "Brooklyn's Danny Kaye/Now
in 'Straw Hat Revue', He Trouped 18 Years, and His Father Is Ladies'
Tailor of 350 Bradford St.":
One of the pleasanter surprises of
"The Straw Hat Revue" at the Ambassador Theater has been the
Broadway debut of an amiably antic comedian who answers to the name
Danny Kaye and who hails from Brooklyn. Twenty-five, tall, slim, and
blond, he has been trouping it in the hinterlands since the
age of 18.
Danny once thought seriously of
becoming a physician but fortunately was sidetracked into a less
"My dad went from saddlebags to
corsets," he says. "He was a horse dealer in Russia, and now is in
the ladies' tailoring business. We live in the East New York section
of Brooklyn (father is John Kominski, 350 Bradford St.), and I went
to Thomas Jefferson High."
During summer vacations Danny played
the Borscht circuit in the Catskills, teamed with two vaudevillians
who made him a dancer in forty minutes flat in a hotel lobby one
night, when their dancer came down with measles. He went on the
stage, never bothering to let his left foot know what his right foot
was doing, and fell flatter than Humpty Dumpty. He got a laugh, and
a comic was born.
The vaudevillians were hired by a
travelling unit show, and Danny was "thrown in." Inside of two weeks
he was doing 16 of the show's 21 turns. They took him to Japan,
China, the Philippines, Malaya, Siam, and back again. In the Orient
he was a matinee idol -- the grinning and willing audiences able to
follow his jokes and patter only through an interpreter.
Lately he has played the Casa Manana
with Nick Long Jr.; London's swank Dorchester House, done guest air
appearances for Bessy Venuta and Walter O'Keefe; movie shorts at
Astoria; and last summer teamed with the Strawhaters at Max
Liebman's Camp Tamiment in the Pennsylvania Hills.
A sample of his sly style in "The
Straw Hat Revue" is the "Anatole of Paris" sketch, written by
Brooklyn's Sylvia Fine. He is a male modiste complete with blue
hair, whose "twisted eugenics" are the result of a "family of inbred
schizophrenics," and who designs preposterous women's hats because,
he confides, he hates women. A moment later he is a frenzied wolf on
Wall St., too busy cornering the pumpernickel market to get married.
Again he pops up as a blibber-blabber radio singer, a dialect
waiter, and the Masked Gondolier (alias Danny Davenport of the
United States Secret Service) in "The Great Chancelier," a merry
travesty on a long line of phony Continental operettas. Another of
his high spots is the harmonizing trio, "Three Little Hicks", a
parody on the "Three Little Maids" number in the Shubert sister
show, "Streets of Paris."
So here is a modern Daniel thrown
suddenly into that modern lion's den, Broadway. Critics and [the]
pubic seem to be gobbling him up. The verdict seems to be Kaye is