Danny Kaye was UNICEF's first Goodwill Ambassador, before Audrey Hepburn, and his films, from White Christmas, starring with Bing Crosby, to The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, with Virginia Mayo and Boris Karloff, have become timeless classics. When thinking of Hans Christian Andersen, for many people, his face and voice come to mind. And if you ever wondered if the pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle, you should definitely watch the Court Jester duel with the real Ravenhurst, Basil Rathbone. The sandwich "that made Broadway Danny Rose famous - The Woody Allen with lotsa Pastrami," according to Carnegie Deli's menu, is now joined by another famous Brooklyn boy, The Danny Kaye.
Anne-Katrin Titze: What would you tell young people who haven't heard of Danny Kaye to describe your father?
Dena Kaye: I would tell them that my father was very unique. He was unique in his profession because he could sing, he could dance, he was a comedian, he was a dramatic actor. He was unique because he did so many different venues - he was on stage, he was in movies and on the radio. He was unique because in 1954 he was appointed UNICEF's first ambassador to the World's Children. He was the first celebrity to really take on a cause. He paved the way for Audrey Hepburn and Harry Belafonte. He had a whole life outside his profession. He had a baseball team [as part-owner of the Seattle Mariners] he conducted orchestras, he cooked.
AKT: Which explains the sandwich?
DK: He loved authenticity and he loved corned beef on rye. And I love turkey with coleslaw and Russian dressing so that's the father/daughter sandwich.
AKT: What events to celebrate your father's legacy are we to look forward to this year?
DK: CBS Sunday Morning will be doing a segment on Fathers' Day. We're just planning the events for the fall. There will be something with UNICEF Trick or Treat, the Danny Kaye Humanitarian Award will be in January. In the fall a lot of DVDs of his movies will come out, iTunes will come out.
AKT: Some of the movies that haven't been around for a while, like Wonder Man, one of my favourites? [Danny Kaye plays twins, one of them a ghost who takes over the body of the other. There should be a special screening of Wonder Man in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, aka 'Potato Salad' in the movie].
DK: I can't say, yet. But a lot of them will be re-released on DVD and are coming out on iTunes, which is wonderful. The whole goal is to bring a new generation. There was a wonderful piece in the New York Times, that talked about how you could learn a little from my father because he was very anarchical but he was also respectful. Some young comedians could learn a little bit from that today. ["Kaye’s brand of humour seems tame today, but it had an anarchic quality that would sit well in the 21st century." A Brooklyn Jester Had an Enduring Comic Brew That Was True by Neil Genzlinger; Published: April 8, 2013]
I wouldn't call Danny Kaye's sense of humour tame. The anarchic quality stimulates you to think differently.
AKT: You are a journalist, you have travelled all over the world. Do you have people quote your father's famous lines to you in different languages?
DK: I never say who I am. If somebody happens to know who I am… "The vessel with the pestle", some people of a certain generation might. In other countries, I don't know. That's a very good point.
AKT: Especially the Court Jester used to be on TV a lot. I remember seeing it dubbed in German and French. It had a cult following not only in the US.
DK: My father was somebody who could sit with the royalty and he could sit with the milkman, who used to come to the house when you still had milk delivered. He was just an authentic person. Delicatessen sandwiches are not fancy. That's my father, he was not a snob.
Corned beef, mustard, turkey, Russian dressing, coleslaw and sliced pickles on rye! In honor of the Danny Kaye Centennial, Carnegie Deli, established in 1937, added this new, yet traditional sandwich on their menu. "It's down-to-earth as my father was," said Dena Kaye, "he was not a pastrami person." She is planning a number of events throughout the year to celebrate her father's legacy as entertainer and humanitarian.