Studs talks with versatile actor, singer, performer Danny Kaye
BROADCAST: Mar. 8, 1963 | DURATION: 00:42:47
Studs talks with versatile actor, singer, performer Danny Kaye who opens up about his worldwide appeal to children and adults alike, relating to children on their terms, his father's influence, the skills and work that go into his crafts, and much more. Kaye reveals his lack of musical training yet details his comic conducting talents ala Victor Borge via his charity work. The conversation continues with talk of his variety show performances, his fondness for Señor Wences, the medium of television, and his knack for dialects. Original broadcast includes recordings of "The Inch Worm" from the film "Hans Christian Andersen," "Mommy, Gimme a Drinka Water," "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)" from "Lady in the Dark," "Molly Malone," "The Babbitt and the Bromide," and "Dinah".
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A gentle singer of songs, seems though the, the artist in this case has a way with everyone. Primarily with children, we will emphasize that and yet with adults too, I suppose the child in all of us, and the yearning that all of us have. How do you capture the, uh, story of this particular artist, Danny Kaye, who is so many things, a mime, a clown, a clown in the noblest sense of the word. A mime, a dancer, as you know, a singer of gentle ballads, remarkable scat singer, an ambassador, a serious actor, too. Danny Kaye, if we may perhaps just begin, I know you are in town, you will be seen at the Opera House from the eighteenth for six performances, want to ask about that somewhere along the line of the conversation and the program that you have that takes everyone. The song you just sang, you the balladeer, "Inchworm" the song of Frank Loesser, in the lyrics. This, this hits everybody doesn't it? What's the, what's the attraction of children to this song?
Danny Kaye I don't know, Studs, you know, there have been so many editorials really about children, about the relationship of children to children, of adults to children, of adults to adults about children. It, uh, I think in order to talk definitively about that, you know, we'd have to have considerably more time. I think basically all of us are children, I think the restrictions imposed upon us by society after we grow up tend to minimize the child in all of us. But psychologically, I think that all of us remain as a small child somewhere in our being and I think that's what causes the, the wonder never to cease, you know, about things happening in the world, about people themselves and about the wonder of yourself being a child having to function as an adult. It sometimes gets a little bit too much for people to bear and they, uh, depart from the realistic world and sometimes people turn it into a great virtue and are able to balance their lives very well indeed by realizing that part of them is child and part of them is adult.
Studs Terkel Well, this is something apparently that you, Danny Kaye, have been able to do, your, when I, when I speak of you as a clown I mean this, of course, in a very complimentary way, a clown in the true sense of the word, the clown is someone who is able to speak truths that other people can't speak.
Danny Kaye Well, I will tell you a story, Studs, uh, I, I, I don't think I've ever told this publicly, but it concerned my daughter she's now 16, and quite a young lady. When she was about five, uh, I think the essence of the story is that children speak the truth and then learn later on by demands from society and parents to behave well, and in a way it curtails their really childish truth. I was sitting having breakfast with her one day at a resort in California and a man I knew came by and sat down and he made a great fuss over her. But children have a remarkable way of spotting when something is really genuine or sincere or whether somebody is merely making a fuss over them in order to either ingratiate themselves or to make some sort of relationship. And this man made quite a fuss over Dena and he was talking to him for quite a long while and seemed to be putting himself out much more than ordinarily would be demanded, you see. And at one point he stopped and he said, "What's the matter, sweetheart?" And she looked him dead in the eye and said, "I don't like you." Now I was both embarrassed and proud at the same time that a child of that age would say exactly what she felt, embarrassed by the fact that in a conventional society, you know, it's a reflection on the parent of the child who says something that embarrasses them. But now, at 16, I don't think Dena would say that.
Studs Terkel But the very fact that she said it then, you know, the phrase "You can't kid kids," there's a Danish writer who wrote a story called "My Little Boy." And it's almost a paraphrase of the story you just told, of this little boy who was six, people tried to ingratiate themselves to win his favor, but he just knew who was it and who wasn't.
Danny Kaye I think it's even more evident when you deal with children who don't speak your language. The means of communication with children vary, of course, with people. But a child who doesn't speak your language, who has to go by instinct and by emotion and by feeling, really know when somebody means what they feel about them or whether they're just pretending. They, they somehow sense it.
Studs Terkel What's your secret? We may -- I know a great many people have seen your films, the UNICEF films, and your travels and seeing kids of various parts of the world, different cultures, different backgrounds. What is it in you, I'm not probing a secret if we can, that makes you become the child or win this child as you do.
Danny Kaye Studs, I suppose I could make up a whole big psychological reason for this, I really don't know, honestly. I think that one of the factors involved is my lack of inhibition about behavior with children. When it when when you deal with a child on his level or at least try to make him deal on your level, there mustn't be quite the wide discrepancy between the adult and the child; you must somehow bring it a little bit closer together. Now, there may be child psychologists who may disagree with me violently and I have no real basic experience in the treatment of children. I just speak from experience about having dealt with so many. I'll tell you another story that will best illustrate this. I have a friend of mine and they had just had a little baby and it was about 9 months old and this gentleman came to visit the baby and he was a well-thought of member of the community and he was well-to-do and quite successful in his field and there was an air of pomposity about him that you know denoted some measure of success. And he went in to visit the child and we were all in the other room and the door was ajar a little bit and I walked by and I casually listened. And this gentleman who had been so formal and so kind of, you know, very matter-of-fact was leaning over the crib doing [baby talk]. Making a complete idiot of himself, all kinds of sounds and noises and things, and the minute anybody walked in, he looked at this 9-month-old baby and said, "And young man, as soon as you're able to, we'll deliver a bicycle to this house and you will have a present from your Uncle Robert," you know. Now I think the step that I made beyond that is I can behave with children on those levels, you know, from the time they're infants until they grow up, without having an embarrassment about being uninhibited. I think that's probably the answer, I don't know.
This is a case of magic, here is Danny Kaye the man, paraphrase, well, no, Wordsworth, "The child is father to the man." Here's a case of Danny Kaye, the small boy. So I think in finding out about you, yourself, there was a piece you wrote some time ago, and reprinted in several magazines about the happiest man you knew: your father.
Danny Kaye Yeah, I wrote that some time ago but it's in the March issue of "Reader's Digest," and it's incredible, Studs, how many people have remarked about it, the fact that they were impressed by the article. Well, the article isn't really anything, I think probably what they mean is they were impressed by the man who had really a remarkable influence on my life. As I stated in the article, not because of success or accumulation of wealth, he had neither, but his attitude toward life, toward himself, and towards his friends was something that left a great mark on me and I think, without realizing it, you know, most of my life has been spent practicing or unconsciously being aware of his philosophy.
Studs Terkel In what way did he influence you? I know this is difficult to answer specifically, but there are ways about the man, you make a comment here, your father said, "A man can't do everything in this world, but he can do one job well. If I'm not a good designer," he said, "But I am a good tailor."
Danny Kaye Well, yeah, he was a tailor, and he worked in New York in one of the Seventh Avenue dress places. And he had, he had desires, I suppose, to uplift himself as most of us do, and he used to bring sketches home at night and make pads and things and little designs on pads, and he found that he wasn't terribly creative at that and he didn't beat himself to death about it, he found out that he was good at being a tailor, and he accepted that, and he never had to struggle with kind of frustrating ambitions and unrealizable goals that he had set for himself and I think therein lies the secret of the man and that he was able to live with himself for what he was and I think in a strange way that made him, as I said in the article, the happiest man I've ever known.
Studs Terkel Not like Willy Loman, in a way, this guy, your father, knew who he was, the skill, the element of skill, being good at what he was doing, the question of you and skill and discipline and craft.
Danny Kaye I once met a young man who used to work outside of a building in New York, he used to shine shoes. And he took an inordinate amount of pride in the fact that he could shine shoes better than anybody he ever knew and to him this was a remarkable achievement. Now it seems very, you know, menial in many aspects to people who are captains of industry, I suppose, but within the confines of his own limitations he was a happy fellow because he did his job well. I think that's basically the truth about almost everybody.
Studs Terkel Well, coming back to you then, on your incredible array of talents, doing the job well, so many ways, I know you're a baseball fan, but you had a training ground, I mean, we know that tremendous ball players are in the minor leagues and the bushes and there's a matter of discipline and craft, all this is part of your makeup. Aside from your fantastic native talent, beginnings; you worked just about everywhere in New York: the Borscht circuit, clubs, everything. All this in one way or another. I suppose it was a honing, a sharpening, a refining, and discovery.
Danny Kaye Well, I think to be successful in any profession; and every profession has a parallel. I don't think you can talk about show business and not draw parallels in medicine or law or engineering or whatever the profession might be. But anybody who achieves any real status or stature in his profession I think has had to work very hard at it. Now, some people work more easily than others. Some people have to work considerably harder to get the same amount done. And some people who may have a little bit more instinctive or native talent, you know, can hone those edges a little bit sharper without quite the same amount of work. However, there is no possible way that anybody can achieve the pinnacle of success in their profession without having to work very, very hard at it. When I was 20 I was playing in a show in China, of all places. And because of the nature of the show and because of the variety of the show we used to have to do very many things that we weren't really equipped for. But we got a basic understanding for it and we got a basic general education in our profession and then we later went on to specialize. The same parallel is drawn in medicine. Somebody goes to medical school if he has an instinctive talent for it or wants to be a doctor, wanting to be something is very important as well. They will have to receive a general education in medicine and then pick a particular specialty that they think they can best express themselves in or function in. This is true of my profession.
Studs Terkel Yes, but in your case there's no one specialty, that's the point, that's what I'm trying to find out, the variety, whether it's the singer of ballads or the scat singer, we'll come to that in a moment, or the mime, the dancer, and the serious actor, too. Which was it in the beginning? What was it, originally?
Danny Kaye I have no idea, I really don't. I've thought about it a lot of times, Studs, to find out what influenced me, in which direction and who had something to do with what, and I find that you can analyze something to death--
Studs Terkel That's
Danny Kaye You can analyze the spirit out of something because a great many of us don't know where our talents really come from. Oh, they're given to us by some superior being, I think, but we don't know how we go about developing it, we know, we work at it, but we don't know what leads us in what direction or what makes somebody run faster than somebody else, you know, we're both very much the same size, or we both have the same physical equipment. One will run faster than another. Now, I don't know how you explain
Studs Terkel I think that point you made, certainly a key one, today that we find out more and more, that a thing can be over-analyzed and that intuitiveness is a factor here. We find this in new plays and everything, the matter of intuitiveness. But if we need just an example, New York; people knew of you for a long time but it was "Lady in the Dark," was it not, "Lady in the Dark," with your incredible way of singing, if we may just hear an example of this, this was Tchaikovsky's, I remember, and a new way of handling polysyllables.
Studs Terkel How did this come about? This particular, this technique, this -- You said a moment ago as you were listening to the very beginning of this, this is, the beginning, the prologue was vague in your mind. This was 1940.
Danny Kaye Yeah. I must shatter all your illusions. When we opened in the show and when I did "Tchaikovsky," it used to be in show business a 'show stopper' and people couldn't get over the fact that I sang 56 Russian composers' names in 36 seconds or whatever it is and they thought it was something incredible. Well, really it isn't. When you go back and listen to Gilbert and Sullivan, they've been doing this kind of thing for 100 years or more and there were people in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas who were quite as deft with singing fast lyrics as I am or have been or many others like me. It isn't a special talent that only I have, there are many people who can sing fast lyrics.
Studs Terkel But this, the technique itself, though, is quite remarkable. And this was in "Lady in the Dark." You mentioned something about not remembering -- That's interesting, the very beginning, that -- When we first heard the beginning of
Danny Kaye Yeah, I was -- That was 23 years or 22 years ago and I was kind of dim and hazy, I remember the scene and I can see it all very well, but what led up to "Tchaikovsky" was rather hazy in my mind, and strangely enough I haven't listened to this in a very, very long time. Last Sunday, Ira Gershwin was telling me at a dinner given to Irving Berlin by the Screen Producers Guild, he was telling me the history of this thing, he had written this as a poem. And when I went into the "Lady in the Dark," they decided to set it to music and make a number of it, and there were many, many songs written, oh, the list of credits written by Ira Gershwin, absolutely incredible.
Danny Kaye I'm not really a singer, Studs. Oh, I sing songs, that's quite true, but I'm not a singular -- Singer in a popular sense of the word that I sing popular songs. I can, but I don't know if I ever would have been successful had I tried to make my living by just singing. I certainly wouldn't have been successful if I had tried to earn a niche in the profession by just dancing. I don't know whether I would have made any impression on anybody if I just tried to be in show business by telling funny stories. I think it's a combination and a conglomeration of abilities that kind of all are thrown into one big stew and the broth that comes out is something else again.
Studs Terkel And the matter of conducting. Now, this is -- I think it was a metropolis or someone spoke, said it was incredible, there you were for the New York Philharmonic or the Berkshire Festival, there's a baton in your hand. Now what happened? Did you have musical training?
Danny Kaye None.
Studs Terkel Would you mind explaining the like, with all the humor and everything else, they said that you were wildly clownish and comic, and the audience was rolling, and they all said, at the same time the musicians were saying, "This guy's a conductor." Now explain that aspect of it, if you will.
Danny Kaye Well, I've always been interested in music, good music; good music meaning, you know, classical music or semi-classical music, jazz, folk songs, I'm interested in anything musical. I don't like all of it but I'm interested in all of it. I was playing in Philadelphia doing our concerts and Gene Ormandy and I, who have been friends for a very long time, was doing a concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra and they had some benefit performance for something, I don't know, and he called and asked would I come and do something for this organization. And I tried to patiently explain to Gene that, you know, there are two phases of my life that I try to keep apart as much as I can. When I go about the country or the world doing public service work, I don't engage in any professional activity. However, when I engage in a professional activity I like to do that and leave the public service work for another time. I think that when I try to combine both I do myself and the organizations and the professional aspect of it, an injustice, you see. And he understood that and he said, "Well, I understand it, Danny, except, you know, the fellows in the orchestra, you know, like you so much, you know, you know you've been visiting a lot, that I'm sure that you even can play if you want to conduct." And I said, "You've got a deal." Now, I think the greatest feeling of neurotic power in the world is to stand up in front of 110 men and raise your arms and see 110 instruments fall into position. Well, I learned two things from the records and I conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra and it turned out to be kind of, you know, amusing.
Danny Kaye Yeah, but I again I instinctively, I never studied conducting, you know, and outside of Gene showing me the difference between, you know, four/four and one, or in three or whatever it is, now I had a feeling for it. Again, the matter of communication, see. Now, when a gifted conductor stands in front of an orchestra, not only does he know the music in all its intent but he also has a means of communication with the men who are playing it. Well, I don't have that kind of ability as far as the music or its intent is concerned, but I do have a means of communicating with the gentlemen in the orchestra. Now, since then, and that was, oh, seven or eight years ago, my repertoire has grown considerably and I now do a whole evening with symphony orchestras, and I do it for their pension fund usually. And I try to explain to the audience that people who have dedicated their lives and spent their emotions and energies trying to make music so that other people can enjoy themselves and have a good time and get some interest in it, the reason I do this for the musicians' pension fund is that when the time comes that they no longer can make music, they at least have some basic security upon which to spend the rest of their lives. So I go about doing that and having a wonderful time, and I've conducted a rather imposing list of orchestras, I must say.
Studs Terkel I think you've, you've bitten a core of the apple here, communication, I think this ability at a time when there's so little communication, we hear so much of this, your ability to communicate with us, to a sophisticated symphony audience, to the musicians, or to the kids around the world. This particular quality.
Danny Kaye I got to tell you something interesting about that. You know, the first few orchestras I conducted, I had the feeling that the fellows were going to play and they thought I was just going to wave a stick, you see, I cannot read a note of music. So, I couldn't say, "Fellas, from letter G, bar H, you know, the B flat," I couldn't do that, because I don't know, you know, it looks like a bunch of fly specks to me, so I would have to sing to them the way I wanted them to play it. For instance, we do an overture called "La Gazza Ladre" and there's one part where the clari-- I know every entrance of every woodwind, every brass, every all the string sections, and I can sing the whole thing from memory. So I would have to sing to them, about [sings]. And there's a triplet there. Now, I can't explain that either, but I can sing it for them. And after we started they soon realized that they were going to play the way I wanted them to, you know, and we had -- Oh, now there's always been an air of mystery about symphony orchestras like the same air of mystery about taking a prescription into a pharmacy. Now it might just be aspirin or something, but there is always a kind of, it was always written so that you couldn't read it to begin with, and it was kind of a magic potion on the prescription blank, and you would take it in, and the fella would look at it and he'd take bottles and put them together, you know, there's always this kind of black magic attitude about it, and the same with symphony orchestras, you know, and you had to be quiet and you had to listen and it was a very serious thing and I think what I injected into this is the fact that people can have a darn good time listening and also having fun. You see, I am highly irreverent about symphony orchestras and I think the musicians find that they have a good time and it's a welcome relief and break from their every-day serious activity.
Danny Kaye Oh.
Studs Terkel I suppose the word here is delicacy, the delicate approach to this song and of course, we find this very beautiful, listening to it, but you just said something, Danny Kaye, at moment, this was done so long ago, that if you were doing it today it would be wholly different.
Danny Kaye No, I don't know if it would be wholly different or not, but I think when we made this record, it was, oh, it must be 20 years ago, anyway, and in the ensuing 20 years, I think performers or people develop new attitudes toward themselves or about themselves or toward their profession. And although it was pleasant enough, I suppose, to listen to, if I were to re-record it today, I would probably do it quite differently. And I think that is the nature of things staying alive. Songs and things that I have done for many, many years always have an area of growth within itself so that it doesn't ever seem quite the same but because my own attitude changes toward what I am doing, it of necessity changes the thing that I am doing.
Studs Terkel And I come to I think another key, the artist himself, the growth of an artist, the element of spontaneity in your work, that is, it seems ever fresh, that you yourself then you feel are always changing one way or another.
Danny Kaye Yeah.
Danny Kaye I am sure if you saw eight of them, although they would be woven in the same basic pattern, the thread running through it would differ considerably, I think, if you saw two evening shows and a matinee. It would depend on my mood of that particular evening, it would depend on the mood of the audience, it would depend on our means of communication and with some audiences it's a little bit better than others, with some audiences there is a greater magnetism or electricity that goes on and your technical skill is something you depend on. But that is kind of been established, you've worked at that, you know, long enough now, you've learned how to thread the sutures and, you know, make the incision and all that. After you get inside and take a look at the problem that's to be operated on, you may have a different approach to it with each different case and that exactly the same principles hold true with a show that you're doing, each particular audience and your particular mood colors in many, many aspects the total effect of the show.
Studs Terkel Here's a case and a contrast to the film in which you've been or to a TV program in which you've been, perhaps we'll talk about that later, too. Te aspect of a flesh-and-blood audience and you; the audience, then, the nature of the audience can actually color your own performance.
Danny Kaye It isn't really. We will have The Dunhills and The Marquis Family and the chimpanzees, who are more human than most humans I know, and then Senor Wences, who is an enormous artist in his field. Now, the reason I have these people is because they're the very best in their particular field and they bear repetition over and over again and it's the kind of show that you can bring your family to, or your clergyman, or your parents, too, without ever running the risk of anybody being offended by anything that might not be in very good taste.
Danny Kaye Yeah.
Danny Kaye Well, now there are many ventriloquists and I don't think Wences would be offended by this. There are many ventriloquists who are probably more gifted technically than he is, you know, they could probably say more things without noticing any movement of his lips at all. That isn't what makes Wences the great artist that he is. It's that concept again of his relationship to the people. I go and watch him night after night until Little Johnny becomes a living, breathing human being.
Danny Kaye And I watch him night after night after night, and I always find something new in it. Always. It's like listening to music. You know, people say -- Victor Borge is a good example, we talked about this in San Francisco some years ago he was doing a show in San Francisco and, you know, there was some, I think, a review and said that Victor Borge was as gifted as ever and, you know, he had done some of the things that had been familiar, which was perfectly all right. And Victor said, "Now, isn't that strange? People wouldn't dream of going to hear Beethoven or Bach and saying, 'Well, you know, it's fine and but there it had, has, we heard it before' because you always find something in it, you always find some new interpretation of it." And here is Victor, who has developed this material and these incredibly gifted things that he does to a very fine point. It is taken him years and years and years to discard and to mold and to polish and to shine and you don't haphazardly throw it away and I think people who are really interested in an artist can see him over and over again, always finding some new facet of his work that would re-interest
Studs Terkel This introduces a new point, Danny, this view of certain artists who are consummate in what they do. Timing, this element that can't be defined or analyzed either, timing, a sense of timing. Did you feel, I suppose this question often comes about today, young artists today, is it that we rush so much with a new mass media?
Danny Kaye Well, I'll tell you, you know, to be crude about it, there is no place for a young performer to be lousy anymore. There's no place for a young performer to practice. Today, a young performer has to be an instant success, you know, in order to amount to anything. Well, that's all very well and good, but years ago, as I explained to you early in the program I had a basic training that went on for years and years. Now, if somebody has a talent and they are immediately catapulted to the top rung of the ladder, in the face of adversity, they have no -- The next rung to step down to, you know, they either go down the whole ladder or they stay on top and I have yet to find somebody who has been catapulted to the top echelon of my profession and remain there without any real background.
Danny Kaye Sure.
Studs Terkel Another question I have to ask you, specifically, energy: the matter of energy. I mean the actual physical energy that's involved here is incredible. Do you train? I mean, is there -- Yves Montand trains like a boxer. He told me, 'way back some time ago. He actually sleeps a great deal of the day and night. The matter of preserving his energy. How is -- What's your secret?
Danny Kaye Well, I think I work a lot easier than that. It comes easier to me. I don't train in any sense. I live a fairly quiet life and I take very good care of my health and I think the greatest requisite for good health is something that has been bandied about now for a long time. I am six feet tall and I weigh 153 pounds.
Danny Kaye Well, it isn't only a question of -- Excuse me -- Of keeping in shape, it's a question of not carrying around any excess weight which tires one more than almost anything else. Now, again we may get all kinds of notes about this from the medical profession, but I think the one thing they will all agree on is that when somebody is overweight they would have a greater tendency toward ill health.
Danny Kaye That is an audience participation song, and in the purely mechanical aspect of it as you would hear on a record it would lose a great deal of what people could sense when they're actually in a theater. I did that on the first television show that I did, I did "Minnie," and it's been a standard, you know, with me for many, many years and although the people in the studio enjoyed it, I was quite unaware of what the reaction might be at home. I didn't know whether people were going to be singing at home or not because I had no control over my basic communication with them as I had with the people in the studio.
Studs Terkel So here's a case then of your -- This -- Involve the audience so much that here's an obvious case of you being, your performance, in being the choral master being influenced by the very audience you're singing, so here on the record. You mentioned TV, television; of course, that was a marvelous program you did. Was it -- two? No. Two you did. No.
Danny Kaye Three.
Studs Terkel Your approach to this medium -- Did this -- You obviously were not thrown, you seemed very much at home with it. How did this -- Did this alter -- Do you feel this altered your performances in any way? Not having an audience?
Danny Kaye Oh, yeah, we had audiences. It's a different medium. It combines, you know, many of the features of the motion picture and the live stage but television in itself is a, a separate medium I think, I don't think yet that television has found its own real means of expression yet, but it gets better every year. Newt Minow and I might have some quarrel about TV being a vast wasteland. I agree with him in the sense that when 20 hours of entertainment or news have to be provided in a 24-hour day period I think the standard somewhat may be diminished, but by the same token there are many things that television does is far better than any other media of either communication or entertainment.
Studs Terkel A certain intimate approach it might have that they wouldn't. But we always hear the phrase "The great clown loves to do 'Hamlet,'" you know, the great clown would love to be a serious actor. We've seen you in a seriocomic role, a very excellent movie adapted from the play, "Jacobowsky and the Colonel." A very beautiful performance as Jac-- How do you feel about -- Since you are obviously a very deft -- You can be a very excellent serious actor, as you were in this instance. Has the thought occurred to you on occasion?
Danny Kaye Well, contrary to the myth that exists about every seri-- Every comedian wanting to be a serious actor, now talking from my own personal point of view that has never occurred to me, I have never wanted to play "Hamlet." I find it difficult enough to be humorous or to be funny because that in itself is a very, very difficult arm of the whole art form. I know I never did want to play "Hamlet" and I did never did want to play a serious role, I was intrigued by the role of "Jacobowsky" because it was a semi-serious role, it was a humorous serious role and I enjoyed that picture as much as any I've ever made. I regret to say that it was a financial disaster, and I don't know what the reason for that might be, the obvious reason might be that people did not want to see me in that kind of role to begin with, and secondly it might have been the choice of material at that given time that didn't seem to arouse the public's interest.
Studs Terkel Do you find this the case, often the case that people are sometimes fall into a certain -- That they would put a performer into a certain category and refuse to accept him in any other guise or dress?
Danny Kaye Well, I think when people originally meet somebody whether it's personally or whether it's in an entertainment medium, the basic first impression that is formed is very, very hard to kind of give up. Now, there may be many people who maintain the basic image that they have for others and other facets develop about their character or their personality, but basically I think when people see somebody for the first time that is the lasting impression that one gets.
Studs Terkel That's why apparently you, this is one of your strengths, that you're able to avoid being categorized because of your fantastic versatility. Dialects, for example, you and Peter Ustinov, probably, I would imagine, are the two expert dialecticians of our time. Dialects. What is it about your ear?
Danny Kaye I don't know. There are a lot of people who like to hear music and cannot translate it to their voice. There are a lot of people can hear dialects and cannot translate it to making that sound. I've been fortunate. I can hear a dialect and fairly rapidly can begin to translate what I hear into the sound-making mechanism.
Studs Terkel When I remember the very first time I heard you on radio was a Norman Corwin program on CBS years ago, and you were a waiter, and this was the most incredible dialect, I could not put the thing even today.
Studs Terkel It was a crazy kind of dialect, it was Asiatic, it was -- I couldn't quite put the finger, it wasn't Chinese, but -- And you don't remember what that was. That was a strange kind, oh, I was never quite heard this kind of voice or dialect before, and all the audience knew was that it was hilarious. The -- Also, you mentioned pomposity earlier, the man who tried to win the affection of the child by being pompous like that, "The Babbitt and the Bromide" is one of the early ones, too, do you remember that? I wonder how that would sound, 'cause I wanted to ask you something about this.
Studs Terkel Yes. And [again?] control. Perhaps, Danny Kaye, you've been very, very profligate with your time here because I know that you have a very heavy schedule and -- I've wanted to find out more about the secrets of one of the artists of our time. Perhaps the, just a reminder to the audience again that seeing you, hearing you is fine, but seeing you in the flesh is even better. The 18th to the 23rd and there are two performances on two of the nights, I take it. You're doing eight performances.
Danny Kaye No, the song has no special significance, my daughter has the special significance because she was named after I had done the song for a long time. Somebody said to me, "Did you name your daughter after the song?" and I said, "No, I really didn't think so." I may have psychologically, you know, been influenced by it. I found out later that it was a biblical name, Dena, D-E-N-A, and she'll probably be here sometime next week to spend a day or two with me.
Studs Terkel So this is the "Dinah," you know, which you made your own song, pretty much, it's Dena. Perhaps we can say goodbye now and thank you as we listen to you sing "Dena," and I also hope that for your sake the Dodgers can [unintelligible].
Danny Kaye Well, I, you know, up until now it's been lovely and relaxed and I'm sorry you threw in this kind of offhand remark because you have now spoiled my whole day. But hope springs eternal and I shall leave here convinced that the Dodgers will now win the pennant next year and if they don't I may move to Wichita.