View My Stats

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Post That Would Not Die.

A year ago June, I posted an article called "Fine And Danny".
It was essentially a Report Card of "Danny and Sylvia, the Musical".
It is easily the most Googled article I get.
There are apparently a lot of Danny Kaye fans out there.

My review was thoroughly mixed, and fairly long.
But it contained these relatively brief paragraphs:

"What was great about it----They found a guy who simply nailed Danny Kaye.He channeled him. He captured all that was great about him.
It was as if you were seeing Danny Kaye in a great live performance.
Better, in fact.
Because it came without all of the negatives that have since been associated with Danny Kaye, the person.
From all accounts, Danny Kaye in real life was, as my friend Lenny Friefeld would describe him in his intentionally redundant way, as "a shmuck and a putz".
He would always go out of his way to snub autograph seekers.
He would go to nightclubs at dinner shows and sit with his back to the onstage performers.
In the show "Two By Two", he would intentionally wreak havoc on stage.
He would always be bragging about who he was flying around in his private plane.
He apparently treated his wife, Sylvia Fine, abusively, something not covered in the musical I saw.
But then who wanted to see that, anyway?
So watching him on clips on YouTube, or in his old movies, meant accepting his personal baggage along with him.
I find this difficult to do.
It's not like Jerry Lewis, whose professional and personal persona is pretty much that of a shmuck and a putz.
If you like his work, you know what you're getting going in.
But Danny Kaye's public persona was that of an erudite, charming, likeable humanitarian.
And this apparently was not him.
He was entirely a lie."

What I wrote here was pretty much accepted within show business circles as common knowledge, and was hardly the main thrust of the article.
You can check it out in it's entirety if you care to.

But it engendered a brouhaha in the Comments section that lingers to this day.
It is apparently still ongoing.

I'm going to reprint the Comments section of that article to save you the trouble of hunting for it.
Please note that I removed four exchanges that I deemed too personal and/or ugly for public consumption.

Stef said...
"He was entirely a lie."For me, this sort of thing always begs the question: if what I want out of a performer is a good performance, why should I care about how much of a sonovabitch he is? I usually avoid tabloids and such that will take delight in telling me of celebrity pecadillos and foibles. Wouldn't knowing stuff like that undermine my enjoyment of their performance? Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine are now both dead, but his performances of her songs live on, and can still be enjoyed, and maybe discovered by new audiences yet unborn. Unless some spoilsport comes along and says, "See that guy up on the screen? He was shmuck and a putz!" [Not you, dear Mark. Some spoilsport sitting in a movie house revival, I mean.]
June 12, 2009 11:31 PM

Stef said...
[And kicking the seats.]
June 12, 2009 11:32 PM

mark rothman said...
In this case, I am simply cursed with too much knowledge to enjoy him anymore.
Some performers survive this kind of exposure better than others.
To me, he doesn't.
And I'm not the first one to stand up and say that the King is naked.
He did it himself in "The Emperor's New Clothes", in Hans Christian Andersen".
June 13, 2009 3:18 PM

Kirk Jusko said...
In a similar vein, I'm going to have a difficult time listening to any song--no matter how good--that Phil Spector had something to do with.
June 13, 2009 4:26 PM

Joe said...
As much as I'd like to be above-it-all, once someone is revealed to me to be a schmuck and a putz I can't enjoy the performance. Not that it's my particularly noble nature at play, I simply can't rise above how much of a lowlife Person X is.[shrug]I never knew that Danny Kaye was an awful guy, but now I won't be able to see him in any other light.
June 16, 2009 8:49 PM

Anonymous said...
Sad it is to see how years and decades of somebody's life and work turn into rubbish as easy as that, only because of somebody's "wise" remark that they are a schmuck and putz. I wonder how you would react if ever the same sort of thing should be said about you and you find yourselves in a hell of a lot of mess ?
March 5, 2010 10:06 AM

mark rothman said...
This wasn't just somebody's "wise" remark.
This is a consensus of many "wise" remarks from many different sources.
March 5, 2010 1:35 PM

Anonymous said...
OK, but no matter how many - don't you think that much more numerous will be the ones who do not share this opinion (unfortunately the bulk of these - his contemporaries I mean - are dead by now, so that the "wise" remarks somehow keep coming from the much younger smart alecks who hardly knew Danny as a person) ? Don't get me wrong, I respect everybody's freedom of speech, but it seems all the negative arguments featured here totally lack substantiation, and Danny Kaye in fact deserves better treatment and more respect...
March 6, 2010 2:46 PM

mark rothman said...
Specific sources: Martin Gottfried's biography of Danny Kaye, Paul Mazursky's autobiography.
Paul Mazursky worked as a writer on Danny Kaye'sTV variety show, and witnessed shmuck and putz events first hand.
I knew Alan King, who talked about how he was performing in a nightclub and Danny Kaye sat with his back to him as he ate his dinner.
King eventually called him on it, and Kaye had no memory of it.
There is smoke and fire.
I know of no one who knew him who thought he was a doll.
How much more substantiation do you need?
I know you live in Russia, and Kaye made hay singing about Russian composers.
So maybe you hold him in unnecessarily higher regard (He said, jokingly.).
I'm not trying to convert you, but the case I'm making is a legitimate one.
I have no axe to grind about him personally, only about the show about him.
March 8, 2010 9:32 AM

Barbara said...
I have to comment here as one who can see his performances and not be affected by his personal life. One, because his personal life does not affect me. Two, many, many performers are charmers on camera and assholes off camera. I can name MANY.But lastly, I understand that this affected you profoundly, but by repeating the stories, you ruin the performances for many who see them, or have yet to see them. Even if 200 people proved that he was an asshole in real life, that DOES NOT diminish the remarkable talent he PROVED over and over, nor does it diminish his ample humanitarian efforts.To continue to drag a fantastic career in the mud after the man has been dead 24 years does service to no one.Yes, I hold Danny Kaye in higher regard BECAUSE of his talent, not his personal life. I cried when he died, and I cry for no celebrity.As for the show, I saw it and thought it was awful. The actor playing Danny had no personality at all, he just mugged, sang flatly and moved stiffly; they cut the Sylvia part to almost nothing, making her a one-dimensional character. It's a pared down show from the "full length" show he did four years ago, and it got horrible reviews as well. Should you fix it? Hell yes. Get new actors and rewrite the whole damned thing. It was terrible.
March 16, 2010 10:36 PM

mark rothman said...
Well, we half agree about the show.
Maybe most people are like you, and won't have his performances ruined by what I say.
There are far more people who have access to his performances than read my blog.
He was enormously talented, but his public persona simply didn't jive with his private one, and in this case, it got in my way.
It doesn't have to get in anyone else's way.
Al Jolson was, by all reports, a major egotist and asshole, and his radio and movie persona merely enforced this, and it did him no harm.
Yet, "The Jolson Story", a work of complete fiction, portrays him as being completely charming in private.
And I'm a complete sucker for it whenever it's on.
So who knows how people will be affected by anything?
Particularly about what I write.
March 17, 2010 2:59 AM

Barbara said...
The whole point of my post was this: Why does it matter? We pay to see a performance, not a personal life. Your opinion, whether you regard it as far-reaching or not, affected a couple of people in your comments section alone. I found your blog on a random search of Danny Kaye. The internet is endless. Your words are there forever, affecting the judgment of a mans performance based on his personal life.All I require from a performer is a performance. That should be all that is required.
March 17, 2010 1:28 PM

mark rothman said...
I think it depends on what the performer is selling.
But that's only my opinion.
And as you see, it is shared by others.
April 8, 2010 12:38 PM

Barbara said...
Yeah, two people you told this to. Three supported my opinion.
April 26, 2010 4:06 PM

mark rothman said...
Yup. It's a landslide.
April 26, 2010 7:22 PM

Anonymous said...
I am a Danny Kaye fan. I have been for 30 years. I had a bad crash on him and I used to think him a cross between a saint and a hero. Then I read his biography and I went completely off him ... for a while. Soon, I had to admit that, whatever else he was, he was a person who has marked me and will always mean a lot to me. He was not a saint but he was not a monster either. He was complex and difficult and troubled but he was still a genius in many fields and in the course of his stormy life he has offered a lot to his fellow human beings. Something that people with less emotional baggage haven't done. No one has matched, for example, his contribution to UNICEF. I still love Danny Kaye. Not as a hero, but as a human being who has lived his life as fully and as best he could. Someone who struggled with his demons like we all do. And I miss him enormously.
April 30, 2010 2:41 PM

mark rothman said...
You know, I'm not as anti-Danny Kaye as you seem to make me out to be.
And you seem to only know me from this article.
There are more than 200 others on this blog to be read, and I'm getting a little tired of arguing about this one.
Why don't you read some of the others and we can argue about them.
I like arguing in general.
I'm just worn out with this one.
May 10, 2010 7:40 AM

Barbara said...
So basically, you're saying that you're not willing to stand behind your statements? That you're tired of defending your position? Figures.
June 2, 2010 6:24 PM

mark rothman said...
Barbara, you just can't seem to let this go, can you.
There is no reason to be what you accuse me of being, which is judgemental.
And in your case, in a rather snotty way.
There is nothing inconsistent about what I have said.
Danny Kaye was enormously talented.
I never said he wasn't.
Apparently I don't adore him like you do.
The reports on his personal life have affected MY enjoyment of those talents.
Some personas can handle it easier than others.
Some agree with me about this. Some don't.
That was my ONLY point.
I'm not prostheletizing, and yes, I'm tired of defending my position, because I'm not really that adamant about it.
I considered this a very minor point in the article when I first posted it.
Ask yourself honestly which one of us is more objective about this matter.

August 1, 2010 2:28 PM


I don't know when or if this will ever end.



  1. I think the idea of too much knowledge affecting the enjoyment of a performance is an interesting one, Danny Kaye aside. Before we do put him aside, I would just weigh in to say that I agree with the anonymous post labeling him "complex". The negative stories are certainly frequent, and in many cases well-sourced. But there's that UNICEF thing staring us in the face, too. In fact, just about every celebrity in history has had some good things and some bad things said about them. (OK. I have never heard a single good thing said about Frank Fay or a single bad thing about Ricardo Montalban. Everyone else is in the middle.)

    But Mark's point, if I may take the liberty, was not about Danny Kaye, but about himself. Is there such a thing as knowing too much about a person to enjoy something that you once enjoyed on the artistic merits alone? For him, and he is not alone, there is such a thing. If the persona doesn't match the person, it takes him out of the moment.

    Generally, I don't find that in myself. I like knowing something about the performers or creators of works I enjoy just because it gives me some insight into the process of creating it, but it almost never affects my enjoyment. For those who are more affected, I wonder where the line is. Does it ruin it because Rock wasn't really so interested in Doris? Is it less funny knowing that Penny and Cindy weren't bffs? And, spoiler alert...Jack Benny was a big tipper.

    Having said that, I can think of two instances where knowing too much made a difference to me; cases where the actual subject of the work got too close to the reality. The obvious one is Woody Allen. Not all of Woody Allen's work, but rewatching "Manhattan" and seeing "Husbands and Wives" after his personal...issues...were different experiences. "Manhattan" is still a very good movie, but I find it impossible to separate the reality from the fantasy there.

    The other instance was more personal. I was in college and George Carlin came to do an appearance. He was very funny, and in his hard-hitting way, started making fun of golf, irately going into how golf courses were a waste of land. "Rich men hanging out with other rich men on the land they bought by stealing from the rest of us," was more or less the gist of it. Well, I didn't mean to do it, but I started counting the house. And then multiplying by the ticket price. And then multiplying by the number of dates Carlin probably did every year. And then rounding up because we were surely one of the lower-priced venues he played. And then adding in TV money. And recording royalties. And from that point on in his career, whenever Carlin talked about "rich men" and "us", he lost me. For me, the difference is that, while he was certainly a performer, he was clearly making points in which he truly believed, as opposed to being a character. In that sense, if Danny Kaye was a novelist, George Carlin was perhaps an essayist, and that made the reality more relevant to me.

    I wonder if Mark, or other people whose views as an audience member change with knowledge of the performers, try to avoid hearing those stories. Is it scary when someone starts to say, "Well, you know what I heard about..."?

  2. Just for the record, I had a friend who worked at Disney World in the 1980s; he was witness to Danny Kaye in a golf cart, berating some vehicle in his way. I mean, REALLY berating. It was the first time I heard of this kind of behavior from Kaye, long before any book.

  3. Lee, I really enjoyed your commentary. The first instance of this that comes to my mind is a musical artist. There was a band I loved in the early 80s called Missing Persons. The lead singer was recently charged with animal abuse - I won't get into the details. But when I listen to satellite radio and one of their songs is playing, I have to turn it off. I can't get the scenario out of my head, and I do not want any residual money going her way.

    As for Joan Crawford or Bing Crosby abusing their children, that doesn't affect my enjoyment of their performances. Perhaps because those days are over and it's not a current situation?

    Very interesting topic. Though I'm sure Mark wasn't counting on THAT much interest...

  4. Janice, you mention two things that struck me personally. I think we all have our personal vulnerabilities and animal abuse is particularly loathsome to me. I am not suggesting that no other crime is as bad; simply that it affects me viscerally as few others do. So I understand why the nature of the negative stories can matter, as in your example. I don't know that I would stop being able to enjoy the music (although I well might), but I would certainly not want to see that person in any other venue. For example, I might watch a football game with Michael Vick playing, but I don't want to see him on The Tonight Show.

    The other thing that struck me was Bing Crosby (no pun intended). I am quite the Crosby fan and collector, and he is a perfect example of the complicated celebrity. There are some of the oft-repeated allegations that are certainly not true, but there are others that are absolutely undeniable. And while I think that it is only fair that people, living or dead, shouldn't have to contend with untrue stories about them, I can say that Crosby is the star who absolutely proves to me that I separate the person from the work. Not because he is the "worst" celebrity by any means, but because separating out the truth from the rumors, both to his credit and to his detriment, has not made any difference at all to my appreciation.

    And yes, I think we can bet that Mark was not anticipating the heat generated by a Danny Kaye post.

  5. I think I'm going to weigh in on Crosby fairly soon in a post. I, too, am a major fan, and he has survived, at least to me, whatever has been said about him.

  6. I read Raymond Chandler's biography about ten years ago. It has taken that long, for me to forget enough about his character, to be able to reread his Philip Marlowe novels.

    Whereas reading Robert Louis Stevenson letters or George Orwell's bios makes their writings more interesting.

  7. I have debated about weighing in on this wonderful chat, so I am going to finally respond. Here goes.

    I have been studying this man for nearly ten years, off and on. I got the opportunity to speak with people who knew him personally. The writer of the current show I am in was one of his last publicist, and OH THE STORIES. I have heard so many stories about the man I do feel as if I knew him, even though I never had the chance to meet him or see him perform live. There were stories that were wonderful and magically captivating. There were stories that were shocking about his mercurial nature. There was the Danny Kaye on screen and stage that held the audience in the palm of his hand. There was the Danny off-stage that had incredible demons. He was, as Lee said, "complex". One of the stories that I heard was that later in his life he was fascinated with analysis and went 3 times a day, 5 times a week. Can you imagine?

    I did not seek out to play him but was asked to tackle this task. The more I learned about this man the harder it became to decide how to portray him. The "full length show", called" The Kid from Brooklyn" that Barbara referred to, was written to show his darker side. The rumors of his affairs and such. By the time we got to Chicago with the show, it was too dark and the horrible reviews were because there was no joy in the show or in the script for me to play. The audience lost the joy they had with this wonderful man they grew up with. The show I am doing currently, which started first by the way, shows none of the darkness that he dealt with. Someone told me once that "No one wants to know Santa Claus beats his wife". It does indeed change your perception of who that person is. This show was written as a Valentine to the memory of these two people. The writer wanted to show the Danny that people remember from their youth, unspoiled and brimming with energy. Which I believe in his early years he was.

    But there are two sides to him. You cannot deny the man was a genius and you cannot deny he was mercurial. On my best day I will never be able to capture the magic that he was, which Barbara has already pointed out...thank you barbara, but I encourage those of you to listen to this man perform, watch his movies, and be caught up with his brilliance. There are SO many performers who were one way onstage and screen, and another off. Too many to name. Our desire is to introduce a new generation to the performer Danny Kaye ,and his Brilliant writer-wife Sylvia Fine. We hope we have done that. Mark thank you for your kind words and thanks for your time. B

  8. Brian, you were indeed brilliant in the show.
    I just thought you and Sylvia deserved better
    support from its writers.

  9. This IS the post that would not die. I'm glad.

    "No one wants to know Santa Claus beats his wife". Thanks, Brian. That got me thinking about what Lee said regarding this post not necessarily about its subject personally. It's all about Santa Claus! No...but I was thinking about what kinds of lines need to be crossed to elicit this type of strong response. Personally, I can't watch that 2000 RomCom What Women Want any more. Just saying. Comic timing and line readings I thought were cute then seems off to me now. However, all the rumors I've heard about Uncle Walt and the Anti-semite stuff, and how he might "have a brown shirt in his closet" (From the script of the HBO movie RKO 281) doesn't weigh very hard in my frontal lobe. Disneyland is still open to everyone, although I'm still a little shaky as to the exclusivity of Club 33. You certainly can't name your kid O.J. these days. I think it mostly has to do with the level of connection you have to whatever celebrity you hear these stories about (or watch the trial,) and what personal level of betrayal you choose to hold on to. As for Danny Kaye, is it too flippant to say he may have suffered from Krusty Syndrome? Maybe with more singing and dancing.



Blog Archive

About Me

Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."