David Daniel Kaminsky was born in Brooklyn, New York, on January 18, 1913, the son of an immigrant Russian tailor.
Danny left school at the age of 13 to work as a comedian in the Catskills, where he enjoyed some success. In 1933, he joined the dancing act of Dave Harvey and Kathleen Young. On his very first night with the team he lost his balance. The audience, thinking it was part of the act, erupted into laughter. The "choreographed stumble" would later become a signature part of his own act.
In 1939 Kaye made his Broadway debut in "The Straw Hat Revue." Later that same year he rattled off the names of more than fifty Russian composers in thirty-nine seconds in a song called "Tchaikovsky," in the Broadway play "Lady in the Dark." The ability to sing tongue-twisting lyrics with ease would become another Danny Kaye trademark.
Kaye made his movie debut in 1944, in the MGM musical Up in Arms. He would eventually star in seventeen movies, including Wonder Man (1945), The Kid from Broadway (1946), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), The Inspector General (1949), Hans Christian Andersen (1952), White Christmas (1954), The Five Pennies (1956), and The Court Jester (1956).
The Danny Kaye Show, which ran on television from 1963 to 1967, was an enormous hit, winning an Emmy in its first season.
Kaye began his long-standing association with the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 1954. He won a special Academy Award for his humanitarian work that same year. He served as UNICEF's Goodwill Ambassador until his death, circling the globe many times over making speeches, giving performances, acting as master of ceremonies for special events, and informing the public about children's needs.
In one of his final performances, Kaye proved the versatility of his talent and earned rave reviews for his portrayal of a Holocaust survivor in the 1981 television movie Skokie.
Danny Kaye died of a heart attack on March 3, 1987, in Los Angeles. He was survived by his wife of 47 years, Sylvia Fine, and his daughter Dena. He is interred at Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.
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This page was last updated on 05/23/2011.