Danny Kaye: What You Didn't Know About This Iconic Funny Man

By | January 10, 2022

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American actor, singer, and comedian Danny Kaye (1913–1987), circa 1960. (Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Danny Kaye preferred to be called an entertainer rather than a comedian because he believed the term more accurately encompassed all of his talents, and it's true that he seemed to do it all. He was a street performer, vaudeville entertainer, actor, singer, writer, stand-up comedian, and TV variety show host. He performed on Broadway, in movies, for the USO, and on radio and television. You might know a little about Danny Kaye from his work on The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty and White Christmas, but there's so much more you probably don't know about this iconic funny man.

His Name Wasn't Danny

David Daniel Kominsky was born in Brooklyn on January 18, 1911 just a few years after his Ukrainian Jewish parents and two older brothers immigrated to the United States. Although he never tried to hide his religion or ethnicity, he chose the stage name Danny Kaye when he entered show business because it sounded more American, fit on marquee signs, and rolled off the tongue more easily than David Kominsky. Both his older brothers, Mack and Larry, also adopted more American-sounding names: Max Kamin and Larry Kaye, respectively. Kaye was also not a natural blond, but the advent of Technicolor meant his red hair looked too severe on film, so he colored it for many of his most famous roles. 

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White Christmas trailer. (Paramount Pictures/Wikimedia Commons)

He Was A Smartypants

Kaye could commit entire scripts to memory in mere hours and memorized musical arrangements for his volunteer work conducting symphony orchestras at fundraising events because he couldn't read music. He was said to have memorized all of Tchaikovsky in a few hours. If he hadn't found success in show business, he may have become a doctor. He loved medicine and the study of the human body, often read medical journals, and thanks to his celebrity, was invited to sit in on numerous surgeries and other medical procedures. He was an honorary member of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the only non-professional member of the American College of Surgeons.

He was also an inventor. You know those noisemaker party favors that you blow to unroll a snake-like tube? Kaye co-invented something similar, a three-tubed blower, with a friend, Eddie Dukoff, in 1952.