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Comedian Danny Kaye had become a Broadway star in a supporting role in the musical Lady in the Dark (1939), stealing the show with a fiendishly clever patter song, "Tchaikovsky," written by his wife, composer-lyricist Sylvia Fine. In 1943, Kaye was signed to a movie contract by Samuel Goldwyn, and made his feature film debut in Up in Arms (1944). It was a huge hit, as was his next film, Wonder Man (1945). By the time he made his third starring vehicle, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), Kaye's movie persona was set, as the hapless innocent who gets caught up in outrageous or challenging situations. Based on a 1936 Harold Lloyd film, The Milky Way, The Kid from Brooklyn has Kaye portraying a meek milkman who accidentally becomes a prizefighter and the victim of a crooked promoter.
Kaye's two co-stars in The Kid from Brooklyn had also appeared in Wonder Man -- Virginia Mayo as his leading lady, and Broadway dancer Vera-Ellen, making her film debut. Mayo had also had a bit part in Up in Arms, and would co-star with Kaye in two more films, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and A Song Is Born (1948). Vera-Ellen would be Kaye's leading lady in one of his most beloved films, White Christmas (1954).
Kaye's real-life leading lady, Sylvia Fine, was, as always, a key contributor to Kaye's work in The Kid from Brooklyn. The couple had met at a Catskills resort and married in 1940, and she wrote special material for Kaye's shows and films throughout his career. Critics complained that Fine's song, "Pavlova," reminiscent of "Tchaikovsky," really didn't belong in The Kid from Brooklyn, but the style was pure Kaye, and audiences loved it. The marriage, however, seemed to be going through a rough patch during the filming of The Kid from Brooklyn. Kaye was rumored to be having an affair with Eve Arden, who was a regular on his radio show and was also in the cast of the film as the villain's girlfriend. But Kaye and Fine apparently weathered the storm, and Fine gave birth to the couple's only child, daughter Dena, in December of 1946.
Kaye had begun his weekly, half-hour CBS radio show in 1945, after finishing Wonder Man, and before starting The Kid from Brooklyn. The producer and writers, veterans of Jack Benny's radio show, followed the same formula of that show, basing it on the public persona of the star. But Kaye's humor, unlike Benny's, was visual rather than verbal. Kaye was not a "comedian," who told jokes. His humor was in his behavior, his manner, and his facial and physical expressiveness. It was humor that needed to be seen, as well as heard, and Kaye was at his best when taking cues from his audiences. As a result, the radio show was not very successful, and was cancelled after a year.
Kaye was not particularly disappointed by the cancellation. To promote The Kid from Brooklyn, he had embarked on a national tour of live performances, which were not only more creatively satisfying than the radio show, but more lucrative as well. With a salary plus a percentage of the gross, Kaye was making about $40,000 a week from the shows, a huge sum in 1946. Audiences loved him, and loved The Kid from Brooklyn. Some critics praised Kaye's performance, comparing his movements in the fight scenes to Chaplin's classic fight sequences. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times noted Kaye's "nimble and complicated grace." But there were just as many reviewers who didn't like Kaye. Even so, their negative comments didn't hurt the box office. Danny Kaye was well on his way to becoming one of the most beloved American entertainers. His next film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, would be one of his best, and would cement his position as a box-office attraction.
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Screenplay: Don Hartman, Melville Shavelson, from a play by Frank Butler, Harry Clork, Richard Connell, Grover Jones, Lynn Root
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Editor: Daniel Mandell
Costume Design: Miles White, Jean Louis
Art Direction: Perry Ferguson, Stewart Chaney
Music: songs by Sylvia Fine & Max Liebman; Jule Styne & Sammy Cahn
Cast: Danny Kaye (Burleigh Sullivan), Virginia Mayo (Polly Pringle), Vera-Ellen (Susie Sullivan), Steve Cochran (Speed McFarlane), Eve Arden (Ann Westley), Walter Abel (Gabby Sloane), Lionel Stander (Spider Schultz), Fay Bainter (Mrs. E. Winthrop LeMoyne).
by Margarita Landazuri
The Kid from Brooklyn (1946)
By the time Danny Kaye's third feature film, The Kid from Brooklyn (1946), was released in April 1946, Kaye was already a beloved box-office draw. His first two pictures, Up in Arms (1944) and Wonder Man (1945), had established his particular brand of frantic Technicolor musical comedy, and producer Samuel Goldwyn wasted no time in continuing the trend. Goldwyn also saw no reason to tamper with the winning combination of actors he'd used in Wonder Man, so he brought back Virginia Mayo, Vera-Ellen and Steve Cochran to team with Kaye once again. (Mayo had also had a bit part in Up in Arms, one of her earliest appearances.)
In this one, Kaye plays a shy milkman who accidentally becomes the world middleweight boxing champion after he is credited with knocking out the reigning champ (Steve Cochran) in a street brawl outside a nightclub. Kaye then wins a series of (unknown-to-him) fixed fights, convincing himself he really can box, which leads to a revenge bout with Cochran for the middleweight title. Along the way, we are treated to five musical numbers written by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, and one by Sylvia Fine and Max Liebman.
Sylvia Fine was also Kaye's wife, and she managed his career, often writing songs for his movies, television and stage shows and taking a hand in editing and producing. Jule Styne once said that Kaye "would read the script through, and then he would turn to Sylvia and ask her to read it, and she would make all the suggestions." In later years, Fine would garner two Oscar® nominations for Best Song. Her number in The Kid from Brooklyn, "Pavlova," is a musical fable about ballet.
The Kid from Brooklyn has several influences and forerunners. To begin with, it's officially a remake of the Harold Lloyd talkie classic The Milky Way (1936), itself based on a play by Lynn Root and Harry Clork. But the plot also bears resemblance to The Kid from Spain (1932), starring Eddie Cantor, and Kaye's comedy style is strongly inspired by Cantor himself. Cantor, a key Goldwyn star of the 1930s, developed a persona of a blushing, stammering, wisecracking young man who delivers rapid-fire comedy patter -- all of which was mastered by Kaye in the 1940s. It was no accident; Goldwyn developed Kaye as Cantor's successor. (Kaye's first feature, Up in Arms, had even been a loose remake of the Goldwyn-Cantor film Whoopee! .)
The Kid from Brooklyn was the second film for actress Vera-Ellen, born Vera Ellen Westmeier Rohe, She was a personal discovery of Goldwyn's, and at the time she made this she was five feet four and one-half inches tall, 111 pounds, and almost 25 years old. Her physical appearance, however, was so petite and childlike that she and her mother (who managed her career) had already shaved five years off her official age. And the studio was happy to carefully guard this image. "My age depends on whoever is talking to me at the time," Vera-Ellen once said.
According to biographer David Soren, Ellen resembled 1930s child star Shirley Temple enough that Brooklyn director Norman McLeod encouraged her to borrow from Temple's "gee-whiz screen persona." Her voice was dubbed by Dorothy Ellers, who dubbed many famous actresses in this era, but according to Soren, Ellen's real voice can be heard early in the song "Hey, What's Your Name?" -- a number that also features the (dubbing) voice of Frankie Laine in his first Hollywood job.
But Vera-Ellen was being built up primarily as a dancer, and she has plenty of opportunity here for acrobatic hoofing including splits, somersaults, prop dancing and tapping. At one point in the number "Milk Fund Charity Dance," she swan dives thirteen feet down to be caught by male dancers. She would later co-star with Kaye again in White Christmas (1954).
The other major name in The Kid from Brooklyn is actress Virginia Mayo, still in the pre-westerns/film noir stage of her career. Her singing voice was also dubbed, by Betty Russell. Mayo enjoyed teaming with Danny Kaye, telling an interviewer at the time, "He's wonderful to work with, never seems to tire and is as funny between shots as when the cameras are clicking."
But Mayo clicked even more with actor Steve Cochran, with whom she had first worked on Wonder Man. "He would become a dear friend for all the rest of my life," Mayo later said. "I loved him. (Like a brother.) He was polite and sensitive, and very kind. But indeed, he was extremely sexy and women just couldn't get enough of him. I loved acting with him, and we went on to make many films together... I know there's been speculation over the years that I had an affair with Steve Cochran, but I didn't. Perhaps the thought crossed my mind from time to time, but he was married, and besides, he had so many girlfriends behind his wife's back, I'm not so sure I could have really fit in with his very busy schedule!"
Mayo and Cochran made a terrific pair and would team up four more times, in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), A Song Is Born (1948), White Heat (1949) and She's Back on Broadway (1953). And Mayo would meanwhile appear with Kaye twice more, in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and A Song Is Born.
But in the end The Kid from Brooklyn is Danny Kaye's show, and his singing and brilliant physical comedy -- as in the scene where he memorably teaches Fay Bainter how to dodge around a boxing ring -- are the main attraction. Audiences certainly loved it and turned the picture into a $4 million-grossing hit. Critics heaped praise on the film as well, although they liked Kaye's performance a bit more than the movie itself. The New York Times' Bosley Crowther gushed over Kaye's "best opportunity...yet...upon the screen to show his superior talent for broad and beguiling burlesque." And Variety proclaimed, "Goldwyn-Kaye combine has outdone itself... The film is aimed straight at the belly-laughs and emerges as a lush mixture of comedy, music and gals, highlighted by beautiful Technicolor and ultra-rich production mountings... Gals wear gowns that should panic the femmes and Goldwyn's sets are something to talk about."
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Screenplay: Grover Jones, Frank Butler, Richard Connell (screenplay); Don Hartman, Melville Shavelson (adapted); Lynn Root, Harry Clork (play); Ken Englund, Everett Freeman (additional sequences, uncredited); Eddie Moran (contributor to screenplay, uncredited)
Cinematography: Gregg Toland
Art Direction: Stewart Chaney, Perry Ferguson
Music: Carmen Dragon (uncredited)
Film Editing: Daniel Mandell
Cast: Danny Kaye (Burleigh Sullivan), Virginia Mayo (Polly Pringle), Vera-Ellen (Susie Sullivan), Steve Cochran (Speed McFarlane), Eve Arden (Ann Westley), Walter Abel (Gabby Sloan), Lionel Stander (Spider Schultz), Fay Bainter (Mrs. E. Winthrop LeMoyne), Clarence Kolb (Mr. Austin), Victor Cutler (Photographer)
By Jeremy Arnold
A. Scott Berg, Goldwyn: A Biography
Martin Gottfried, Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye
Dick Richards, The Life Story of Danny Kaye
LC Van Savage (As told to), Virginia Mayo: The Best Years of My Life
David Soren, Vera-Ellen: The Magic and the Mystery