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Danny Kaye's 100th Birthday
Remind Me

Hans Christian Andersen
(Danny Kaye honored in 1981)

In 1952 producer Samuel Goldwyn presented the world with Hans Christian Andersen, a lavish musical biography of the Danish storyteller which wove together details from the writer's life and his beloved fables through the use of songs and musical interludes. Starring Danny Kaye, the film was a fourteen year old project for Goldwyn, who described it as "a long labor of love, because if ever I loved anything in my entire career, this has been it."

Goldwyn began commissioning scripts for the project in 1938, but finally pushed it into production when rival studio Paramount expressed interest in one of the thirty-two versions of the story. Goldwyn set screenwriter Moss Hart on the task of producing a final script (Hart would pen A Star is Born [1954] two years later). After failing to convince the Broadway songwriting team of Rodgers and Hammerstein to write the score, Goldwyn secured Frank Loesser (of Guys and Dolls [1955] fame) to write ten original songs for the film. Hart then wrote the story around the songs, each a musical interpretation of fables such as "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes." The result was a rather disjointed and nonsensical plot, but Goldwyn was so close to the movie that he couldn't see the obvious flaws. In a letter from his secretary to his son, Goldwyn Junior, the enthusiasm was obvious: "Things are getting very exciting around the studio these days. Some of the sets are nearing completion and they are truly magnificent . . . gorgeous costumes are in work - tests are being made - and a million other things seem to be going on at the same time. Mr. Goldwyn is working very hard but is thriving on it. He is in the best of health and seems to enjoy every minute of the day." But all the excitement came with a hefty price tag - the production would ultimately total four million in costs. In all the commotion, Charles Vidor, the director, was getting lost in the shuffle (Vidor was best known for the Rita Hayworth film noir, Gilda [1946]).

Comedian Danny Kaye had collaborated with Goldwyn five times before - most notably in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) - and declared he was "crazy to do the picture," to the tune of $200,000. Farley Granger, one of Goldwyn's last remaining contract players, was unwillingly cast in a supporting role; the handsome young actor was popular in the late 40s and early 50s, but left Hollywood for better opportunities abroad (he appeared in Luchino Visconti's Senso in 1954). He viewed Hans Christian Andersen as a demeaning and ridiculous project, and his objections to Goldwyn would ultimately result in the mutual dissolving of his contract. Goldwyn had wanted the star of the 1948 smash The Red Shoes (another Andersen tale), Moira Shearer, to perform the role of the ballerina but when delays set the production back several months she was no longer available - she was pregnant. Renee (Zizi) Jeanmarie, the prima ballerina for the Ballet de Paris, was cast in the role.

While Jeanmarie and Granger got along well, the actress did not receive such a warm reception from Kaye. Her struggling grasp of English repeatedly frustrated the actor, according to the Kaye biography, Nobody's Fool, by Martin Gottfried. "On several occasions, Danny walked off the set, snapping at Charles Vidor, "Call me when she understands what you're saying." The meek director Vidor would accept that with a shrug." Kaye's bad attitude didn't end there: he ran hot and cold with Granger, friendly one moment then ignoring him in public later. "At one point during the making of the movie," according to Gottfried, "he became so petulant about the costumes that he wailed to Granger, "How come you get to wear all these beautiful clothes and I have to wear rags?" Kaye also demanded Granger's part in a duet with Jeanmarie, resulting in all the songs being sung by Kaye. But Goldwyn gave his star whatever he wanted - he loved the project too much to jeopardize anything. But Goldwyn didn't just have actors to worry about; he had a whole country creating problems for him.

Even before its release, Denmark protested against the film, decrying it as an unfair treatment of their national hero. Goldwyn promptly sent Kaye overseas to effectively allay their concerns. The ploy worked according to the A. Scott Berg book, Goldwyn: A Biography: "Danny Kaye visited Denmark in July 1952. From the airport he went straight to the statue of Andersen in one of Copenhagen’s central parks, to lay flowers. More than fifty policemen were needed to escort him through the throngs who awaited him at the memorial. "I came here to see if you would murder me," he said, only to be assaulted with cheers. He climbed the statue and embraced Andersen, then had to be carried on a policeman's shoulders past the thousands of fans." With the Danish public mollified, the production was cleared for takeoff: upon its release, Hans Christian Andersen earned six million dollars and scored six Oscar® nominations for the score, costumes, art direction, sound, cinematography, and song. Although returning empty-handed from the Academy Awards, Goldwyn was nonetheless delighted with his film's box office success, declaring, "It all proves to me that this business of ours is still a great and healthy one. If you make your pictures for the whole family, the whole family will make a bee-line for the theatre."

Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: Charles Vidor
Screenplay: Moss Hart
Art Direction: Antoni Clave, Richard Day
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Music: Frank Loesser
Cast: Danny Kaye (Hans Christian Andersen), Farley Granger (Niels), Zizi "Renee" Jeanmaire (Doro), Philip Tonge (Otto), Erik Bruhn (The Hussar), Roland Petit (Prince), John Brown (Schoolmaster).

by Eleanor Quin



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