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Danny Kaye's 100th Birthday
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The Dick Cavett Show: Danny Kaye

The Dick Cavett Show was one of the leading talk shows on evening television, airing on ABC from 1968-1974 and again on PBS from 1977 to 1982. Cavett was a humorous and intelligent host, and the caliber of talent that he was able to book for his program was astonishing: legends like Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, Katharine Hepburn and Truman Capote, as well as legends in the making like John Lennon, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. On the day before Thanksgiving, November 24, 1971, Dick Cavett's guest was a legend of stage, screen and television: Danny Kaye.

During the 90 minute program, Cavett and Kaye discussed a variety of topics, often in a stream-of-consciousness style. As with many interviews with show business legends, clips from old films were shown, which inspired Kaye to explain how he did many of his own stunts, including learning to fence for The Court Jester (1955). In his autobiography In and Out of Character, Kaye's costar, Basil Rathbone, wrote admiringly of Kaye's almost chameleon-like ability to learn something almost immediately. "[H]e had a very keen sense of mime that could immediately translate the still picture into physical movement. Hear or see anything just once and he could imitate it without the slightest effort." Returning the compliment, Kaye spoke warmly of Rathbone, noting that he had been one of the best fencers in Hollywood. However, Kaye admitted that he had practiced for weeks with a 2x4 learning to stand properly before moving on to using an actual saber. Cavett then confessed to Kaye that as a teenager, he and his friends would reenact the sword fighting scenes from The Court Jester with fishing poles and home-made masks.

Asked by Cavett to perform for the audience, Kaye was joined by the house band to sing a few songs, including Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians) by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, from Lady in the Dark, the 1941 musical that had made Kaye a star, and Thumbelina from Hans Christian Andersen (1952).

Thumbelina was a song that Kaye often performed for children, especially during his work for UNICEF. Kaye recalled how he had become an ambassador for the charity: while flying over the Atlantic in 1953, his plane had caught fire. His seatmate was Maurice Pate, who was the Executive Director of UNICEF. After they had landed, Pate asked Kaye if he would visit some of UNICEF's installations to help boost their visibility and Kaye was overwhelmed by the good work the organization was doing. Kaye then narrated footage from his recent trips to war-torn areas and spoke eloquently of his hope that the children who received aid from UNICEF would know that people all over the world were banding together to help them, so that when they grew up, they would remember and it would help them to work with other nations and achieve peace in our time. Danny Kaye remained with UNICEF until his death in 1987.

The rapport between Cavett and Kaye was evident, and twenty years after Kaye's death, Dick Cavett told The Huffington Post that he dealt with his chronic depression with "Pharmaceuticals, electroconvulsive therapy and old Danny Kaye movies. I hate Danny Kaye movies. Why'd I say that?"

by Lorraine LoBianco

SOURCES:
"Dick Cavett Talks About His Depression" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/06/20/dick-cavett-talks-about-h_n_108332.html
The Internet Movie Database
Rathbone, Basil In and Out of Character

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