The Danny Kaye Show, which premiered on 25 September 1963, was designed as a showcase for the multi-talented entertainer who, before appearing on television, was already a veteran of the vaudeville circuit, the Broadway stage, film, radio, and nightclubs. The variety series was not Kaye's first foray into television: a 1957 See It Now program, entitled "The Secret Life of Danny Kaye," documented Kaye entertaining children around the world on behalf of UNICEF, an organization for which he worked for many years. In 1960, Kaye signed a $1.5 million contract for three annual special programs that would set the pattern for his later series. Although these specials were not critically successful, audience ratings (and two Emmy nominations for his second special with Lucille Ball) were sufficient for CBS to offer the entertainer his own weekly series. That same season, veteran performers Jerry Lewis and Judy Garland also premiered variety series, but faded quickly.
Unlike comedians such as Red Skelton or Bob Hope, whose series highlighted their monologues, Kaye's variety hour was similar in scope to Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. Kaye's series was a mixture of sketches and special musical material that showcased his inimitable talents. The series attracted prominent guests who helped Kaye demonstrate his own versatility. He sang scat with Louis Armstrong and calypso with Harry Belafonte, danced with Gene Kelly, and performed in sketches with such stars as actor José Ferrer and comedian Dick Van Dyke.
Kaye's strength was his ability to work with a live studio audience. Most episodes included a "quiet" segment highlighting Kaye's ability to work one-on-one with his audience and provide a sense of intimacy. In this portion, Kaye would sit on a chair at the edge of the stage.
At times, he would tell a story that would highlight his talent for dialects or tongue-twisting dialogue. On other occasions he would engage in conversation with a child (Victoria Meyerick or, later, Laurie Ichino) or a group of children.
The series was produced by Perry Lafferty, who had previously produced variety series for Arthur Godfrey and Andy Williams. Writers for the series included Larry Gelbart (who later created M*A*S*H) and Mel Tolkin, both of whom had also written for Caesar's Hour. Although Kaye's supporting cast did not appear on a weekly basis, they included Harvey Korman, Gwen Verdon, Joyce Van Patten, the Earl Brown Singers, the Clinger Sisters, and the Tony Charmoli Dancers.
In its first season, The Danny Kaye Show garnered three Emmy awards, including one for the show and one for its star. That same season, the series also received a George Foster Peabody Award as one of the best entertainment programs for the year. During the series' four-year run, it accumulated a total of six Emmy nominations.
Despite Kaye's enormous talents and popularity, the series failed to gain a wide audience and never achieved critical success. Considering Kaye's popularity among younger viewers, his late hour time slot (10:00-11:00 P.M.) was a major factor in his mediocre ratings. A lack of direction in the show's format and average material often resulted in childlike antics that some critics felt were inappropriate. In addition, competition from other network programs, such as NBC's Wednesday Night at the Movies and I Spy, contributed to the variety show's low ratings.
However, Kaye remained popular with his audience and legions of fans. In fact, the variety series was imported to the United Kingdom in 1964 for the premiere of the BBC-2 channel and ran there for three seasons.
After his show's cancellation in 1967, Kaye returned to television in a number of special programs, mostly aimed at younger viewers, including Hallmark Hall of Fame's "Peter Pan" (NBC, 1976) and "Pinocchio" (CBS, 1976). That same year, he hosted the Emmy award-winning Danny Kaye's Look at the Metropolitan Opera (CBS, 1976).
His last television appearances were in the Emmy-nominated Live from Lincoln Center: An Evening with Danny Kaye and the New York Philharmonic (PBS, 1981) and the CBS docudrama, Skokie (CBS, 1981). For both these performances, Kaye was presented with another Peabody award "for virtuoso performances and versatility as a superb clown and as a sensitive dramatic actor." Kaye died in 1987.
Harvey Korman (1964-1967)
Joyce Van Patten (1964-1967)
Laurie Ichino (1964-1965)
Victoria Meyerink (1964-1967)
The Johnny Mann Singers (1963-1964)
The Earl Brown Singers (1964-1967)
The Tony Charmoli Dancers
Paul Weston and His Orchestra
Perry Lafferty, Robert Tamplin
September 1963-June 1967 Wednesday 10:00-11:00
Freedland, Michael. The Secret Life of Danny Kaye. New York: St. Martin's, 1985.
Gottfried, Martin. Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
Gould, Jack. "Danny Kaye Brightens Home Sets." New York Times, 26 September 1963.
Singer, Kurt Deutsch. The Danny Kaye Story. New York: Thomas Nelson, 1958.