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David Daniel Kaminsky, known as Danny Kaye (January 18, 1913 - March 3, 1987) was a Golden Globe-winning American actor, singer and comedian.
Born in Brooklyn to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, Kaye became one of the world's best-known comedians. Kaye spent his early youth attending PS 149 in East New York, Brooklyn. He continued on to Thomas Jefferson High School, although he never graduated. He learned his trade in his teen years in the Catskills as a tummler in the Borscht Belt.
Danny Kaye made his film debut in a 1935 comedy short subject, entitled Moon Over Manhattan. In 1937 he signed with New York-based Educational Pictures for a series of two-reel comedies. Kaye usually played a manic, dark-haired, fast-talking Russian in these low-budget shorts, opposite young hopefuls June Allyson or Imogene Coca. The Kaye series ended abruptly when the studio shut down permanently in 1938.
Kaye scored a personal triumph in 1941, in the hit Broadway comedy Lady in the Dark. His show-stopping number was "Tchaikovsky," by Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin, in which he sang the names of a whole string of Russian composers at breakneck speed, seemingly without taking a breath.
His feature film debut was in producer Samuel Goldwyn's Technicolor comedy Up in Arms (1944), a wartime remake of Goldwyn's Eddie Cantor comedy Whoopee. Goldwyn agonized over Kaye's ethnic, Borscht-belt looks and ordered him to undergo a nose job. Kaye refused, and Goldwyn found another way to brighten Kaye's dark features: he had Kaye's hair lightened, giving him his trademark redheaded locks. Kaye's rubber face and fast patter were an instant hit, and rival producer Robert M. Savini cashed in almost immediately by compiling three of Kaye's old Educational shorts into a makeshift feature, The Birth of a Star (1945).
Kaye starred in several movies with actress Virginia Mayo in the 1940s, and is well known for his roles in films such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), The Inspector General (1949). On the Riviera (1951) co-starring Gene Tierney, White Christmas (1954, in a role originally intended for Donald O'Connor), Knock on Wood (1954), The Court Jester (1956), and Merry Andrew (1958). Kaye starred in two pictures based on biographies, Hans Christian Andersen (1952) about the Danish story-teller, and The Five Pennies (1959) about jazz pioneer Red Nichols. His wife, Sylvia Fine, wrote many of the witty, togue-twisting songs Danny Kaye became famous for. Some of Kaye's films included the theme of doubles, two people who look identical (both played by Danny Kaye) being mistaken for each other, to comic effect.
According to a series of memos released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under the Freedom of Information Act, Kaye was suspected of dodging the draft during World War II. Allegedly, Kaye faked a medical condition in order to gain 4-F status and exemption from military service. However, these accusations were never proven, and though the FBI maintained a file on Kaye's connections to supposed Communist groups, he was never prosecuted.
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