Danny Kaye (1913-1987)
- Jimmy Durante, The Man Who Came To Dinner, 1941. Director William Keighley tested Kaye for Banjo - a character based upon Harpo Marx, opposite the titular Monty Woolley. Kaye had to wait two years for his breakthrough, Up In Arms.
- Bob Hope, Let’s Face It, 1942. All right for some… Eve Arden created her Maggie Watson role in the play. Her Broadway co-star Danny Kaye wasn’t so lucky, being passed over for a better known comic.
- Milton Berle, Always Leave Them Laughing, 1948. After a string of successes for producer Sam Goldwyn, Danny signed with Warners - and quit after one flop, leaving his vehicles to other drivers. .
- Broderick Crawford, Stop, You're Killing Me, 1953. Minus Danny, satire became farce in the re-make of Edward G Robinson's A Slight Case of Murder, 1938. Runyonesque. Except somebody must have said: Hold the Runyons.
- Howard Keel, Kiss Me Kate, 1952. If MGM could not entice Danny, it wanted someone he knew quite intimately. Laurence Olivier. This is the first and only time that Kaye and his sometime lover were up for the same role. In the musical inspired by the rows between the idolised Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine during their 1935 Taming of the Shrew in New York.
- Cary Grant, Monkey Business, 1952. In June, Danny was OK for Dr Barnaby Fulton. Until director Howard Hawks preferred - of course - his pal Cary. Funny film. Funnier text emanated from the Breen Office censors: “Dr Fulton's youth formula amounts to a story of the invention of an aphrodisiac, which mainly exploits the lurid, or what might be called ‘sexsational’ aspects of such a drug.” Sexsational - the censors were compiling advertising slogans now?
- Jack Lemmon, It Should Happen to You, 1953. Garson Kanin wrote the comedy for Kaye and Judy Holliday. Kaye’s loss was Lemmon’s debut. (He hated the title). Director George Cukor taught him: less is more. And Jack was of, immediately reunited with Holliday for Phffft - sound of a marriage breaking up. (You didn’t know that!!)
- Guy Mitchell, Red Garters, 1954. Danny and Jane Russell sounded OK, but they were never free at the same time for the novel Western filmusical - using deliberately stagey sets.
- Jerry Lewis, Visit To A Small Planet, 1959. Times had changed and the new #1 box-office clown was Jer and no longer Kaye. Producer Hal Wallis also considered the UK’s latest theatrical knight as Gore Vidal’s visiting alien Kreton until deciding to go without Alec Guinness. The movie also lost his anagram... genuine class.
- Tom Ewell, a nice little BANK that should be robbed. 1958. Well, that’s exactly how it was written in the credits… Kaye passed to Ewell, who robbed banks to finance a racing stable, with his similar sad-sacks pals Mickeys Rooney and Shaugnessey. Nobody passed the post first.
- Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot, 1958. The suits didn’t agree about Lemmon and insisted on bigger names. When Frank Sinatra never turned up for a meet with dirctor Billy Wilder, Danny was voted OK - opposite Bob Hope. “They’d both done drag before,” commented Lemmon’s co-star Tony Curtis, “and were as funny as you’d expect... Maybe Danny would have overwhelmed me. Maybe I’d have made him look old. For whatever reason, Billy said no to Danny.” The reason was far more simple... Once Wilder won Marilyn, he could have whoever he fancied. Hence, Lemmon… in the first of their seven films during 1958-1981.
- Jerry Lewis, Visit To A Small Planet, 1959. Times had changed and the new #1 box-office clown was Jer' and no longer Kaye. Producer Hal Wallis also considered the UK’s latest theatrical knight as Gore Vidal’s visiting alien Kreton until deciding to go without Alec Guinness. The movie also lost his anagram... genuine class.
- Mickey Shaughnessy, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1960. Eight years earlier, MGM had planned a musical version with Dean Styockwell as Huck, William Warfield (Joe in Show Boat, 1951) as Jim, Gene Kelly and Danny as the two con men. (That explains the four songs in this film).
- Robert Preston, The Music Man, 1962. And that rhymes with… Kaye had also been first choice for the Broadway show.
- Ray Walston, Kiss Me, Stupid, 1963. Director Billy Wilder didn’t want (much less, care) to wait and see if Peter Sellers could recover from his massive heart attacks. Billy called Danny, who refused - after consulting (as Sellers always did) an astrologer. Danny could hardly play a husband whose hot wife cheated on him with Dean Martin. The audience would have sobbed with him - and torn the place down! Wilder wouldn’t wait for Jack Lemmon, either, and staggered everyone by rushing ahead with Walston.... as if sabotaging his own movie. Walston had zero charisma. The comedy was a flop the second he signed his contract.
- Dick Van Dyke, Mary Poppins, 1963. OK, Bert the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious chimney sweep, had to sing and dance it up. But he also had to be at home with a Cockney accent. Only a few US stars could manage that. Sadly, Van Dyke was not among them. Nor were Kaye, Fred Astaire or Cary Grant. Of the others in the loop, the Brits Jim Dale and Ron Moody would have been less execrable. Van Dyke then blamed the worst Cockney speak in movie history on his accent coach, J Pat O’Malley, a regular vocie in Disney toons. “His British accent was even worse,” complained Van Dyke. He still booked O’Malley as his father in a 1964 chapter of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Before the UK reviews exploded!
- Salvo Randone, Satyricon, Italy, 1969. Not interested in Eumolpo. Indeed, none of Fellini's big names came to the party - Groucho Marx, Mae West, etc
- Pierre Etaix, I clowns (UK/UK: The Clowns), TV, Italy-France-West Germany,1970. Apart from his favourite Italian clowns (Fanfulla, etc), maestro Federico Fellini wanted his good pal to represent foreign clowns in his documentary... He was too busy.Again.Enter: the impeccable French mime and caricaturist. Danny visited the shooting ofFellini’s 20th film, La città delle donne/City of Women, 1979.
- Topol, Fiddler on the Roof,1970. When word got out that that producer Walter Mirisch and director Norman Jewison were passing on Broadway’s Zero Mostel - “too big for film” - Danny expressed great interest in becoming Tevye. So did Walter Matthau. (Brando,Sinatra (!), Anthony Quinn, Orson Welles were also rumoured to be keen). None got to first base once Topol ended his run of the West End production in London. Mostel remained bitter; like his son. When offered the Delta House series in 1979, Josh Mostel rasped: ”Tell them to ask Topol’s son if he wants the job!"
- Peter Sellers, The Optimists of Nine Elms,1973. The role was written in the ‘60s for Buster Keaton. The Money Men refused him but backed, first, John Mills (a bizzare choice; no matter he promptly broke his leg) and then Danny. However, the Optimists were shelved for several years until Sellers made it - beautifully. Channeling more Dan Leno, than Keaton.
- Art Carney, Harry and Tonto, 1974. Auteur Paul Mazursky wrote it for Jimmy Cagney to be the widower of 72, on an odyssey across the US after being evicted with his cat, Tonto. Also refusing: Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier and Frank Sinatra. And, of course, as Mazursky used to write for his TV show, Danny Kaye. Danny said: “Not enough jokes!” No, but an Oscar for Carney - on: April 8, 1975. I know. I was there.