Dec 18, 2017

Danny Kaye was Gay

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, one of our traditions was watching White Christmas (1954), actually a backstage comedy about rival singing acts, with nothing to do with Christmas except the final scene.  It was my first backstage comedy, my introduction to Bing Crosby, and the only thing I've ever seen Danny Kaye in.

But when my parents were young, Danny Kaye was everywhere.  Born in New York in 1911, he was a Borscht belt and Vaudeville comedian before moving to Hollywood at the start of World War II.  He played fast-talking, mugging Russians (The Inspector General, 1949), wistful dreamers (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 1947; Hans Christian Andersen, 1952), and, of course, dopey sidekicks (White Christmas).

Plus he had his own radio program (1945-46) and cut many records with both sentimental and novelty songs: "The Woody Woodpecker Song," "I've Got a Lovely Box of Coconuts," "Tchaikovsky" (which involves saying the names of Russian composers at breakneck speed).

He had his own tv show from 1963 to 1967 (I never saw it), and appeared as himself on Laugh-In, The Tonight Show, Dick Cavett, Ed Sullivan, The CBS Festival of Lively Arts for Young People, and The Muppet Show.

His last role was on an episode of The Cosby Show.  He died in 1987.

Comedic actors need a great deal of upper-body strength to do their pratfalls.  As this photo from Baby Jane Collectibles reveals, Danny Kaye had a respectable physique for his era.

But I understand that his stage presence was feminine, even swishy, nearly as gay-coded as Jack Benny, and he played a string of "sissies" who use their wit to triumph over muscle-men. Was he gay?

Yep.  Well, he liked ladies.  He was married to Sylvia Fine from 1940 to his death, and he had various other hetero-affairs with women ranging from Eve Arden to Shirley MacLaine,  But he was also open to same-sex activity and even romance. 

Sir Laurence Olivier is mentioned most often as his partner: they met in 1940, and saw each other off and on for the next twenty years, in plain sight of their wives and everyone in Hollywood.  The rule in those days was to pretend not to notice.


  1. Joan Plowright (Olivier's wife at the time) is respnisible for the Kay-Olivier affair ending. She put her foot down, demanding that Olivier end it.


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