NOBODY'S FOOL: The Lives of Danny Kaye by Martin Gottfried

NOBODY'S FOOL: The Lives of Danny Kaye

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Show biz biographer Gottfried (All His Jazz: The Life and Death of Bob Fosse, 1990, etc.) once again condescends to his subject. As usual, Gottfried has done a solid job of researching and crisply retelling the life story of Danny Kaye, born David Kaminski in 1913 to Ukrainian-Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn. He capably situates Kaye, who began his career in the Catskills, at ""a historic moment [when] the low clowns of burlesque and the elegant monologuists of vaudeville...were being replaced by the cooler, more remote entertainers of radio and the movies."" Kaye himself, though he exuded warmth onstage, was, in Gottfried's depiction, emotionally distant in his personal life, and he gained his greatest fame as a carefully nonethnic, childlike performer attuned to the mores of suburban, family-oriented postwar America -- though he himself was thoroughly urbane. His stage successes in the early 1940s and such movie vehicles as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and Hans Christian Andersen (1952) never really captured Kaye's unique combination of gifts; Gottfried rightly points to the sophisticated mÉlange of comic songs, soft-shoe dancing, and audience-pleasing patter in his nightclub act, which triumphed at the London Palladium in 1948, as more expressive of his abilities. Not that Gottfried appears to think much of those abilities; he quotes extensively from negative assessments of Kaye's work and is similarly free with bitchy comments from people who knew the entertainer, regaling us endlessly with stories of Kaye's ego, cruelty, and strained marriage with writer Sylvia Fine, depicted as a union of professional convenience. He does take time to convincingly refute Donald Spoto's much-ballyhooed claim that Kaye and Laurence Olivier were lovers, but other than that, no gossip is too mean-spirited to repeat. The author seems almost to relish Kaye's sad professional and personal decline before his death in 1987. Comprehensive -- except for any spark of human sympathy.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster