Danny Kaye’s career as an entertainer spanned six decades and encompassed nearly every aspect of the performing arts. People of all ages from all over the world have treasured his unique style of comedy. He had the perfect partner in his wife, Sylvia Fine, who not only wrote the music and lyrics of hundreds of songs tailored specifically to Kaye’s talents but also produced many of his eclectic engagements and brilliantly managed his career. Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine: Two Kids from Brooklyn explores the many talents of this powerful entertainment duo, both raised in Brooklyn, New York.
Kaye’s performance in the 1941 Broadway musical Lady in the Dark propelled him to fame. He became a standing-room-only draw at the largest and most prestigious venues, from the Roxy Theater in New York to the London Palladium. Crowds queued up for days to experience his electrifying variety shows. Kaye’s most enduring achievements lie in his films, including The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and Hans Christian Andersen (1952), which are still among the most popular classic movies. His gifts as an actor led him to many different projects beyond his film and stage career—recording popular songs, hosting his own television show, and, perhaps most surprising, conducting major symphony orchestras across the world.
Sylvia Fine mastered all aspects behind the scenes, from writing scripts and songs to organizing and producing performances. She provided the scaffolding for most of Kaye’s work while having a vibrant career of her own. Fine took her knowledge of theater to the academic world and taught classes on the history of musical comedy at Yale University and the University of Southern California. In 1979, she created a PBS special on the subject titled Musical Comedy Tonight.
Beyond their success in the entertainment industry, Kaye and Fine were dedicated humanitarians who spent much of their free time promoting charities. In 1954, Kaye became the first Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), a position he held the rest of his life.
This exhibition is drawn from the extensive Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Collection housed in the Library of Congress Music Division. The collection came to the Library in 1992 with subsequent additions given since. More than 1,000 boxes of materials include sheet music, scripts, business papers, correspondence, photographs, recordings, and videos. In addition to this exhibition, the Library of Congress is launching a website featuring 2,000 items from this twentieth-century show business collection.