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Danny Kaye at 100 — a Daughter's View

Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Cary Grant were part of Dena's growing up. A kid's-eye-view of life with her multi-talented dad

Quintessential Kaye

The centennial anniversary of Danny Kaye's birth on Jan. 18, 1913, will be celebrated by events throughout 2013. His only child, Dena, 66, shares with AARP photos and memories of her father, beginning with this, her favorite. She says, "It captures his unfettered exuberance, shows his graceful hands and his trademark nonchalant but elegant way of dressing."

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Baby Brooklynite

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., my father was the youngest of three brothers and the only one born in America. (Mac and Larry were born in Russia.) His given name was David Daniel Kaminsky, and long after he became Danny Kaye, his family still called him Davie.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Rosemary Clooney

A quiet moment on the set of White Christmas. "Danny made Bing Crosby laugh the way everybody wishes they could have made Bing laugh," Clooney once said about their costar in the iconic movie. "More than Bob Hope ever did."

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Bing Crosby

My father appreciated Bing Crosby. He admired his voice and his sense of timing, and he loved to make him laugh. In the "Sisters" number in the movie White Christmas, my father kept swatting Crosby in the chest with his boa fan. Crosby couldn't help laughing, and though they did many takes, the scene that appears in the movie is my father breaking up the implacable Mr. Crosby.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Cary Grant

Grant and my father were true friends. They shared the same Capricorn birth date and love of baseball; here they are at a Dodgers game in L.A. Once, our front doorbell rang and I ran to answer it wrapped in an oversize bathrobe, wearing furry slippers, my hair set in rollers encased in a blue hairnet. And whom did I see when I opened the door? Cary Grant.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Ella Fitzgerald

One of my father's great joys was singing. "I'm crazy about being a group singer," he used to say. On one of his CBS shows with the great Ella Fitzgerald, he was a group of two. He practiced so he could spontaneously scat with her. You could feel his abandon when he did up-tempo songs, and his tenderness when he sang ballads.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Frank Sinatra

Everyone in my inner circle knew I loved Frank Sinatra. For a high school graduation party my parents gave me, my mother casually asked if there was anyone besides my friends whom I'd like to invite. "What about Frank Sinatra?" I joked. To my shock and delight he actually came, and asked me for the last dance of the evening.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Katharine Hepburn

"She was a force of nature," my father said of Hepburn when he returned home after shooting The Madwoman of Chaillot in the south of France. He played the ragpicker, a true departure from the familiar zany, though often touching, bumbler or musical "Danny Kaye" roles. It revealed his gifts as a dramatic actor.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Lucille Ball

The two redheads. Lucy and Desi Arnaz lived in our neighborhood, next to Jack and Mary Benny. But no one in Beverly Hills walked over and knocked on neighbors' doors, dropped in for tea or asked to borrow a cup of sugar.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Liza Minnelli

I didn't know many other "children of." Liza Minnelli, at left, was really the only one, and we often shared our birthday parties. At this age probably the only point of discussion was the cake. We don't see each other much as grownups, but when we do, we are full of big hugs for each other.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

The Kaye Family

The year 2013 is actually a double centennial. My mother would have celebrated her 100th birthday, too. Nominated for two Academy Awards for best song, and awarded a Peabody for her PBS special Musical Comedy Tonight, my mother wrote many of the sophisticated songs my father performed in movies, on stage and in nightclubs (where she accompanied him on the piano).

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Queen Elizabeth

There is much ado about the curtsy when one is presented to the queen. So my mother rehearsed before she and my father were to meet the young Queen Elizabeth. I remember my mother getting dressed, complete with purse and gloves, and standing in front of her dressing room mirror, practicing the requisite curtsy, over and over.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Dancers extraordinaire

My father, at left, and his contemporaries — from left to right: Phil Silvers, Judy Garland and Gene Kelly — rehearse for a USO show. 

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

Backstage admirers

Fans slept outside the theater in order to buy tickets when the box office opened for my father's one-man show in London. Local papers called him "our" Danny. Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh (pictured far right with Bette Davis), were great friends. I still have the gold earrings they gave my mother. Kitty Carlisle Hart, at my father's left, and my mother met when they shared a dressing room at a Chicago nightclub; Hart later became my godmother.

Photo courtesy of Dena Kaye

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Learn more about Danny Kaye from his daughter, Dena (below).

My Father, Danny Kaye

Dena Kaye

Dena Kaye — Photo by Dick Fallin

Many people ask me, "What's it like to be his daughter?" I always answer that I've never known anything else. What I do know is that he profoundly influenced all aspects of all my life.

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By profession I'm a journalist, specializing in travel and design. It requires an innate curiosity and doggedness. Those qualities marked everything my father did, whether it was his "What ifs" in the kitchen — which I greeted with delight and trepidation, as in, "What if I added tuna to this pizza?" — or the exploration of unique roles: for example, playing a concentration camp survivor in the TV movie Skokie.

By avocation I'm a Sunday cook, photographer, jazz fan and avid traveler. The concept of a palette of interests stemmed from my growing up with a real-life Walter Mitty. My father lived out his dreams. He was a jet pilot, part owner of a Major League Baseball team, golfer, cook and orchestra conductor. These passions balanced an intense professional career and created other worlds in which he could express himself.

My father was spontaneous and impulsive. We often went to Palm Springs, Calif., where he loved to play golf. He once came home from a golf match, dressed elegantly in a suede jacket, and walked in the front door, car keys still in hand. My mother said, "Darling, why don't you take a dip in the pool before dinner?" He never stopped walking and jumped right into the pool. This was pure Danny. That concept of spontaneity looms large in my life.

As UNICEF's first ambassador to the world's children, he was among the first celebrities to use his fame to support an international cause. As president of the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation, I am proud and personally gratified to honor his philosophy of commitment.

We have made grants to work as diverse as a hospital and women's weaving project in India, a park in downtown Cairo and restoration of an opera foyer in Paris. We have given to education programs at Jazz at Lincoln Center and Jazz Aspen Snowmass, stem cell research and two theaters: the Danny Kaye Theatre at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., with a stove center stage; and the Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse in New York. With the French Heritage Society and the World Monuments Fund, we give to the restoration and conservation of buildings and monuments, because I feel a responsibility to preserve for future travelers what has given me such pleasure.

My hope is that this centennial year will be a reminder, for the generation who knew my father, of his infinite gifts, and that it will introduce him to others who, like me, will be inspired by the man, and entertained and moved by the artist.

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