Dena Kaye — Photo by Dick Fallin
Many people ask me, "What's it like to be Danny Kaye's 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.
Sign up for the AARP Leisure Newsletter.
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 Kaye. 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 Danny Kaye the man, and entertained and moved by Danny Kaye the artist.