This Saturday at 9 p.m., KCET brings you the 1948 musical comedy, "The Inspector General," which stars Danny Kaye as a wandering Gypsy who winds up the target of an assassination plot when the inhabitants of a small town mistake him for the tax collector. The film also stars Walter Slezak and Elsa Lanchester. This is the latest entry in KCET's "Classic Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received "The Inspector General" on Dec. 31, 1949.
Born David Daniel Kaminsky to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants in 1913, Danny Kaye's portrayal of the lovable charlatan, "Georgi," in "The inspector General" is a reminder of the performer's Eastern European roots.
But it was another nod to the motherland that put Danny Kaye on many people's radar eight years earlier. In 1941, he starred on Broadway in Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin's musical "Lady in the Dark." During the song "Tchaikovsky," Kaye wowed theater audiences by rattling off the names of around 50 Russian and Polish composers in 38 seconds.
Here's Kaye performing the number on his radio program, "The Danny Kaye Show," which aired between 1945-46.
Perhaps the only thing with more syllables than that list was the one detailing Kaye's talents. The multi-hyphenate entertainer was best known for comedy, but he had wonderful dramatic range too.
One of his most famous performances was in the 1981 television movie, "Skokie," in which he played an elderly Holocaust survivor.
A Brooklyn boy at heart, Kaye was a lifelong Dodgers fan. Despite his allegiance, Kaye became one of the original owners of the Seattle Mariners in 1977. The group sold the team four years later.
Kaye loved the Dodgers so much he even recorded an ode to the "boys in blue" during the 1962 pennant race called, fittingly, "D-O-D-G-E-R-S Song."
The original recording also included a B-side featuring Kaye's faux-Japanese take on the classic poem, "Casey at the bat." Kaye's version was titled "Myti Kaysi at the bat."
Take a closer look back
Unfortunately for Kaye, he was suspected by the F.B.I. of being a different kind of dodger in 1944: a draft dodger. Despite performing for U.S. troops overseas during WWII on numerous occasions, Kaye was investigated by the bureau for lying about an illness to avoid serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Charges were never brought, however.
The entire 70-page F.B.I. file of the investigation can be found here.
In 1947, Kaye and a cadre of other Hollywood celebrities, including Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, traveled to Washington D.C. to protest the conduct of the House Un-American Affairs Committee, led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Kaye, pictured at Los Angeles Airport ticket counter, is the man standing with his face obscured: