Two fans of legendary entertainer Danny Kaye pay homage with film festival Saturday and Sunday
By Carl Kozlowski 01/01/2013
Mona Delitsky has been a fan of Danny Kaye since she was 10 years old. That was in 1963, when the late great multifaceted entertainer began the four-year run of his variety show on CBS. “The Danny Kaye Show” brought a lively mix of song and dance, humorous sketches and recurring comical characters into millions of homes nationwide.
The show’s popularity grew out of Kaye’s long-established status as a movie star, a reputation built through his starring roles in 18 films ranging from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and “The Court Jester” to “Hans Christian Andersen” and “White Christmas.” Kaye was also a renowned celebrity ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and earned acclaim for his dramatic work in the 1981 TV movie “Skokie,” in which he portrayed a Holocaust survivor who counter-protested a pro-Nazi rally in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill.
Despite his many accomplishments, Kaye’s star has dimmed since his death from a heart attack in 1987. But next weekend, Jan. 12-13, Delitsky will attempt to shine the spotlight back on her favorite star, when she and her friend and fellow Kaye fan, Thor Dockweiler, team up to host the Danny Kaye Film Festival at the Pasadena Convention Center.
“He was always about good, wholesome entertainment,” Delitsky says. “I was totally smitten with him, and he was my first celebrity hero, so I’ve been watching his movies ever since. He has pretty much fallen out of the public eye since he died in 1987. This next generation never heard of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and they have their own screen idols. This is our effort to bring [Kaye] back in the public eye.”
The festival will consist of screenings of 10 Kaye films, ranging from his biggest hits to films that have been somewhat overlooked with the passage of time. Saturday’s schedule kicks off at 9:30 a.m. with “The Kid from Brooklyn,” followed at 12:30 p.m. with “Hans Christian Andersen,” 3 p.m. with “Wonder Man,” 6 p.m. with “The Court Jester” and 8:30 p.m. with “Merry Andrew.”
Sunday’s program begins at 9:30 a.m. with “Up in Arms,” followed at 12:30 p.m. with “The Inspector General,” 3 p.m. with “On the Riviera,” 6 p.m. with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and 8:30 p.m. with “A Song is Born.” There will be lunch and dinner breaks between films, talks about Kaye’s work on each film and interactive events like trivia contests.
If enough attendees dress up like Kaye’s characters, the event will add in a costume contest. Finally, every attendee will receive an exclusive, 50-page program guide covering Kaye’s career that will be available only at the event.
Delitsky believes that with the centennial of Kaye’s Brooklyn birth (under the name David Daniel Kaminsky) approaching on Jan. 18, now is the perfect time to celebrate his work. It was an idea hatched two years ago in her dentist’s office.
“My dentist has all these fancy magazines in his waiting room, and he happened to have a copy of Architectural Digest, which featured an article by Danny’s only child, a travel writer named Dina Kaye,” recalls Delitsky, a Pasadena resident who works as a freelance chemist consultant in the space industry. “Her article got me thinking of Danny, and shortly after I saw a tribute issue from Time Life honoring Ronald Reagan’s centennial. So I felt something special should be done to mark Danny’s own 100th birthday.”
Delitsky was disappointed to find there weren’t many fan Web sites dedicated to Kaye. Five years ago, she surfed the Internet, seeking other fans with whom to discuss his work, and quickly grew concerned that his fan base had dwindled dangerously. But as she began her festival preparations in earnest last year, she was surprised to find an “explosion of interest” had occurred.
“I was shocked to find his movies available on Amazon, and was now able to watch his TV reruns on basic cable,” says Delitsky. “There was even a site that offered ‘Further resources for the Danny Kaye obsessed,’ and I thought ‘I’m Danny Kaye obsessed!’ There are obviously huge fans out there, and having a film fest seemed like the obvious event to host.”
It’s been a grassroots effort from there, with Delitsky fully funding the fest and its attendant screening-license fees herself, while Dockweiler handles many of the logistics. A Canadian friend created a free Web site for the event, and Kaye fan sites across the country have helped spread the word. Delitsky also emailed film professors at USC, UCLA and Pasadena City College and dropped off promotional materials at senior centers across Los Angeles.
“There’s nobody like Danny Kaye, with the full range of multi talents like he had,” says Delitsky. “Other people could sing and dance, but he was multi-talented, worked in vaudeville and Broadway. He could sing and dance, act in comedy films, did Palladium shows as a one-man show. He was a terrific dramatic actor in his few dramatic roles and a part of the entertainment industry, from vaudeville all the way through three decades of television.
“Danny was charming and wholesome, never dirty, political or offensive,” Delitsky concludes. “I can’t think of too many other actors I’ve also been into for so long.”
The Danny Kaye Film Festival will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena. Tickets are sold in day-passes only, with one day for $99 and two days for $129. A portion of the proceeds will go to UNICEF. Visit Dannykayefest.com or Ticketmaster.com for tickets, or call the Convention Center box office at (626) 449-7360.