Danny Kaye

How can you not know the work of the late, great Danny Kaye? Apparently a whole lot of folks don't so the song-and-dance man's only child, Dena Kaye, is doing her best to fix that. On Sunday, Jan. 20, Turner Classic Movies will honor Kaye's 100th birthday with a 24-hour marathon of his films (starting at 6am/5c) including Up in Arms, Hans Christian Anderson, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and his delightfully dizzy medieval classic The Court Jester. ("The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!") Dena will be on hand to reminisce about her dad with host Ben Mankiewicz.

"So many people say, 'Who? What? He's dead! Who cares?'" says Dena, who is spearheading a full year of centennial events in New York, L.A. and Washington, D.C. "There are probably three generations unaware of my father. A lot of people know White Christmas but it's been my dream to introduce them to the rest of his work. I want them to know he was the coolest!" Other centennial events honoring Kaye include tributes at Lincoln Center, the Paley Center, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as well as a UNICEF humanitarian award and the launching of a Danny Kaye website by the Library of Congress.

How would Kaye — who died in 1987 — have responded to all this fuss? "He was a very modest man," Dena says. "He'd have been much more thrilled about the recognition from UNICEF because he gave his life to the organization. He'd be pleased by the reminder that we all need to help others."

The TCM tribute includes an episode of Kaye's Emmy-winning 1963-67 variety series The Danny Kaye Show and his 90-minute interview with Dick Cavett from 1971. Also scheduled among Kaye's many comedies and musicals is one of his rare dramatic turns, 1958's Me and the Colonel, in which he played a Jewish refugee fleeing the Nazis. That film won him a Golden Globe.

"My father and I never discussed his work, which is something I deeply regret," Dena says. "I guess I was just too young and too shy to ask about it. But, boy, I sure could tell you what he thought about his golf swing, or baseball, or his love for flying planes or his cooking. He'd much rather talk about the great hole-in-the-wall restaurants he'd discovered than talk about Danny Kaye, the performer. He was such an authentic person. Nothing phony about him. His career was just one of the many things he did well."

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