Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Fine Day for Singing

Over in another corner of the cyberverse, dear TJB has noted that today would have been the 102nd birthday of a now nearly forgotten lady who was once one of the great éminences grises of Broadway and Hollywood, Sylvia Fine Kaye.

A lyricist, composer, producer, and all around power broken, Fine Kaye was unusual in that she centered her considerable and durable career almost entirely around the work of one man, a select stable of clients that she ensured early on by marrying him.  Danny Kaye was big stuff back in the day, and all roads to Danny - professionally, at least - ran through Sylvia.

She was actually a rather good songwriter, and if she spent most of her talent on specialty material that has had an evanescent shelf life given how tailored it was to her husband's eccentric talents, one or two of her songs have lasted and, as anyone who has heard Barbara Cook sing "Lullabye in Ragtime" can attest, have real staying power.

Here we catch the lady in her later incarnation; after Danny Kaye's career started requiring less of her time and considerable energy, she recreated herself as a kind of doyenne of all things theatrical, including the hosting of a series, excerpted here, of reminiscences on the Broadway musical.  She's adequate as a presenter, and if nothing else it takes guts to sit down at a piano and bang away (if that's about the level of her playing, truth be told) in support of the likes of Ethel Merman (her partner, Mr. Hudson, does pretty well, too).

When I was first a spritely young thing on the Manhattan margins of the Business We Call Show, Mrs. Kaye was one of those holy terrors to whom one quickly learned to kowtow and otherwise give as wide a berth as possible.  She burned with the flame of the genius of Danny Kaye (as purified by the invaluable and selfless dedication of someone whose initials might just have been SFK), and everything else was little more than dust in her path.  In private life, the carefully managed Brooklyn honk on display in this clip was considerably broader and more gravelly, and if rumor has it that Merman had a salty tongue, I can confirm that Mrs. Kaye had no trouble keeping up.  She might not have been a nice person, exactly, but it's undeniable that she was a character, and in her own self-invented way one distinctly of her time and place. I suppose that's worth more than a little, even if, all I can recall when I first hear her speak is just how my heart would sink when I would answer the phone and what I would hear was that foghorn, blaring out her customary greeting: "Now, listen..."


  1. I wonder how, or if, she and Sir Larry got along..? Jx

  2. I always thought Rock Hudson was a bottom

    1. On the other hand, is there any doubt at all that the Merm was the top?