A Connecticut Mariner
King Robert's Court
While Danny Kaye (1913-1987) was primarily known for his films -- “White Christmas,“ “The Court Jester” -- he did host a TV variety show in the 1960s. In the late 70s, he bought a fledgling baseball team, the Seattle Mariners and co-hosted with Bob Hope a salute to the World Series in 1978.
In 1978, the World Series was celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary, and the Los Angeles Dodgers had captured the pennant. Hope sold NBC on the idea of doing a two-hour special — back then called a “Big Event.” Our guest lineup was solid and included Danny Kaye as co-host. In the dugout would be Glen Campbell, Howard Cosell, Charo, Steve Martin, the Muppets, and Cheryl Tiegs as well as Dodger luminaries Tommy Davis, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax and on-again, off-again Yankee manager, Billy Martin.
Kaye was a good choice to co-host because, aside from being a talented performer, he had an intimate knowledge of the game, was a lifelong fan and was a part owner of the then-fledgling expansion team, the Seattle Mariners. For years, Danny Kaye had worn the crown as Hollywood’s most talented dialectician, so we decided to showcase his keen ear for foreign-accents by casting him as a major league manager conducting pitcher’s mound conferences in various countries, starting with the USA:
DANNY: (approaching the mound) What’s wrong, Dizzy? You just walked six batters, gave up twenty-two hits and you just beaned the owner’s mother.
HOPE: Picky. Picky. Picky.
Then, a British version:
DANNY: Hello. My name is Douglas Hume Bentley and I’m the manager. I say, old chap, have we met?
HOPE: Not formally, but I do believe I’ve seen you in the shower.
DANNY: How frightfully decent of you to notice me, but we seem to be twenty-eight runs behind. I’m afraid, sir, that you must be removed.
HOPE: How unfortunate. Thank God I still have my family. They’ll stick by me.
DANNY: Buck up, Faversham, and take it like a man.
HOPE: I’m not Faversham. I’m Crenshaw.
DANNY: Good heavens, I’ve been talking to the wrong team.
And the Japanese entry:
DANNY: Ah, so! A thousand pardons for this terrible intrusion.
HOPE: Excuse miserable condition of pitcher’s mound. Is cleaning lady’s day off. What is purpose of your honorable visit?
DANNY: It’s only first inning, and already we behind eleven runs. You know what that means?
HOPE: Ah, so. Honorable ancestors very angry.
DANNY: Honorable manager very angry. Very regretfully, I make a decision.
HOPE: You mean I out of game?
DANNY: (hands him a samurai sword) Worse than that. You out of life!
HOPE: (using it) Tora, tora! Bonsai! Sandy Koufax!
In the show’s finale, Danny delivered a 12-minute musical routine he’d been doing on stage for years -- an historical bit about the beneficial effect of the game on kids that was in style and content reminiscent of “We Got Trouble in River City” from “The Music Man.”
The routine began with Danny on a typical gazebo often found in small-town parks. Recalling the history of baseball and its legendary players, the number built to a climax that had 30 Little leaguers in uniform joining Danny on stage for a rousing rendition of “Take me Out to the Ball Game.” We had rehearsed the number that afternoon and were warned by the child welfare official accompanying them that the kids couldn’t be kept on the sound stage past 9 PM, in accordance with California’s child welfare laws. It was not uncommon for our live tapings to run long and this one was no exception.
Since musical numbers can not be edited and must be taped without interruption, Danny knew the timing would be close. He would have but one opportunity to finish before the deadline. About four minutes into the song, a 20-foot aluminum ladder about 20 feet tall that was used to adjust overhead lights tipped over. Suddenly, from behind the curtain came a sound that resembled a rifle shot. Danny winced almost imperceptibly but continued on as though nothing had happened. He finished the number and conferred with Hope, producer Don Ohlmeyer, and NBC’s executive Rick Ludwin. To avoid an extra half-day of shooting, it was decided that the noise would be left in the broadcast tape. Maybe the audience at home would think it was a backfire. Had Danny stopped during the number, we, along with the kids, would all have had to return to the studio next day; but he didn’t and the show was wrapped on schedule. Now that’s a pro.
Excerpted from THE LAUGH MAKERS: A Behind-the-Scenes Tribute to Bob Hope's Incredible Gag Writers (c) 2009 by Robert L. Mills and published by Bear Manor Media: . The book was chosen by Leonard Maltin as a “Top 20 Year-End Pick“ for 2009. Order online at: