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Walking with Danny Kaye

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Danny Kaye poses with a walking stick given by Harry Lauder. Taken during Danny Kaye's trip to the Canadian National Exposition in 1950.  Kaye/Fine Collection
Danny Kaye poses with a walking stick given by Harry Lauder. Taken during Danny Kaye’s trip to the Canadian National Exposition in 1950.
Kaye/Fine Collection

The following is a guest post from retired cataloger Sharon McKinley.

I’ve always enjoyed living vicariously through the Music Division’s special collections. Staffers who work in the Acquisitions and Processing Section become quite intimate with the collections they process. The rest of us are more likely to happen upon wonderful finds by serendipitous means. The collections are in secure Music Division areas, but when you’re just passing through, who knows what treasures you may find?

One of my favorite personal discoveries is in the Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine Collection. I am fascinated by the kinds of things the Library ends up with when it receives a collection. There are the fabulous scores, books, letters, business papers, and such, which can be invaluable to researchers. We have Danny Kaye’s television and film scripts. Sylvia Fine’s Emmy award: check! Her music and lyrics? Scripts? Scrapbooks? Yes, yes and yes! Correspondence, books, scores, scrapbooks and photos all seem like logical things for us to own. They’re all there tucked away in boxes and duly noted in the finding aid, waiting for someone to stumble across them. Then they take on new life by giving us insight into the people who owned them.

Danny Kaye is one of my all-time favorite performers, so I was intrigued when I happened upon a table with items awaiting processing.  Among them was Harry Lauder’s walking stick! The famed Scottish entertainer often gave them away as personal mementos. Someone was betting that the Library would find room for Kaye’s memento in the stacks. Ooh, there’s an extra tie-in here; there are Harry Lauder’s walking stick bushes growing in front of the Library’s Jefferson Building. But I digress. You can look it up.

The author with Harry Lauder's walking stick.
The author with Harry Lauder’s walking stick. Photo by Giogio Bartl.

So many of these items are no-brainers. But airplane models? Time to start reading up on Kaye. Oh, he was a pilot, so it makes more sense than I thought. The keys to numerous cities? Of course! Baseballs—we have 4 plastic-encased souvenir balls from the 1977 Inaugural Game of the Seattle Mariners, against the California Angels. They lost, 7-0—not so obvious. But Kaye was one of the original Mariners owners. It all falls into place. These objects give a bit of insight into what a famous entertainer might have been interested in, collected, and hung onto. Just like the rest of us? Yes…and no. After all, how many of us have keys to cities? Which is why these eclectic collections are so valuable to researchers and the world. They sure make perusing the finding aids and online presentation entertaining! And entertainment is what Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine were all about!



Comments (3)

  1. This blog points up the fact that all sorts of things can be useful to researchers trying to understand their subjects. Among potential donors, there is always the tradeoff between what they consider “too personal” to share with the world and what scholars might find useful to help their analyses. When “too personal” items are withheld, interpretations suffer and are incomplete. Hopefully, this blog will reach potential donors and help them overcome their reluctance to share momentos destined to provide a fuller picture. Bravo to you, Sharon.

  2. So glad to see you making productive use of your retirement…

  3. Wonderful blog, Sharon! I remember processing the collection of a famous opera singer at the NYPL Music Division, which had been heavily “edited” by a surviving relative. No doubt the original intent had been to perfect the memory of this singer, but the actual result was one-sided, flat, and frankly dull. Finding such treasures as you describe does indeed, as Ms. Tennenbaum so aptly comments, help in the analysis of researchers. After all, we know what Danny Kaye did onstage, it’s that offstage part which fascinates! Baseballs and walking sticks may be hard to store, but what stories they tell …

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