NEW YORK — The United Nations was chosen as the site for a memorial tribute to Danny Kaye, those who eulogized him here explained, because his "humanitarianism" outshone even his great stardom around the world.
"Danny Kaye brought to life the first words of the U.N. Charter--'We the peoples,' " U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar said in opening remarks Wednesday night before several hundred invited guests, including Kaye's widow, Sylvia Fine Kaye.
They were gathered, like delegates, in a U.N. conference chamber for the first formal memorial service for Kaye, who died last March at 74.
Kaye spent the last three decades of his life traveling the world as "Ambassador-at-large with Diplomatic Status to the Children of the World," for UNICEF, the United Nation's fund for disadvantaged children.
Added the secretary general: "His humanity and his humanitarianism, his infectious laughter and his love of children brought joy to children around the world and made him a great friend of the U.N. and of all humanity."
The half a dozen other speakers also spoke of Kaye's international fame that grew from a 40-year career as an actor, comedian, singer, dancer and symphony conductor.
"He was one of the few great American movie stars whose truly international fame made him instantly recognizable on streets around the world," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. Violinist Itzhak Perlman said Kaye was also "a world-class chef."
"My 25-year-long relationship with Danny did not involve his show-biz career, but took place in living rooms and cars, talking about politics," said ABC News commentator David Brinkley. "I think he was the funniest man who ever lived."
Kaye's film career was represented by a short selection of clips compiled by his widow, who frequently wrote his performance material. And the Hollywood connection--the Kayes made their principal home in Los Angeles--was strengthened by the presence of such celebrities as Lauren Bacall, Gregory Peck, Van Johnson, Betty Comden and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Toward the conclusion of the 90-minute ceremony, another film presentation showed Kaye clowning with impoverished children, dancing with leprous children and comforting blind children.
Finally, 82 children in a 22-nation choir from the United Nations International School paid tribute to Kaye with a specially written tune:
Danny Kaye, you gave us laughter.
We'll remember you ever after. . . .
Thank you! Merci! Danke!
And then, before those in the illustrious audience had a chance to dry their eyes, the colorfully costumed choir was joined by famed coloratura Roberta Peters in a concluding chorus of "Let There Be Peace on Earth."