UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador from 1954 to 1987
"UNICEF's work is a tribute to mankind and to the superior will of man. I feel that the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life is to be associated with UNICEF."
Danny Kaye was one of the world's most beloved entertainers. He was also the original UNICEF celebrity representative, a Goodwill Ambassador from 1954 until his death in 1987 – and a hard act to follow.
Danny's association with UNICEF nearly ended before it had begun. He was flying from London to New York in 1953 when one of the plane's engines caught fire. Maurice Pate, then UNICEF Executive Director, was also on board. Sitting next to Danny on the journey back to the safety of Ireland, Maurice talked to Danny about UNICEF. One of the organization's problems, he explained, was recognition. Perhaps Danny could help.
The result was a documentary, Assignment: Children, underwritten by Paramount Pictures, with profits going to UNICEF. The documentary was a record of Danny's tour of projects in Hong Kong, China; India; Japan; Korea; Myanmar and Thailand; and it is estimated to have reached more than 100 million viewers.
It was the beginning of an extraordinary commitment. Over the next 33 years, Danny circled the globe, making speeches, giving performances, acting as master of ceremonies for special events and informing the public about children's needs. Though he pioneered the role, some of Danny's exploits as celebrity ambassador are unlikely to be repeated. For instance, he promoted the “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” campaign by flying his own plane on whirlwind tours to enlist children as volunteers. The last such trip, in 1968, touched down in 65 US and Canadian cities in five days and put Danny in the Guinness Book of Records as the World's Fastest-Flying Entertainer.
Danny was born David Daniel Kaminsky in Brooklyn, New York, in 1913. His parents were Ukrainian immigrants, his father a tailor. After dropping out of school in his teens, Danny got early experience as a performer in summer hotels and camps in the Catskills in New York state.
In 1944, Danny came to the attention of Samuel Goldwyn, who helped turn him into one of cinema's biggest comedy and musical stars, most famous for starring in White Christmas alongside Bing Crosby. Danny was equally successful on the small screen, winning an Emmy for his long-running television variety series, The Danny Kaye Show.
Danny Kaye died in Los Angeles in 1987. He was UNICEF’s first-ever Goodwill Ambassador, a role he held for 33 years.