When Tommy Lasorda Coached “Danny Kaye”: An Ethics Tale

Brian and Tommy

I wrote about my friend Brian Childers, a brilliant actor, singer, and all-around great guy, in this post, “An Act Of Kindness, Danny Kaye And Me : An Ethics Case Study,” from five years ago. It’s worth reading, if you haven’t already or don’t remember it. Brian continues to have a thriving career in New York City, with a successful album, roles in plays and musicals, and periodically, thrilling audiences with his dynamic recreation of Danny Kaye’s legendary one-man performances, the legacy of an adventure he and I set out upon over two decades ago.

I was recently tagged in a Facebook post by Brian, who related for the first time a revealing encounter he had with Tommy Lasorda, the Hall of Fame manager of the LA Dodgers for many years and legendary for his leadership abilities, lovable personality and positive attitude. Tommy died recently at the age of 93, and baseball fan that I am, I had been trying to justify mentioning him in an ethics post. Well, Brian took care of that with his usual flare.

He wrote in part,

I had the enormous privilege to meet this sports legend while performing at the Hollywood Bowl for 3 nights in 2008. The event was called “A Ball at the Bowl” and it was celebrating 50 years of the Dodgers in LA. I was there to sing Danny Kaye’s “D-O-D-G-E-R-S” song and one other with the LA Philharmonic.

Tommy’s dressing room was right across the hall from mine. On the first night, Tommy, whom I had never met, surprised me by knocking on my dressing room door. He introduced himself and was incredibly friendly. When he asked what I was doing in the event, I said I would be singing Danny Kaye’s Dodgers song with the orchestra.

He was ecstatic, but IMMEDIATELY put on his coach’s hat. “ You gotta go out there and you gotta sing great! You gotta go out there and knock em dead, Just focus on the song and you are gonna knock it out of the park,” he said, just like I was a rookie getting ready to play my first game. I thanked him for his encouragement.

While I was performing, I could hear Tommy in the wings yelling and clapping. When I walked off stage, he pounded me on the back, shouting, “Great job! You hit a home run buddy!”

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An Act Of Kindness, Danny Kaye And Me : An Ethics Case Study

Brian Childers

This isn’t a Christmas tale exactly, but it is a deeply personal one that will always make a big difference in how I make decisions in my life. It is episode that taught me, once and for all, that when you do the right thing, the amount of good that can come from it is unpredictable and sometimes unimaginable.

Maybe it will inspire you too.

In 2001, my friend Bob McElwaine handed me a script and a CD of a musical he had been working on about his long-time friends and clients, entertainer Danny Kaye and his wife, song writer Sylvia Fine. Bob was in his 70s, retired, a former Hollywood publicist and later an association executive who had taken up writing musicals with his childhood buddy, legendary movie score bassist Bob Bain (that’s Bain you hear playing the famous bass instrumental on the “Bonanza” theme, and the melody line in “The Munsters” intro too.)

McElwaine knew I was a long-time Danny Kaye admirer. He had been a wealth of information for me about Kaye when I was directing “Lady in the Dark,” the Broadway show that had made Danny a star in 1941, for the American Century Theater years before. One day, Bob asked me, as a favor, if I would agree to workshop the new piece, direct it, and see how it turned out in front of an audience.

I was not enthusiastic about the project, not at all. I had my ethics business as well as the theater to oversee; I had just finished directing a show, requiring me to be out of the house every weekday night and all day Saturday, and I thought the piece itself was too old-fashioned and formulaic to work. Mostly, however, I didn’t see how anyone could be a credible Danny Kaye, since Kaye was a unique performer—he wasn’t exactly a comedian, or a singer, or a dancer, yet  all of these and more—that has never had a close equivalent since. I was trying to find a way to turn Bob down nicely when I watched a performance of the show I had just gotten up and running. A young man named Brian Childers who was only in his second professional role played the romantic lead, and that night, for some reason, he handled a scene differently than I had ever seen him do it before—and for maybe three seconds, probably because Bob had just put the late performer’s image in my short term memory, reminded me of Danny Kaye.

After the performance I asked Brian if he would be interested in playing Kaye in this new musical, and he enthusiastically agreed, saying he was a huge Danny Kaye fan. (Later I learned that he barely knew who he was). Continue reading