Danny Kaye and Me

One grownup I will never stop being grateful for.


Clay Lacy, Bill Lear & Danny Kaye, in a mockup of the Learjet, early 60s.

It was 1964 in what was then the small aviation capital of the world—Wichita, Kansas. We’d just moved there from Switzerland and I was Bill Lear’s daughter, which would make my life as a nine-year-old at Wichita Collegiate a living hell for a while.

Cessna and Beechcraft were among the aviation giants located in Wichita, and my father decided to move there to develop his new concept, the Learjet--an idea that made him the butt of unending ridicule. ("Bill! Who's going to pay a million dollars for a plane that only seats seven people?!")


My father had foreseen the private jet industry long before anyone even knew what to call it.

But it would be a while before the world would figure that out. He didn’t care. He just kept working, ignoring the derisive glare of existing small aircraft execs and their families. The only problem was, I was going to school with the children of these people. And they parroted their parents' ridicule and aimed it at me in a way that only kids can pull off. I would often come home from school livid with loyal rage.

Around this same time, comedian and actor Danny Kaye was at the height of his popularity. He owned one of the first Learjets, and he and Dad formed a warm friendship as well. I was thrilled about this because I never. missed. the Danny Kaye Show. It was a great variety show, complete with the opening monologue, guest performers, musicians, comics, skits, and at the end, (this was the part I lived for) he always spent a few minutes interviewing a child. His warmth and comic timing never failed during these interviews.

As the friendship grew between my father and Danny Kaye, so did the interest nationwide in what Dad was up to. Danny Kaye was a regular visitor to our home, and my father's cred no doubt benefitted from that. Perhaps because of their growing bromance, I got invited to be on the show. His show. The Danny Kaye Show. I, Tina Lear, was going to be that child in the interview at the end!

We flew to Los Angeles. We got to go backstage. We had great seats. The interview came and went so fast I barely noticed it. Mr. Kaye told us which week it would air, and I rode home in a state of bliss--riding a wave of popularity afterward at school that filled me with joy. I made sure everyone knew when it was going to air, and on that day of course, my family settled around the tv, ready for my fifteen minutes of fame.

But the show they aired was from a different date. It wasn't the one I'd been on with him.

The next day they had to practically carry me to the car. I knew what I was in for. The kids didn't disappoint. They wasted no time in restoring me to my former unplace in their world. I was devastated. No one believed me. They laughed and laughed--now no longer at just my father, but also at me. A few of my friends ‘believed’ me, but I think they just felt sorry for me. Those were hard days.

But like all things, the hard days passed. Kind of. It was nearing the end of the school year, so all our minds were elsewhere. I was sitting in history class, so bored my hair was falling out. Kept falling asleep, nodding off. Summer. When is summer coming?


Then I heard Mr. Mahoney stammering in alarm.


A stranger had come in without notice or permission. "Um, um, sir. May I help you?” Mr. Mahoney said, looking very uncertain about what to do. No answer. “Excuse me, SIR?"


Mahoney rose from his chair to confront the man. This stranger had snuck in with a trenchcoat, a fedora and dark glasses on. He mumbled something to Mr. Mahoney, and proceeded to the front of the classroom, where he took off his hat and glasses with a flourish, and...Danny Kaye! It was Danny Kaye, in all his glory. The man himself.


Jaws went slack. The class went quietly nuts. We whispered and giggled and then we just had to break out into applause. I didn’t look at any of my former tormenters. I was just too happy.


He'd heard what had happened to me, how it had impacted my little girl life here in Wichita. He came to set things straight, to make things right. He vouched for me. He explained to the class that there had been a change of schedule for some reason, and the episode I was on wouldn't be aired for a few weeks yet.


This world-famous celebrity had taken the time and initiative to come to my school himself, and let my class know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had indeed been up there on that stage with him, that it had happened, for real.

There are certain people in the world whose hearts flow right into their own hands and feet, and these people use them to make other people feel better. That’s who Danny Kaye was. My gratitude still flows out to him, long after that great day, long after his death in 1987. It will probably be radiating toward him still, long after my own death.

May we all remember the long-lasting effects of kindness, and be wide-open conduits for it in the world.


Blessings to all.