Thursday, September 30, 2021

THE BIOPIC BLOGATHON: The Five Pennies, 1959

The Biopic Blogathon is hosted by Dr. Annette Bochenek's Hometowns to Hollywood. Begin your journey through interesting life stories by clicking HERE.

Dena Productions, named for Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine's daughter, was formed in 1953 and saw the release of the movies Knock on Wood, 1954, The Five Pennies, 1959, On the Double, 1961, and The Man from the Diner's Club, 1963. 

The Five Pennies written by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson (The Seven Little Foys) and directed by Shavelson looks at the ups and downs of Red Nichols' career, and his triumph as a family man. Shavelson knew what worked for his star as he directed Danny Kaye on On the Double and wrote The Kid from Brooklyn and Wonder Man. Co-producer Sylvia Fine wrote four songs for the film: The Five Pennies, Follow the Leader, Lullaby in Ragtime, Goodnight - Sleep Tight, and contributed the special lyrics to When the Saints Go Marching In.

Note: in the film, Red Nichols played the trumpet for Danny Kaye and Eileen Wilson did the singing for Barbara Bel Geddes.

Loring "Red" Nichols
May 8, 1905 - June 28, 1965

The son of a music professor and a child prodigy inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Fate (with a capital "F") had determined that Red Nichols be a musician. Red owned those dots on the bar line. He was a thoroughly polished cornetist who could cut loose with the popular jazz of the era, bringing it to popularity with hundreds of recordings and concert dates. Red and trombonist Miff Mole were an inseparable and unbeatable team in the 1920s and 1930s.

In his various bands, Red Nichols influenced and mentored many musicians including Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Gene Krupa, and Jack Teagarden.

"Red made sure everyone was paid."
- Jimmy Dorsey on This is Your Life, 1956 

The course of time found Nichols falling out of favour with the intellectual critics who had discovered the sophisticated style of such as Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins. What in an earlier time was an appreciation of a fine musician turned to scorn forgetting that the music world is wide and encompasses many purveyors and many different tastes from audiences who can appreciate more than one thing at a time.

Red was married to dancer Willa Stutsman and the couple had one daughter. During the 1930s Red played in pit orchestras and show bands. He left music and worked at a shipyard during WW2 when he and Willa's daughter Dorothy was diagnosed with polio. After the war, Red revived his band at first in small clubs then progressively larger venues, and toured Europe as a goodwill ambassador. Red was performing in Las Vegas when he passed away in 1965.

Here's a treat, a 1929 medley from Red and the boys!

Danny Kaye, Harry Guardino, Bob Crosby

Ogden, Utah's own Loring Nichols arrived in NYC in the mid-1920s with his cornet, his Dixieland arrangements, and the certainty that "Someday you boys will all be working for me." Work is consistent if not always in line with Red's vision but he is one of those to-thine-own-self-be-true fellows.

Danny Kaye, Barbara Bel Geddes

Red is consistent as well in his personal life. He meets singer (society chanteuse) Willa Stutsman and after her original scorn for the "hick", they form a bond and marry. Like most marriages, they survive their ups and downs by supporting each other through the rough times.

Louis Armstrong, Danny Kaye

Red has the approval and the friendship of his fellow musicians. It is one of the things that keeps him going when times are rough. As he says later in the movie, "There was Louis, there was Bix, and there was me." Red and Louis perform The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Remember, that is Red Nichols trumpet that Danny is imitating.

Danny Kaye

Red takes the Five Pennies on the road. College dates plus their recordings really put the group on the map. Style-wise The Five Pennies cinematographer David L. Fapp (West Side Story) has fun with Technicolor through the opening credits and montages which advance the years of Red's career. 

Susan Gordon as young Dorothy

The early years on the road include Red and Willa's daughter Dorothy. It is a unique and exciting time for the youngster who loves being with her parents. When Willa decides she would like their daughter to be at least 8-years-old before she starts singing in nightclubs, the couple must come to a difficult decision. It is Red who deems a Boarding School the best solution and Daddy's girl Dorothy resents being sent away.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Danny Kaye

When Dorothy is diagnosed with polio the doctors declare that she will never walk again. Devastated, Willa and Red take over her treatment. Red quits the road and the band taking a job in a wartime shipyard, settling down in the sunshine of Los Angeles. The treatment of heat and rehabilitation as outlined by Australian nurse Sister Kenny is their guide. 

Tuesday Weld as teenager Dorothy, Danny Kaye

Through the years, Dorothy does walk with braces and a cane. Dorothy has forgotten those early years on the road and, in typical teenage fashion, scoffs at her mother's assertion that her father was once a famous musician. Slowly, Dorothy begins to remember the two separate phases of her life and what her father sacrificed for her sake. She joins her mother in convincing Red to return to what he was meant to do.

Ray Daley (Glenn Miller), Louis Armstrong, Harry Guardino, Danny Kaye
Tuesday Weld, Barbara Bel Geddes, Ray Anthony (Jimmy Dorsey)

Afraid that he has "lost his lip" after all this time, Red struggles with the idea of a comeback and the practice it will take but with the support of his family and old friends we leave him where we met him, back on stage making the music he loves.


Oscar nominations:

Best music, scoring of a motion picture - Leith Stevens
Winner: Porgy and Bess

Best music, original song - Sylvia Fine for The Five Pennies
Winner: High Hopes from A Hole in the Head

Best costume design, color - Edith Head
Winner: Ben-Hur

Best cinematography, color - Daniel L. Fapp
Winner: Ben-Hur

Golden Globes:

Winner: Most promising female newcomer, Tuesday Weld

Nominee: Best Motion Picture - Musical
Winner: Porgy and Bess

Grammy Awards:

Nominee: Best Soundtrack Album Original Cast Motion Picture or Television
Winner: Porgy and Bess

Writers Guild of America:

Winner: Best written American musical

Danny Kaye and Red Nichols

Note: Look for a quick cameo from Bob Hope. Red led Hope's radio orchestra for a while in the 1930s.

Note: Red Nichols was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1986.


  1. You have no idea how happy I was to see this film on the blogathon roster! I have such fond memories of staying up to watch it on Saturday Night at the Movies. I adored Danny Kaye and was completely taken by little Dorothy's story and I learned the difference between a trumpet and a coronet. Tons of hugs for this post - it brought back some great memories.

    1. I am so pleased! It is one of those special movies that stays with you and I have been meaning to write about it for ages. There are times when all I want is some good old Dixieland.

      When my daughter was 12 or 13 she took a Danny Kaye CD to a friend's party. I commented that I didn't think her peers would be interested, but she said they darn well better be! Apparently, a couple of them were fans of Tubby the Tuba, and everyone liked "Quiet Town."

  2. This does sound a fabulous story and what a cast. And of course you had my attention with Barbara Bel Geddes.

    1. Of course, Barbara Bel Geddes! I really enjoyed her in this role. She is cheeky, and loyal, and smart.

  3. great cast. Great cinemaphotography. AND the great Satchmo.

    1. Adds up to great entertainment. The Five Pennies is one of those movies that lives in my memory and still brings real joy today.

  4. I always thought it was a shame that Danny Kaye didn't take on more dramatic roles. I suppose he got typecast as a comedian. He also rarely got a chance in later films to display his exceptional dancing talents.

    1. Danny Kaye's talent and energy, and versatility is something I have all too often taken for granted. I guess we can only count our blessings that we have what we have. However, yes, I want more.

  5. BARBARA BEL GEDDES was really good in this movie. I think she would have been good in some of the "wife" roles that JUNE ALLYSON played. I first saw Barbara on the smash hit DALLAS as MISS ELLIE. She won an EMMY for that role. CLASSIC TV FAN

    1. I Remember Mama is my strongest association with Barbara Bel Geddes. I think it is her role as narrator as well as Katrin which makes it such a vivid movie memory.

  6. Oh Paddy, I cannot wait to see this film! My love for Danny Kaye knows no bounds and grows with each passing year.

    This might make your heart happy, as it does mine. There is an ice cream shop near my friends' home that is named after this movie and bears some memorabilia and theming. I will be visiting the shop soon and will be keeping you and your review in mind.

    1. The Ice Cream Shop makes me very happy indeed. Knowing that this music and the movie are so special to so many people really fills my heart.



Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...