by Tore Browaldh
For twenty-two years, I attended the Nobel festivals in my capacity as deputy chairman of the Nobel Foundation. During those years, I experienced many incidents worth retelling. But my most unforgettable episode has no scientist or literary genius in its leading part, but an American movie actor and comedian.To me, the most memorable Nobel festival was in 1974. It started out when I attended the traditional luncheon at the American embassy in honour of the American Laureates. I was standing at the buffet table when I suddenly discovered Danny Kaye (at that time representing UNICEF at the Festival) at my side. “You obviously don’t enjoy food,” was his comment when he saw my plate that in fact, did not hold many calories. “Well, I have to think of that horrible moment when I put on my white tie and tails and discover that my stomach is in a different league from my trousers,” was my reply. Danny Kaye looked me over and said “looking at you, I can appreciate your worry.”
It so happened that at the dinner in the City Hall, Danny Kaye was seated opposite me at the head table, with my wife Gunnel at his right side. They had a lively conversation, with Danny Kaye showing proof of his versatile talent to imitate the body language of different nationalities. Before my eyes, I saw him become a Russian Don Cossack singer, a Frenchman arguing politics, a taciturn and shy Swede becoming more human as he imbibed more alcohol.
After the main course, I saw that Danny Kaye and my wife started to talk about me. I guessed that Danny informed Gunnel of our conversation at the American Embassy buffet luncheon. I suspected that Gunnel told him about my life-long struggle to become a slim, dashing fellow, because Danny suddenly turned toward me and said: “Tore, I have a proposal to make, a proposal that I have submitted to your wife and which she has approved of. If you lose 15 pounds in weight, you and your wife will be my guests in my home in Hollywood, there to eat a delicious Chinese dinner, prepared by myself.” I repeated his offer and then said that I most certainly would accept the challenge. Then I saw Gunnel nudge Danny: she had discovered the snag in his proposal – there was no time limit within which my weight loss should be achieved. Danny’s attempt to put this amendment into his contract was, of course, refused by me.
I took out of my breast pocket, one of these useful IBM punch cards that I always carry on me, and wrote down our agreement in the form of a legal document, with many “whereas” and “the second party, etc.” After having signed it, I sent it over the table to Danny for his signature. After this had been done, Danny looked at me and said: “we should have a reliable witness to our contract, don’t you agree?” As I nodded approval, Danny turned to the man at my left – who was the archbishop of Sweden – and said “High bish, would you sign this paper?” Our ecclesiastical prelate signed his name to the document and added, with his tongue in cheek: “And I will be there, too.” Alas, I never got down to the proposed match weight, and therefore missed a new contact with the remarkable Danny Kaye.
After this interesting exchange of views, we turned our attention to the Stockholm student choir, which had just arrived. The conductor was standing with his back to the end of our table, with the singers facing us. During the first song on the program, Danny Kaye quietly went up and placed himself right behind the conductor. There he performed a pantomime of a Russian demon conductor, with long hair and exaggerated movements with his arms and wild tosses with his head. The conductor who had not noticed Danny Kaye, had obvious difficulties understanding why the members of his choir seemed so amused, suppressing giggles, until he turned and saw Danny.