Danny Kaye

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Kaye playfully pulls the hair of a girl seated in front of him, in a classroom filled with laughing children, during a visit to his primary-school alma mater, Public School 149 in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City.
UNICEF/NYHQ1961-0004

UNICEF's First Celebrity Goodwill Ambassador

"Politics don't count where children are concerned: that's what makes (UNICEF) so special... How can you love an Israeli child and not an Arab child, a North Korean child and not a South Korean child, an Indian child and not a Pakistani child? It's impossible."

At the height of his prolific career, legendary entertainer Danny Kaye made a commitment to helping the world's children by becoming UNICEF's first celebrity goodwill ambassador. For more than three decades, he used his influence and fame to educate millions about UNICEF's lifesaving work. In the process, Mr. Kaye helped UNICEF become a household name, recruiting generations of supporters through media interviews, public service announcements, personal appearances and travel.

Timeline

As we embark on a celebration of his centennial birthday, it's important to remember the context in which Mr. Kaye's work for UNICEF began. The agency was still new, with a huge scope of work and no guaranteed means of funding. Technology was rudimentary: cell phones, the internet and social media did not exist. Radio, television, and print news were the only accessible means of information for the average person. 

Suddenly, onto the stage burst Mr. Kaye, pioneering the concept of global citizenry by introducing the plight of the world's children to a mass audience. Mr. Kaye traveled to distant lands, delighting children while campaigning for their health and wellbeing. He would film these trips, and share the footage in movie theaters, while personally recounting details of his experiences before television cameras. Mr. Kaye humanized the work of UNICEF and nurtured a sense of consciousness and responsibility for the wellbeing of the world's children. Mr. Kaye was so inextricably linked with UNICEF that when the agency won the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Kaye was part of the delegation that accepted the award.

Champion For Children in Every Continent

Upon his death in March of 1987, he was eulogized by Presidents, children, celebrities and average people. Said then UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, "He was truly a champion for children in every continent… a friend of the United Nations whose great humanity and magnetic personality brought joy and laughter to millions around the world."

In observance of his centennial, we have gathered historic footage, unique reflections and fun facts about Mr. Kaye's life and pioneering work for children. His work with UNICEF helped pave the way for other celebrities to publicly align with causes, and spawned countless celebrity advocacy programs. 

Click here for Danny Kaye's full biography.