Greetings again from the darkness. I feel obligated to disclose that while growing up, I was never much of a Kaye Ballard fan. It seemed she was mostly seen on game shows (“Hollywood Squares”) and her many appearances on Talk Shows and Variety Shows. Her loud and boisterous humor was a bit outside the nuanced observational humor I preferred. Now, after seeing Dan Wingate’s documentary, I have tremendous admiration and respect for this multi-faceted performer whose showbiz career spanned more than 70 years.
One of the first clips we see is Kaye Ballard performing in front of a live audience (where she was always most comfortable) and she says, “I wish I was 90 again.” It’s a great line that not many comedians get to use. Ms. Ballard died in 2019 at age 93, and she never stopped performing. Director Wingate’s opening credits are in “old school” style, replete with flashing neon lights and big band/orchestral music. It’s the perfect choice for the profile of a performer who evolved as the business changed.
We listen as she recollects the start of her career, and then systematically walks and talks us through the next 70 plus years. She was only 16 years old when she joined Spike Jones’ band, and she admits performing is what she always wanted to do. Wingate includes comments and clips from an incredibly diverse group of entertainers – ranging from Liz Smith to Perry Como to Henry Mancini to Bette Davis to Carol Burnett to Ann-Margret to Woody Allen (and many more). Composer-Singer Michael Feinstein has a few appearances throughout the film, providing some structure, but interviews with Ms. Ballard keep her on screen much of the time.
It’s clear she always thought her best work was from her time in nightclubs, and though she never stopped those performances, her career shifted to live theater and then to TV. Her best-known TV role was co-starring with Eve Arden in “The Mothers-In-Law” series from 1967-69 (re-runs available on Amazon Prime), and then later had a recurring role in “The Doris Day Show.” Ms. Ballard was a vibrant performer and an extremely talented singer.
She jokes about being typecast as a “screaming Italian”, but hearing her talk about her friendships, including Marlon Brando, Carol Channing, and the recently deceased Jerry Stiller, makes it clear she established many personal connections over the years, and was always quick to help out another performer. She even speaks to a couple of exceptions, including Phil Silvers. And who would have guessed she crossed paths with Andy Warhol, while also performing for President Ronald Reagan at The White House? This is a woman who is very grateful and appreciative of the career and friends she made, and I walked away feeling educated, and maybe even guilty for undervaluing her talent. Kaye Ballard was much more than an “X” or “O” on “Hollywood Squares” … she was an incredibly talented and generous woman who lived her dreams.
Viewing details available at KayeBallardMovie.com
watch the trailer: