Five Pennies, The (1959): Biopic Starring Danny Kaye and Tuesday Weld

In a rare straight role, Danny Kaye essays the influential jazz musician Red Nichols in the fictionalized biopic, The Five Pennies, played by a remarkably straight-faced Kaye.

The Five Pennies
The Five Pennies.jpg

The romanticized biopic chronicles Nichols’ rise from obscurity, describing the future bandleaders who would play with Nichols’ “Five Pennies,” as well as his self-destructive streak and inability to change

A subplot concerns Nichols’ physically impaired daughter Dorothy, played by Susan Gordon as a child and by Tuesday Weld (in her debut) as a young woman.

Nichols’s long-suffering wife is portrayed by Barbara Bel Geddes, better known for her performance in Hitchcock’s Vertigo the year before.

The musical numbers elevate the sentimental biopic, especially Danny Kaye’s duet with Louis Armstrong.

Among the real-life musicians in the supporting cast are Bob Crosby, Ray Anthony, Shelly Manne, and, as Jimmy Dorsey, Bobby Troup.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Cinematography (color): Daniel L. Fapp

Costume Design (color): Edith Head

Scoring of musical: Leith Stevens

Song: The Five Pennies, music and lyrics Sylvia Fine

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

Ben-Hur won the Cinematography Oscar for Robert Surtees and Costumes Oscar for Elizabeth Haffendedn.

Porgy and Bess won the Scoring Oscar for Andre Previn and Porgy and Bess


Directed by Melville Shavelson

Produced by Jack Rose

Written byRobert Smith, Jack Rose, Shavelson

Music byThorton W. Allen, Sylvia Fine, M.W. Sheafe, Leith Stevens

Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp

Edited by Frank P. Keller

Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date: June 18, 1959
Running time: 117 minutes

Danny Kaye as Red Nichols
Barbara Bel Geddes as Willa Stutsman (singing voice dubbed by Eileen Wilson)
Louis Armstrong as Himself
Harry Guardino as Tony Valani
Bob Crosby as Will Paradise
Bobby Troup as Arthur Schutt
Susan Gordon as Dorothy Nichols – Ages 6 to 8
Tuesday Weld as Dorothy Nichols – Age 13 to 14
Ray Anthony as Jimmy Dorsey
Shelly Manne as Dave Tough
Ray Daley as Glenn Miller
Valerie Allen as Tommye Eden
Bob Hope as Himself (cameo)