I received avid feedback on my recent series of articles on the history of Abbott and Costello's burlesque routines. Unfortunately, not all of the feedback was positive. One person insisted that "Who's On First?" was an old minstrel show routine that dates back to the Civil War era. This person may be right, but I can find no credible evidence that supports this claim. Another person insisted that Joey Faye is the sole creator of the "Flugel Street" routine. I have done exhaustive research on "Flugel Street" and I stand by what I have written on the subject. Faye, himself, admitted that Sidney Fields co-wrote the Minsky update with him. The routine undoubtedly bears much of Fields' style of humor. However, I do have a significant correction to make in regards to my article on the "Who's On First?" routine. I was wrong about that date that Phil Silvers and Rags Ragland first teamed up at Minsky's Gaiety Theatre. Click here for more information.
I have gotten copies of two different "Flugel Street" scripts that were written by Faye.
The first script was only designed for two actors. The delivery man was to be played by "Irv," which was most likely Irving Benson. Faye was to play two roles - a police officer and a young woman. The script does not clarify how Faye was to make the transition between these two characters. Presumably, he was to walk away as the police officer and suddenly return as the young woman.
The second script was worked up for Red Buttons and Robert Alda, who had been a comedy team in burlesque. Buttons was to play the delivery man and Alda was to play the police officer. Faye gave his wife, Judy, the role of the woman and he gave himself the role of a stutterer who comes along at the end.
There is one significant segment from these scripts that did not carry over to the Abbott and Costello version. The segment starts with the delivery man pulling a letter out of his back pocket to show the officer his delivery instructions.
Police Officer: So, if you want to mail a letter, put a stamp on it and go right next door to the mailbox. You don't have to go to Floogle Street to mail a letter.The following dialogue is only included in the "Irv" script. The letter has caused the delivery man so many problems that he tosses it to the ground, which now gets the officer to charge him with littering.
Delivery Man: Look, I don't want to mail the letter. The letter doesn't even belong to me. . .
Police Officer: Oh, it's not your letter. . .
Delivery Man: No, it's not my letter.
Police Officer: . . . tampering with the government mails. Do you know that you can go to jail?
Delivery Man: Look. . . I'll put the letter in my back pocket. . .
Police Officer: Aha! Trying to pull a gun, eh?
Delivery Man: I don't even carry a gun!
Police Officer: You don't carry a gun. Oh, I know, a gun is too noisy. You carry a knife. Go ahead, stab me, stab me, I can take a cut.
Delivery Man: Just a minute, Buddy, what harm can a little piece of paper do?It was the sign of a good burlesque routine that the routine could withstand innumerable variations.
Police Officer: What harm? Suppose a fella comes along and lights a cigarette. . . throws it on the paper. . . the paper ignites. . . blows against the building. . . the building ignites. . . bursts into flames. . . suddenly half the city is on fire. . . so you're a firebug. . . you're an arsonist. . . you run around burning up cities.