Friday, August 28, 2015

Shame on Me


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 the 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.

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.
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: Just a minute, Buddy, what harm can a little piece of paper do?

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.
It was the sign of a good burlesque routine that the routine could withstand innumerable variations.

Broadway’s Funny Year: 1948

I wish that I could climb into a time machine and ride freely on the time currents to 1948.  My arrival in this time period would undoubtedly provide me with wondrous opportunities.  I could head to Yankee Stadium to see Joe DiMaggio hit three consecutive home runs.  I could attend Harry Truman's dedication of the Idlewild airport.  I could, if determined enough, wrangle a test ride in a Tucker 48 Sedan.  But I don't have a great interest in baseball, airports, or cars.  I see those things as having far less value than a man who can stand before a theatre audience of a thousand or more and use a funny line or a funny expression to get the audience to choke the building with laughter.  That is, indeed, something special to witness.  The sole reason that I would travel back to 1948 would be so that I could enjoy one of the best years of comedy on the Broadway stage.  In 1948, the Broadway season was saved by three burlesque veterans - Bobby Clark, Bert Lahr and Phil Silvers.  Clark followed a long run in "Sweethearts" with an even longer run (414 performances) in "As the Girls Go."  Lahr starred in "Burlesque," which ran for 439 performances.  Silvers topped them all with 727 performances of "High Button Shoes."  One newcomer, Sid Caesar, joined Broadway’s illustrious comedy ranks with 429 performances of "Make Mine Manhattan."

It is with great pleasure that I now offer a pictorial tribute to the comic heroes of this bygone Broadway era. 

Phil Silvers in "Top Banana"

Silvers with Jack Albertson
Silvers with Joey Faye and Rose Marie

Bobby Clark

"All Men Are Alike" (October 6, 1941 – November 1, 1941)

A. P. Kaye, Reginald Denny, Jeraldine Dvorak and Clark
Clark with Cora Witherspoon
Clark with Jeraldine Dvorak
Clark with Lillian Bond
Clark with Cora Witherspoon and Reginald Denny
Ethel Morrison, Clark and Reginald Denny
Reginald Denny, Ethel Morrison and Clark
Reginald Denny, Lillian Bond and Clark

"The Rivals" (January 14, 1942 - February 28, 1942)

Clark with Mary Boland and Walter Hampden

"Star and Garter" (June 24, 1942 – December 4, 1943)

"Mexican Hayride" (January 28, 1944 - March 17, 1945)

"The Would-Be Gentleman" (January 9, 1946 - March 16, 1946)

"Sweethearts (January 21, 1947 - September 27, 1947) 

"As the Girls Go" (November 13, 1948 - January 14, 1950)

Clark with Irene Rich
Clark with Gregg Sherwood and Truly Barbara

Bert Lahr

"Life Begins at 8:40" (August 27, 1934 - March 16, 1935)

"DuBarry was a Lady" (December 6, 1939 - December 12, 1940)

Lahr with Betty Grable
Lahr with Frances Williams
Lahr with Ethel Merman

Benny Baker, Betty Grable and Bert Lahr

"Seven Lively Arts" 1944 (December 7, 1944 - May 12, 1945)

Lahr with Beatrice Lillie

"Burlesque" (December 25, 1946 - January 10, 1948)

"Two on the Aisle" (July 19, 1951 - March 15, 1952)

"Hotel Paradiso" (April 11, 1957 - July 13, 1957)

"The Beauty Part" (December 26, 1962 - March 09, 1963)

"Foxy" (February 16, 1964 - April 18, 1964)

Between his Broadway shows, Lahr managed to find time for films and television.

Lahr with Charlotte Greenwood in Flying High (1931)

Lahr with Claudette Colbert in Zaza (1938)
Lahr with Joan Davis and Shirley Temple in Just Around the Corner (1938)
Lahr with Patsy Kelly in Sing Your Worries Away (1942)
Lahr with Virginia Mayo in Always Leave Them Laughing (1949)
Lahr with (left to right) Vince Edwards, Jack Carson, Janis Paige, Max "Slapsie Maxie"' Rosenbloom in Mister Universe (1951).
The Second Greatest Sex (1955)
Lahr with Stanley Holloway in TV version of "The Fantastiks" (1964)
"Ed Sullivan Show" (1967)
The Night They Raided Minskys (1968)

"Vive" (January 18, 1953)

Vaudeville historian Frank Cullen wrote, "[Clark] made a few television appearances, including a maddeningly dull William Saroyan playlet on Omnibus in which Bobby and Bert Lahr were directed to sit on stools and spout pseudo-French."

Clark and Lahr sneer at Omnibus host Alistair Cooke.

Comedy court adjourned.