Sunday, April 26, 2009
The Banana Man
A. Robins (Adolph Proper), AKA the Banana Man was a vaudeville performer and toymaker, who sold his act and the suit that contained it to another performer in the mid 1940's. Or, he may have franchised his act to other clowns around this time. Or he may not have ever been the Banana Man at all. Or... well... I think you get the picture.
The character I saw as a child on Captain Kangaroo was a performer named Sam Levine, who was managed by a Max Roth. Roth himself may have also done the act prior to Levine's stint. The Banana Man's costume was found intact with his other props stored in a locker in Brooklyn, apparently as part of Roth's estate.
Mr. Robins himself was profiled as a custom toy maker in an article from Mechanix Illustrated in 1945.
His act, or at least the one I saw on the Captain's show, was as strange, surreal and disturbing as anything I saw as a child, with the exception of the "Wanna Be a Member?" sequence in a Betty Boop cartoon featuring Bimbo. The Banana Man made high pitched noises, never spoke, conjured items out of thin air, changed genders and produced lots of obviously fake bananas. No wonder we were all so ready for LSD by 1965... no Sesame Street for us!
The clip above is probably the real A. Robins. It's from "Seeing Red", a vaudeville compilation hosted by Red Skelton, another neurotic and disturbing person from my youth.
There is another clip on YouTube from the Captain Kangaroo Show with Levine here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et6Jt2YX44o. Not even the Captain's even disposition can soften the impact of the Banana Man's trip to Weirdsville.
Much of my information comes from a very interesting site: