Baby Boomers Remember The Banana Man Clown [VIDEO]
September 15th, 2008
Do you remember the Banana Man? But was the Banana Man I watched on Captain Kangaroo the original Banana Man
Do you remember the Banana Man?
For some reason his performance on Captain Kangaroo must have cracked me up as a kid, because I have fond memories. I’ve never been too crazy about clowns or magic, but the Banana Man seemed so friendly, bumbling and fascinating. He had this eerie high pitch song that should have scared the life out of me, but what he was doing – pulling watermelons and bananas out of his pockets which doing quick changes was too mesmerizing to notice.
In researching to write this article, I’ve come to learn that the Banana Man I watched on Captain Kangaroo (ah, dear Captain) was most probably not the original Banana Man, A. Robins. Or was A. Robins always played by Sam Levine, who I believe is the Banana Man on a Captain Kangaroo video? Was Sam Levine actually A. Robins, the Banana Man?
Robbins was a New York prop maker and vaudevillian most probably originally from Europe. His act was billed as "The Walking Music Store", and he appeared in films as well-- "Seeing Red" in 1939, and "Mother Wore Tights" in 1947. Although he did not produce any bananas in “Seeing Red”, there are bananas produced in “Mother Wore Tights”. This may be the first film showing the Banana Man actually producing bananas.
The secret was that the props were all collapsible. Most were made from papier-mâché and were fitted with an intricate series of springs to make them expand when produced. For example, his broom, complete with bristles, collapsed into a small tube eighteen inches long that fit into his hip pocket.
Robins said, "there is a reason for everything that I do. I don't just pull out the broom. No. First, I slip on a banana peel. I get very mad. Then I pull out the broom and sweep it up, so. There must be some sense in clowning. It must be crazy, but there must be some sense in it, just the same."
According to his obituary, "his study of the art of clowning indicated to him that a good clown must honor himself. He used to play on a musical instrument, imitating its sound by his ventriloquist's voice. Then he would bow, doff his hat, and turn the hat into a bowl of flowers, which he then accepted with gratitude."
The Original Banana Man
After the death of the original A. Robbins, his act was continued by at least one other entertainer using the same stage name. He appeared frequently on television variety shows including Ed Sullivan, Super Circus, and the Captain Kangaroo Show. According to Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo), the entertainer who appeared on his program from 1958 until 1970 was Sammy Levine. His business manager was Max Roth.