The Banana Man was a vaudeville character created by Adolf Proper (November 27, 1886–December 17, 1950). He worked under the stage name A. Robins. The son of a Viennese textile manufacturer, he left home as a teenager to go into show business as a street performer. At that time he changed his last name to “Robins”. As he said, “Like Rubens, the painter”. He traveled through Europe in his younger days as a comedian who used musical instruments in his act. After coming to America he perfected his classic act
The Banana Man act consisted of Proper, dressed as a clownish character. He wore a baggy tuxedo, producing an amazing and apparently impossible number of props from countless pockets and secret places in his costume. He would then perform various clown routines with the props. These props included (among many other things) :
- a clarinet
- a mandolin
- a huge magnet
- a violin
- a music stand
- several watermelons
- And last but not least. three hundred bananas.
He did not speak in words. Instead he uttered cries of delight, surprise, etc., in a nasal falsetto. He also imitated the sounds of the musical instruments he “played.”
His costume was also capable of quick transformation, converting to a woman’s dress and back again in seconds. A profile of Proper in The New Yorker reported that the costume weighed 60 pounds loaded. And, it took him 45 minutes to prepare it for each performance.
Performing on Broadway and the movies
Proper performed as The Banana Man in the Broadway musical Jumbo. He also appeared in the short film Seeing Red starring Red Skelton. Also in the 1947 feature film Mother Wore Tights starring Betty Grable.
Second Banana Man
Sam Levine (May 15, 1881–November 13, 1974) bought Proper’s original props and gimmicks from Proper’s estate. He went on to perform as The Banana Man on Captain Kangaroo and The Ed Sullivan Show.
Allan Jones of Cleveland, TN purchased the entire Banana Man props and gimmicks sometime in the early 2000’s.