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Promotional image for Harry Steppe and His Big Show - note the oversized clown shoes
Harry Steppe (born Abraham Stepner, March 1888 – November 22, 1934) was a Jewish-American actor, comedian, writer, director and producer, who toured North America working in Vaudeville and Burlesque Harry claimed to have coined such terms as "top banana" (the headliner or top act on the bill), and "second banana." As one of Bud Abbott's first partners, Harry introduced Bud to Lou Costello in 1934.

Born in Moscow"Port of New York Passenger Record Search." Ellis Island Foundation. 16 Jan 2008 /ellisisland.org>. to Russian immigrant Orthodox Jewish parents, Steppe was billed as a Hebrew, Jewish-dialect or Yiddish character comedian. His gags and skits were also performed by such well-known comedians as Phil Silvers, The Three Stooges, and Abbott and Costello. Although Steppe had penned the "Pokomoko" (aka Niagara Falls) Routine ("Slowly I Turned, step by step, inch by inch...")" and performed it with The Three Stooges, other writers, including fellow Vaudevillians Joey Faye and Samuel Goldman each laid claim to the skit, too. "Lifting" routines from another performer was standard operating procedure in the early-to-mid 20th century, and the famed routine was performed, without originator credit, by...

Phil Silvers credited Steppe with "introducing the phrase 'Top Banana' into show business jargon in 1927 as a synonym for the top comic on the bill. It rose out of a routine, full of doubletalk, in which three comics tried to share two bananas." Silvers further popularized the term "Top Banana" in his 1951 Broadway musical and 1954 film of the same name.

Steppe performed at several well-known theaters on the Orpheum Circuit. According to Loew's Weekly (a program issued free to theater patrons), in a June 18, 1928 performance at the Loew's Theater in New York, he was billed with Lola Pierce. Reportedly, Pierce was an actress he was linked to romantically. Other paramours of Harry Steppe included Vaudeville performers Victoria "Vic" Dayton (whom he apparently married), Edna Raymond and Leona St. Clair

Death

Pulmonary edema contributed to Steppe's death, according to his death certificate. He was at Bellevue Hospitalmarker in New York, New York for two days and had been ill for a month, according to a story in Variety magazine, Nov. 27, 1934. Abe Stepner's obituary appears under "Feature News," Billboard magazine, Dec. 1, 1934, pg 5.

Stage Productions

Year Month Town Theatre Show
1912   Olympic Girls from the Follies
1913 Cleveland, OH Empire Girls from the Follies
1914 Pittsburgh, PA Victoria Girls from the Follies
1914 Nov Trenton, NJ Girls from the Follies
1914 Baltimore, MD Gayety Girls from the Follies
1915 Pittsburgh, PA Victoria Girls from the Follies
1915 Ft. Wayne, IN Majestic Girls from the Follies
1915 Rochester, NY Corinthian Girls from the Follies
1915 Detroit, MI Cadillac Girls from the Follies
1915 Detroit, MI Cadillac Lady Pirates
1915 Louisville, KY Buckingham Girls from the Follies
1915   Razzier
1915 Cleveland, OH Bijou  
1915 Pittsburgh, PA Victoria Keeny's Harry Steppe & George Martin
1915 Philadelphia, PA Casino Girls from the Follies
1915 Pittsburgh, PA   Girls from the Follies
1915 Cleveland, OH Bijou  
1916 Philadelphia, PA Cabaret Girls from the Follies
1916 St. Louis, MO Standard Girls from the Follies
1916 Jan Ft. Wayne, IN Girls from the Follies
1916 Louisville, KY Buckingham Girls from the Follies
1916 Buckingham   Cohn in the East side
1916 Louisville, KY Buckingham Girls from the Follies
1916 Olympic    
1916 Newark, NJ Loews Harry Steppe at the Loews
1916   Loews Step Lively Girls
1916 Louisville, KY Buckingham Girls from the Follies
1916 Cleveland, OH Empire Cohen's Review
1916 Philadelphia, PA Trocadero Follies
1916 Milwaukee, WI Gayety  
1917 Jan Trenton, NJ Hello Girls
1917 Brooklyn, NY Star  
1917 Wisconsin Gayety  
1918 Wisconsin Gayety  
1919 Mar Trenton, NJ Razzle Dazzle
1919 Columbus, OH Lyceum Razzle Dazzle of 1918
1919   Peoples Theatre American Supreme
1920 Columbus, OH   Razzle Dazzle of 1919
1920     Tid Bits of 1920
1920   Buckingham Misfit Cohen
1920   Gayety Harry Steppe and His Rumba Girls
1923 New York, NY Columbia Playhouse  
1924 Nov Bridgeport, CT Harry Steppe and His Big Show
1925 New York, NY Columbia OK
1925 Oct Zanesville, OH Harry Steppe and His Big Show
1927 Oct Atlanta, GA "The Supper Club" and "The Debate"
1928 Feb Decatur, ILmarker Matrimony à la Carte with Lola Pierce
1929 Dec Washington, DC 9th Street Harry Steppe and His Show
1931 Oct Pittsburgh, PA Academy Theater Rumba Girls


References

  1. "Variety Opener Has Cast of 40: Red Hot Gets Under Way Sunday Night," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Newspaper), Aug 25, 1934, pg.78. Excerpt:"...Joe DeRita and Harry Steppe, one of the few remaining old-time Jewish comedians in burlesque, lead the contingent of funmakers."
  2. Image of actor Harry Steppe, Billy Rose Theatre Collection photograph file, on file with the The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts: Billy Rose Theatre Division http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?TH-53208
  3. "Burlesque Houses Open," The New York Times, Sunday, August 9, 1914, Page X6. Excerpt: "The Murray Hill Theater will reopen Saturday night with a new burlesque show called "The Girls from the Follies," of which Harry Steppe is the principal comedian."
  4. Theatre Magazine, edited by W. J. Thorold, et al., 1930, v.51-52, pg. 36. Excerpt: "In fact, Harry Steppe, one of the leading burlesque comedians, remarked to me the other day that there is more to be seen on the streets today than there..."
  5. "Bananas: An American History," by Virginia Scott Jenkins, Page 150. Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000. Excerpt: "The term "top banana" was introduced into show business jargon by burlesque comedian Harry Steppe in 1927 as a synonym for the top comic on the bill."
  6. "Lou's on First: The Tragic Life of Hollywood's Greatest Clown Warmly Recounted by His Youngest Child," by Chris Costello, St. Martin's Griffin, 1982, pg.23. ISBN 0-312-49914-0. Excerpt: "Backstage between shows Bud would do skits with Dad (Lou) that he had done with Harry Steppe -- a very clever Jewish comedian who was the creator of the famous "Lemon Bit," which was to be so successful for Bud and Dad (Lou) as a team."
  7. The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers - Volume IV - Actors and Actresses, by Christopher Lyon, St. James Press, 1987, ISBN 0912289082, Page 7. Excerpt: "...while manager at the National Theater in Detroit, Abbott worked Vaudeville as straight man to such performers as Harry Steppe and Harry Evanson."
  8. "Burlesque Season On; The Columbia and the Murray Hill Are at It Again," The New York Times, Section: Summer Resorts, Sunday, August 16, 1914, pg. X7. Excerpt: "The Murray Hill Theater opened last night with a brand-new burlesque show called "The Girls from the Follies," and this attraction will be continued through the present week. A large company of entertainers, headed by Harry Steppe, a Hebrew comedian of more than ordinary ability, succeeds in keeping the spectators in a happy frame of mind throughout the performance."
  9. "About:Bananas," by John Wilcock. New York Times, March 30, 1958.
  10. Dramatic Index for 1920 (Volumes I and II), Periodical Index, edited by Anne C. Sutherland, Frederick Winthrop Faxon, Mary Estella Bates, Published 1921, F.W. Faxon Co., Boston, MA. Excerpt: "Steppe, Harry, actor. Portrait (with Vic Dayton). NY Clipper 68: DI, '20, 1. Steppe, Mrs. Harry. See Dayton, Vic."
  11. "Stage and Screen," by Harold W. Cohen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Newspaper), Oct 17, 1934. Excerpt: "Harry Steppe, burlesque comedian...was taken to the Mountain Sinai Hospital in New York the other day for observation."
  12. "Here Comes the Hello Girls - Harry Steppe and Company at the Magestic Tomorrow." The Fort Wayne Daily News (Newspaper), Oct. 7, 1916: pg. 4.
  13. "Harry Steppe and His Big Show," Zanesville Times Signal (Newspaper), October 18, 1925.
  14. "Comedy Skits Headliners on Keith Bill," Atlanta Constitution (Newspaper), Oct 25, 1927. Excerpt: "Two clever comedy skits, "The Supper Club" and "The Debate," forming virtually a double headline attraction, and featuring Harry Steppe and Lola Pierce..."
  15. "Harry Steppe and His Show on Ninth Street." Washington Post (Newspaper), Dec 8, 1929 Section: Amusements
  16. "Rumba Girls at Academy: Harry Steppe Brings a Laugh Show to Town." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Newspaper), Oct 13, 1932, pg. 10 Section: Happenings of the Stage and Screen. Excerpt: Freshly written material gives Steppe, popular Yiddish character comic..."

Sources

  • Suburbanite Economist, Chicago, Illinois, Friday, October 3, 1913. Excerpt: "Following the baseball games the regular performance of the Girls From the Follies company will take Harry Steppe...replete with a chorus of 35 classical beauties gorgeously in addition to the laugh inducer...Harry Steppe The Hebrew who is the star of the company."
  • Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, New Jerseymarker, October 2, 1915. Excerpt: "The comical Harry Steppe and the breezy girls."
  • The Bridgeport Telegram (Newspaper) - November 28, 1924. "Harry Steppe and His Big Show"
  • Fort Wayne News (Newspaper) - January 27, 1916. "Sunday Burlesque Matinee..."
  • The Times Recorder (Newspaper), October 14, 1925, Zanesville, Ohio. "Harry Steppe and his Big Show"
  • "Art Theatres Form and Advisory Board," New York Times (Newspaper), Jun 7, 1926. Excerpt: "and there was a surprise specialty, "The Lemon Bit as It Has Been Done For Years," in which Harry Steppe and others appear..."
  • The American Burlesque Show, by Irving Zeidman, Hawthorn Books, 1967. Excerpts: "The most prominent of the later "Hebe" comics was Harry Steppe, who, ill and destitute in 1935, was the beneficiary of the Harry Steppe Fund, to which many famous stage personalities contributed. (Page 102)" "Harry Steppe had to be the recipient of a public benefit. (Page 215)"
  • "Really The Blues," by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe, Citadel Press (Trade Paper), 1990, pg.27. ISBN 0-8065-1205-9. Excerpt: "You could see most of the celebrities of the day, colored and white, hanging around the De Luxe. Bill Robinson, the burlesque comedian Harry Steppe, comedian Benny Davis, Joe Frisco, Al Jolson, Sophie Tucker, Blossom Seeley, a lot of Ziegfeld Follies actors..."


External links

  • "The Prime Minister of Mirth" A publicity photo of Harry Steppe on the front page of short-lived Montreal tabloid, The Axe, in 1924.
  • Bananas in Entertainment, cites Harry as originator of "Top Banana." Citation derived from newspapers and playbills in the Harvard Theater Collection.



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