Harry Steppe

Harry Steppe

Infobox Person
name = Harry Steppe
birthname = Abraham Stepner

image_size = 150px
caption = Promotional image of Harry, dressed as a sailor and snacking on bananas
birth_date = March, 1888
death_date = November 22, 1934
death_place = New York, NY
occupation = Actor, Comedian

Harry Steppe (born Abraham Stepner, March 1888 – November 22, 1934) was a Jewish-American actor, comedian and hobo clown who worked in Vaudeville and Burlesque. Harry coined such terms as "Razzle Dazzle," "Top Banana"1 (the headliner or top act on the bill), and "Second Banana." As one of Bud Abbott's first partners2, Harry introduced Bud to Lou Costello in 1934.

Born in Moscow3 to Russian immigrant Orthodox Jewish parents, Harry was often billed as a Hebrew or Jewish-dialect comedian. His gags and skits were also performed by such well-known comedians as Phil Silvers, The Three Stooges, and Abbott and Costello. Although Harry 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...
*The Three Stooges in the movie "Gents Without Cents" (1944)
*Abbott and Costello in the movie "Lost in a Harem" (1944)
*Lucille Ball in the TV show "I Love Lucy" (1951), Season #1, Episode #19 ("The Ballet")
*Abbott and Costello on TV in "The Abbott and Costello Show" (1952-1953)

Phil Silvers credited Harry 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."4 Silvers further popularized the term "Top Banana" in his 1951 Broadway musical and 1954 film of the same name.

Harry performed at several well-known theatres on the Orpheum Circuit. According to a Loew's Weekly Theatre Program, in a June 18, 1928 performance at the Loew's Theatre in New York, he was billed with Lola Pierce. Reportedly, Lola was an actress he was linked to romantically. Other paramours of Harry Steppe included Vaudeville performers Victoria "Vic" Dayton (whom he apparently married)5, Edna Raymond and Leona St. Clair


Pulmonary edema contributed to Abe's death, according to his death certificate. He was at Bellevue Hospital 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


* 1 "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."
* 2 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."
* 3 "Port of New York Passenger Record Search." Ellis Island Foundation. 16 Jan 2008 .
* 4 "About:Bananas," by John Wilcock. New York Times, March 30, 1958.
* 5 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."
* Suburbanite Economist, Chicago, Illinois, Friday, October 03, 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."
* "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."
* "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."
* "Trenton Evening Times, Trenton, New Jersey, October 2, 1915. Excerpt: "The comical Harry Steppe and the breezy girls."
* "Here Comes the Hello Girls - Harry Steppe and Company at the Magestic Tomorrow." The Fort Wayne Daily News, Oct. 7, 1916: pg. 4.
* Fort Wayne News (Newspaper) - January 27, 1916. "Sunday Burlesque Matinee..."
* The Bridgeport Telegram (Newspaper) - November 28, 1924. "Harry Steppe and His Big Show"
* Zanesville Times Signal (Newspaper), October 18, 1925. "Harry Steppe Show"
* The Times Recorder (Newspaper), October 14, 1925, Zanesville, Ohio. "Harry Steppe and his Big Show"
* Harry Steppe and His Show on Ninth Street. Washington Post, Dec 8, 1929 Section: Amusements
* 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..."
* 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)"
* "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."
* "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

* [http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/axe//fp/1924/p1113.htm "The Prime Minister of Mirth"] A publicity photo of Harry Steppe on the front page of short-lived Montreal tabloid, The Axe, in 1924.
* [http://www.geocities.com/harrysteppe/bib.htm Newspaper Articles] Mentioning Harry Steppe
* [http://news.google.com/archivesearch?q=%22harry+steppe%22&btnG=Search+Archives&num=20&lr=lang_en&as_ldate=1888&as_hdate=1934&lr=lang_en Google News] Archive Search for "Harry Steppe"
* [http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:3GPtbhO9HaUJ:www.cityofboston.gov/environment/pdfs/gaiety.pdf+Harry+Steppe+Dancing+Around+Columbia+Burlesque Gaiety Theater Study Report] , Boston Landmarks Commission, City of Boston, pg. 51, cites Harry as performing in the stage show "Harry Steppe's OK" (1926)
* [http://www.vegparadise.com/highestperch42.html 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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