Sunday, August 30, 2020

Abbott & Costello, Comedians & Flosso

 


One thing you may not know about me, I'm a HUGE fan of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. This comes from my Dad, who was also a fan and shared with me as a child all the wonderful radio shows of Abbott and Costello, as well as movies and TV shows.


Well, just yesterday, I was interviewing my friend Judge Gary Brown about his book, The Coney Island Fakir: The Magical Life of Al Flosso. Imagine my surprise to find out that Al Flosso had a connection to Bud Abbott.  This I learned AFTER the interview was over, which is why it's appearing here in the blog rather on the podcast. OH, and here is the link to the episode on Al Flosso

When I often speak of the 'rich history of magic' it's because some of these tricks and people have stories that are incredibly fascinating and in some cases mind boggling. Such is a small, generally forgotten prop that today we call, "The Hoo Coin".  It's origins are in the seedier street hustling side of things. At one time, according to the book, The Coney Island Fakir, Al Flosso teamed up with a gentleman by the name of Henry Gordien from Minneapolis. Gordien pitched an item where, "Any child can make a coin disappear." In the course of presenting the item to a crowd, Al Flosso would step forward, 'as the shill' and likely be duped by the vanishing coin and then buy one. Thus stoking the crowd into buying as well. The item they received was a very cheap imitation of the Hoo Coins of today. Often, the police would run off the duo for hustling the crowd.

Well, in the 1920s at Coney Island, Al Flosso meets Harry Abbott, the father of young Bud Abbott. Harry is working concessions and he talks to Al about helping his son Bud find some work. Well, Bud Abbott becomes the "shill" for the Hoo Coin routine. For his work, Al paid Abbott a whopping 8 dollars per week!

Now, if you look at the life of Bud Abbott, he is in and around these types of folks his whole life. The carneys, the pitchmen, the burlesque performers. He uses all of this to create his con-man type straighten character that he is famous for. When he and Lou Costello meet, it's gold in the making. They do many of the old burlesque routines, but they do them better than anyone. The reason? Their characters were so well defined, the old jokes and bits became funnier.

Take a look at a routine called, The Lemon Game. This is essentially The Three Shell Game, or Cups and Balls from the magic world. But they've got a clever twist to the game. Add to that some honestly, clever sleight of hand by Lou Costello with dollar bills and clever sleight of tongue by Bud, you've got yourself an incredible routine.


There is another routine they do, which is quite frankly a magic routines, The Passe Bottles. But their routine is played 100% for laughs. I admit, I always cringe when the secret is revealed to this routine, no matter who is doing it. But still, it shows the 'magic skill' that Bud Abbott possesses. 

I often wonder, if the boys ever visited Al Flosso at his shop once they became famous? But one thing is for sure, there is a connection between magic and Abbott and Costello and now we know there is a connection between Al Flosso and Bud Abbott. 

If you listen to the podcast, you'll hear the connection that Flosso has to many old time comedians, Jackie Gleason, Danny Kaye, The Marx Brothers, and Milton Berle. It's truly a small world!

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