The Saga of Turnover & Rolloff
By Elizabeth McLeod

Purple Line

Actually, Turnover and Rolloff were one of the best of the forgotten vaudeville teams of the 1920s, beloved by theatre and radio audiences from coast to coast until their tragic on-air failure in 1936.

Maurice "Apple" Turnover was a struggling oboe player when he met failed recording artist Herschel "Stinky" Rolloff in 1918. Rolloff had faced repeated rejection in his attempt to record dialect monologues about a Jewish immigrant trying to use modern office equipment. A battered test pressing of "Cohen on the Dictaphone" is all that survives of this early career. Turnover, meanwhile, was playing the small-time Poli circuit with his squawking renditions of tearjerking classics like "I Walked Her To The Meadow So She Could Hear My Bull" or "Wedding Bells are Clanging For My Susquehanna Sue." Neither performer seemed to have much future.

One afternoon outside the fetid Keeney Theatre in Brooklyn, Turnover became embroiled in a bitter argument with noted seal-act impresario Professor Sorcho. In a pique of rage, Turnover stole the Professor's flippered partner, (right) and stashed the terrified mammal in the nearest trunk -- one belonging to Rolloff, who was preparing, that fateful week, for a new career: performing serious romantic ballads as they would sound if sung by Kaiser Wilhelm. When Rolloff opened his trunk to retrieve his spiked helmet and false moustache, he discovered the seal -- and an instant friendship was born.

Rolloff incorporated his new-found partner into his act that night -- and the image of Kaiser Wilhelm singing "When You Was Eight And I Was Nine And We Was Seventeen" to a costumed seal proved an irresistable hit in those war-conscious days. Turnover, meanwhile, burned with jealously as he watched from the wings. If only he could enjoy such success!

When he took the stage for his act, even as the applause for Kaiser Bill and Flippo was fading, he was simmering with rage. Then, a miracle -- when he blew the first note on his oboe, Flippo responded from backstage by barking the identical note! To his astonishment, the seal bounded onto the stage, and accompanied him in perfect harmony thru his rendition of "That Lantern-Jawed Sweetheart Of Mine."

To deafening applause, Turnover, Rolloff, and Flippo realized the value of joining forces -- and a vaudeville legend was born.

(fast montage of railroad trains and signs reading "Sheboygan!""Harrisburg!""Weehawken!""NEW YORK!")

Turnover, Rolloff, and Flippo opened at the Palace in 1929 to rave reviews, (left). The world seemed theirs: An ironclad contract with the Keith circuit, an endless series of phonograph-record hits on the Victim label, a weekly radio hour, and a Vitaphone short subject: "Signed, Sealed, and Delivered," directed by the ever-workmanlike Brian Foy, with a cameo appearance by Al Jolson as the seal's long-lost father. For three years, they headlined. Then, the downhill slope. Flippo grew fat with success, and was no longer as limber in his on-stage gyrations. Rolloff tried to modernize his role in the act by abandoning the Kaiser Bill costume and appearing as Herbert Hoover instead. But Hoover's unpopularity resulted in vicious jeers from the audience. Where once they had thrown fish, now they threw rotten fruit. Their careers languished. A few halfhearted appearances in Educational Pictures two-reelers, and it was all over.

Or was it? In early 1936, a representative of Rudy Vallee's staff invited the trio to make a comeback appearance on the famous Fleischmann's Yeast Hour. Turnover, Rolloff, and Flippo rehearsed their material for weeks, desperate to make good. They arrived at the glittering art-deco towers of Radio City convinced that they were on the way back to the top!

But, tragedy was waiting in studio 8-H. In their excitement, Turnover and Rolloff had forgotten to bring food for Flippo -- and he was hungry! Desperately, they noticed a display of the sponsor's product on the stage, and during the final dress rehearsal, both men fed the seal several dozen cakes of Fleischmann's Yeast. It was to be a fatal mistake.

The program began. Rudy sang. Comedians cavorted. Actors acted. Graham McNamee exhorted the audience to banish ugly facial blemishes by eating Fleischmann's Yeast daily -- never mentioning the potential for digestive side effects. Side effects which were causing, minute by minute, an ominous bloating of Flippo's glossy flanks.

The moment came. Rudy stepped to the mike, and in his nasal tones introduced those favorites of years past, vaudeville's legends, Turnover, Rolloff and Flippo!

The performers took a final deep breath. Turnover raised his oboe to his lips. His eyes met Flippo's. He sounded the opening note. And Flippo responded.

But not from his mouth. From another end, the yeast-fueled seal honked forth an extended, trumpet-like blast, echoing thru the rafters of 8-H, and into millions of living rooms across America. But listeners at home were spared the full effect of the blast. In the studio, perfomers, spectators, and staff raced for the exits, as a noxious presence filled the air, beyond the capacity of even the finest ventilation system to exhaust. At the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, and in the sacred corridors of NBC, ulcers danced. Never again would these performers be allowed to befoul the nation's sacred air!

And so ended the tragic story of Turnover, Rolloff, and Flippo. Shed a tear, if you will, for a show business legend, laid low by the ill winds of fate.

Purple Line

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