Nation/World


Harry Stanley, Befuddling Deadpan Comedian, Dies At 100

SATURDAY, MARCH 7, 1998

Harry Stanley, a vaudeville performer who perfected a routine of mixing scholarly sounding nonsense with complete and utter gibberish, has died at the age of 100.

Stanley died Feb. 15 in Englewood at the Actor’s Fund Home, a retirement home for entertainers.

As a vaudeville comedian in the 1920s, and later as a lecturer to conventions and corporate gatherings for 40 years, Stanley’s routine would often start with him being introduced as an ex-presidential adviser with degrees from four or five Ivy League schools.

He would start out sounding scholarly, and then would add his made-up words to the mix, delivering them deadpan as if he were reciting meaningful political policy.

“I, for one, feel that all the basic sadum tortumise, all the professional getesimus and tortum kimafly will precipitously aggregate so that peace shall reign. I want to make that perfectly clear.”

The audience was confounded.

“He thought it was amusing to get the people looking at him and blinking their eyes and trying to hear a little harder because they didn’t understand,” said John Oberon, a friend at the retirement home.

Stanley practiced double talk at New York City restaurants with George Burns, Milton Berle and George Jessel. “I’d order sandwiches in double talk, and the waiters couldn’t figure it out,” he told The New York Times in 1989.

He nursed a 70-year-old grudge against Berle, saying the comedian stole one of his vaudeville showgirls, and later marveled at Berle’s success on television.

“I could’ve reached the heights that Berle did,” Stanley told the Times. “But with that blurry screen, I never thought it would get anywhere.”

Born in Poland on Nov. 7, 1897, Stanley grew up in New York City and had a brief theatrical career, with appearances in George Abbott’s “Broken Wing” and George Gershwin’s first Broadway play, “La Lucille,” in 1919.

He switched to vaudeville for the next 25 years, marrying a 20-year-old showgirl at age 39. His wife, Edith, died in 1989 after developing Alzheimer’s disease. They had no children.

Stanley retired to the Actor’s Home in 1983, where he delighted in puzzling new residents or staff.

Stanley would often pull Oberon over, the actor said, and spout a bunch of gibberish to him in front of the new arrivals while Oberon just nodded his head.

“Then the person would come over and say, ‘You know what he’s talking about?”’ Oberon said. “And I’d say, ‘Sure, I know what he’s talking about, don’t you understand what he just said?”’


 

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