No, No Bananas!

It’s really amazing to me that the banana of the 1920s was a different variety than what we have today. I wonder if the thicker Gros Michel peel was more of a slipping hazard. Something to think about. And test if I ever come across one…

Gros Michel banana shortages began in the 1920s. A wilting disease spread through un-diversified crops eventually wiping out the breed of banana almost entirely by the 1950s. Today, the Gros Michel is almost extinct, though apparently you can still get exorbitantly priced Gros Michels in Florida (miamifruit.org) and in Uganda where they’re called the Bogoya as well as a few other places across the globe. The superior Gros Michel was replaced with our banana of today, the Cavendish, considered to be lesser in almost every way – flavor, thickness of peel, size, even color.

Anyway, an odd song came out in 1923 that was likely inspired by these shortages. I’m sure you’ve heard of it: “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn.

“Yes We Have No Bananas” (1923) sung by Billy Jones

I heard it first in one of my all time favorite films, Sabrina (1954). The fact that it topped the charts for five weeks and was revived 31 years later as an example of music of the time demonstrates its popularity. It even makes an appearance in a Buster film: Sidewalks of New York (1931).

While recording a message to express his love, Cliff Edwards helps Buster out by flashing sappy song covers. No Bananas stops the enterprise dead.

The much played song was followed, again in 1923, by the “Yes We Have No Banana Blues.”

“Yes We Have No Banana Blues,” Sung by Belle Baker and The Virginians
This guy’s face says it all.

Buster apparently agreed with the man on the cover. According to this article he was tired of (probably) both songs:

(San Pedro News Pilot, May 3, 1924)

I know that a lot of silent film stars requested violinists to play appropriate music for their scenes to help them create mood and emotion, but apart from minutely timed moments I’ve never heard of Buster keeping musicians around like that. I like it. An old melody on an accordion during this scene adds a lot of color.

“Ciribiribin Waltz” performed by vaudeville star Guido Deiro, 1911

Anyone heard of any other instances of Buster hiring musicians to play behind the scenes?

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