Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Soffin Dwilfin Dwang Man

Novelty show business acts catch the public’s fancy for a while and then fade away. One that made a splash on radio and the movies in the late ‘30s involved a man who casually answered questions with his response unexpectedly veering into nonsense. Something like “I bought a new car the other day but the fizzlestan was a clidden lugat in the snornenfuss.”

If you can follow that, you can follow this squib about him in Variety of January 24, 1920.
Next week's bill at Keith's Colonial, New York, contains the names of Nat Nazarro Company and Cliff Nazarro Company, two distinct acts. Neither is connected with the Nat Nazarro turn now touring the Orpheum Circuit. The Nat Nazarro turn at the Colonial next week, is the father of the performer presently playing at the Orpheum, Oakland, and who also conducts a vaudeville agency with offices in the Strand Theatre Building. The Cliff Nazarro (Cliff Robbins) turn, which also appears on the Colonial bill, includes Gertrude Cogren and Ernest Ferita, produced by the agent in opposition to his son. The agent was granted a divorce recently and the son given to his mother.
The comedian in question is Cliff Nazarro. He sang, he danced, he joked—no different than countless others in vaudeville—but he hit on a gimmick. He became well-known for his double-talk act. You can hear it as the emcee in the 1938 Warners cartoon “The Penguin Parade” (early animation research that claimed Nazarro voiced Egghead was incorrect). As for the confusing story above, there were a father and son, both named Nat Nazarro, with separate vaudeville acts. Cliff Nazarro wasn’t really a Nazarro at all. He was born Cliff Robins on January 31, 1904 in New Haven, Connecticut. The New York Dramatic Mirror reported in December 1919 that Nat the Father had discovered him and would be changing his name “for stage reasons.”

Here’s a unbylined story from the Syracuse Herald-Journal from November 14, 1940 crediting Nazarro with inventing his unusual form of stage conversation.

He Originated ‘Double Talk’
Cliff Nazarro Writes Own Movie Ticket Now

Although motion picture producers are sticklers on insisting that actors speak their lines as written, there is one player in Hollywood they don’t dictate to. In fact they tell writers just to leave his speeches blank and tell him to go ahead and say what he wants to.
The man is Cliff Nazarro.
And, to top it all, Nazarro, famed as the "double talk man," usually doesn't know what he is going to say until the cameras are turning and the sound equipment is recording.
Director Mitchell Leisen, for whom Nazarro toiled recently, told him when he started to work:
“You're a photographer. You take a picture of Ray Milland for Claudette Colbert as a part of the plot. You'll have a big camera and an assistant.”
Out of that Nazarro manufactured his scene, putting In his own speeches. Every time the director ordered another filming of the same scene for the picture, "Arise My Love," Keith-bound Thursday, it was different from the one before because Nazarro couldn't remember what he'd just said, and nobody cared, anyway. Whatever he said was bound to be all right, and guaranteed not to make sense.
Nazarro has an odd record. He introduced the slang expression, "double talk," into the American language. One day he was on the stage, introducing a couple of performers. He was master of ceremonies.
“It came to me like a flash just to talk about anything,” Nazarro says, “and that’s what I did.”
That was in 1927. His brand of humor has flourished ever since and has been responsible for countless imitators, none of whom has lasted very long.
He introduced his strange, rambling form of talk on the radio in 1935. A short time later he worked with Jack Benny in Paramount's "Artists and Models Abroad," and this started it in motion pictures.
Nazarro was born in New Haven, Connecticut, 35 years ago. He quit in the first year of high school to go to New York City and start his stage career. He worked first in "Katy's Kisses," a play which lasted 16 weeks. After a term in stock companies and another in radio he came to Hollywood in 1935.

Jack Benny must have liked Nazarro because he dropped the double-talker into his radio show off and on for about five years from the end of 1936.

Here’s a little more about Nazarro by the New York Post’s Earl Wilson, published March 7, 1942.

Even His Money Double-Talks for Cliff Nazarro
He Made Approximately Flamas Soffis Stormis Dollars—and 19 Cents—in Films


Cliff Nazarro, the movie double-talker, a sawed-off little fellow who wears long-collared Hollywood shirts, but wouldn’t put portis on the portisan on the stamportis even if his critics do say so behind his back, had come to town, so a Post reporter went up to interview him after being promised he wouldn't talk double.
"What's cookin?" asked the reporter, in perfect English.
"Plenty," said the shrimp. "I'm a success. I'm in the money. Out of my double talk movies 'You'll Never Get Rich,' 'Blondie Goes to College,' and 'Pardon My Stripes,' I have earned approximately flamas soffis stormis dollars and 19 cents. If you use that figure, be sure to say it's just an estimate."
Why He Loves the State
"What are you doing here now"?
"Appearing at Loew's State, a theatre I love because of a helpful thing that happened right after I left New Haven to be an actor. A woman leaped up in the audience and damned if she didn't zinta stillit in front of everybody, straight at me. I yelled and she dwillit doffer zint. Still with the formdin, of course! Was I mortified! But it helped me to be a better actor."
"How long did it take you to get over it?"
"Till about six years ago." He grinned fiendishly recalling his start toward success. "I was in Frisco, singing with Meredith Wilson's orchestra, and I got to ribbing a piano tuner. "I would say to him very severely, 'Listen, you have a habit of leaving a soffin on the keyboard when you finish, and every time I start to sing, it dwilfins. Now damn it, watch yourself.' He told the manager of the radio station I was a swell guy but drank too much and the manager asked me about this crazy talk of mine.
We decided to try it on the air, and that was the first time double talk was used commercially."
Actors Used to Talk
"Where did you get the idea?"
"Actors always used it as a rib, but just among themselves. John Barrymore told me his father had heard it when he was young. Some actors would go into a restaurant and say 'Gimme one sorfa with two zatins and a small zeatus on the side, and a demi-tasse.' The waiters would go crazy. But nobody ever used it on the general public till I tried it in Frisco."
"What's the secret of using it successfully?"
"Inflection, largely," he said. "My imitators use words like portis, portisan and stamportis, but I just say things like soffin, dwilfin, zunt, dwang and talis. They're not words. Portis, partisan and stamportis are words."
"What sort of words?"
"Double-talk words."
"What do they mean?"
"What do soffin, dwilfin, zunt, dwang and talis mean?"
"Nuthin! They're not words."
Now Take His Own Case
Nazarro said he hoped that had cleared it up, but if it hadn't, take his own case.
"Every night before I go to bed," he confided, "I go out in the garage and in one corner there's a dalafoss and I open that up and bring out my old soffanis and read it carefully. On page 946 in very black type it say, 'Never sodin the dwilge or you'll lose it' and they'll do it to you, too, every time.' It's a good thing to remember. When I was making that Mickey Rooney picture, 'Stablemates,' that very thing happened to me. I’ve since heard there's one in Greenwich Village, down around 9th St."
Just to make for further clarity, Nazarro said his real name is Cliff Robbins and that he took the name of Nazarro at the insistence of Nat Nazarro, the agent, who was able to get more for his services as a singer by passing him off as his son. Show business thinks of him still as the agent's son.
Writing Double-Talk Concerto
He is now 38 and he and his wife are adopting a child. They have a home in Hollywood, where he is writing a double-talk concerto, tentatively titled, "Don't Ever Leave the Cranchin or the Drongins Will Get You in the End."
"It's a modern colonial with 10 big rosebushes in front, and inside, right in front of the stairway, almost immediately under the chandelier, there is a phenomenal thing—a sorgin dimita flam. It's a beauty, and most people, including some prominent engineers, think it was caused by our lighting system.
"If not that," he shrugged, "then by the drongins."

By the end of World War Two, mentions of Nazarro in the entertainment section of the newspaper involved what was on TV on The Late, Late Show. The former Cliff Robins died in Ventura, California on February 18, 1961, largely forgotten. That’s a stiffalada crassenfoss.


  1. A few extra odds and ends onthis distinctive performer. I agree Nazarro was engaged on Benny's show for various double talking bits from late 1937...but the info in Laura's book is incorrect for shows dated 2-9-36, 11-1-36, 1-17-37, 4-25-37 and 4-17-38 (the second, third and fourth dates are actually Cliff Arquette...that misinformation arose from the single name "Cliff" being on the scripts in the Benny UCLA collection). Nazarro recorded several songs in the late 20s doing his Jolson imitation which can be heard in the WB cartoon SEPTEMBER IN THE RAIN....Clampett said Nazarro was also used in several cartoons as a crooner, and you can hear his fine Cantor as early as TOYTOWN HALL. I have read that Nazarro developed a bad stomach illness in the mid-40s and that it confined him to a sanatorium for the last 15 years of his life. Friz Freleng gave him a quick job in 1947, doing Crosby in CURTAIN RAZOR released in 1949. (Keith Scott)

  2. Keith, thanks for clearing this up.