The Phil Silvers Show (originally titled You’ll Never Get Rich) is a comedy television series which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1959 for 142 episodes, plus a 1959 special. The series starred Phil Silvers as Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko of the United States Army.
The series was created and largely written by Nat Hiken, (Born in Chicago, Illinois, Hiken worked for Warner Bros. as a screenwriter beginning in 1940 for the studio’s short-subject films. Hiken is best known for a number of popular TV series during the 1950s and 1960s, including Car 54, Where Are You? and The Phil Silvers Show, a situation comedy set on a US Army post in which Silvers played Sergeant Ernest G. “Ernie” Bilko; the show was also often referred to as Sgt. Bilko, but Hiken originally titled it You’ll Never Get Rich. Hiken was one of TV’s first writer-producers, and he had begun originally in radio by writing for Fred Allen’s hit radio show and as the head writer for NBC’s Four Star Revue. He moved from radio to TV as a writer for Milton Berle’s radio show, which preceded his legendary TV variety show Texaco Star Theater. As a writer for Car 54, Where Are You? and the The Phil Silvers Show, he exhibited a comic flair, and his capacity for spoofing such entities as the United States Army, the U.S. government, and police forces was exceptional. TV historians attest to Hiken’s talent to create zany but lovable characters and also to his ability to draw strong comedic performances from such unlikely celebrities as boxer Rocky Graziano on NBC’s The Martha Raye Show. As a producer, Hiken also had an eye for spotting new talent. He is credited with discovering, and advancing the TV careers of, such future stars as Fred Gwynne (1955), Alan Alda (1958) (both made their TV debuts on The Phil Silvers Show), and Dick Van Dyke (1958). A television pioneer, Hiken worked with Mel Brooks and Woody Allen throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. Hiken won eight Emmy Awards and wrote material for Milton Berle, Bette Davis, Carol Burnett, and Lucille Ball. Larry David, in DVD extras to season 1 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, has spoken about his love of the Bilko series. Hiken also displayed his musical talent by working with composers George Bassman and Gordon Jenkins on music and theme songs for TV series, and among the songs Hiken himself wrote and composed are “Close to Me,” “Irving,” and “Fugitive from Fifth Avenue.” He also wrote and composed the theme song and music for the TV series, Car 54, Where Are You? Hiken’s career, talents, and contributions to the early years of commercial radio and TV are documented in the book King of the Half Hour: Nat Hiken and the Golden Age of TV Comedy, written by David Everitt and published by Syracuse University Press in 2001. Hiken’s career was cut short when he died of a heart attack on December 7, 1968 in Brentwood, California at the age of 54. His last project was the Don Knotts comedy The Love God?, released the year following Hiken’s death to disappointing box office numbers.)…and won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Best Comedy Series. The show is sometimes titled Sergeant Bilko or simply Bilko in reruns, and is very often referred to by these names, both on-screen and by viewers. The show’s success transformed Silvers from a journeyman comedian into a star, and writer-producer Hiken from a highly-regarded behind-the-scenes comedy writer into a publicly recognized creator.ProductionBy 1955, the American television business was already moving westward to Los Angeles, but Nat Hiken insisted on filming the series in New York City, believing it to be more conducive to the creativity and humor. Early episodes were filmed at Dumont’s television center in New York City (now home to WNYW-TV), with later episodes shot at the CBS “Hi Brown” Studios in Chelsea, Manhattan.Most of the series was photographed to simulate a live performance. The actors memorized their lines, as in a play, and performed the scenes in sequence before a studio audience. Thus, there are occasional flubs and awkward pauses. Actor Paul Ford, playing Bilko’s commanding officer, was notorious for forgetting his lines; when he would get a blank expression on his face, Silvers and the rest of the cast would improvise something to save the scene, like “Oh, you remember, Colonel, the top brass is coming…” At that point, Ford would pick up where he left off, and the audience would respond by laughing.
This method of filming changed when impresario Mike Todd made a guest appearance and refused to memorize the script. He insisted on the episode being filmed like a Hollywood movie, one scene at a time, and out of sequence. Silvers and the crew found Todd’s way was faster, cheaper and less demanding for the actors, so the series changed over to this new policy. The finished films were screened for live audiences, whose responses were recorded and added to the soundtracks.Bilko’s right-hand men were Cpl. Rocco Barbella (Harvey Lembeck Harvey Lembeck (April 15, 1923 – January 5, 1982) was an American comedic actor best remembered for his role as Cpl. Rocco Barbella on The Phil Silvers Show (a.k.a. Sgt. Bilko) in the late 1950s, and as the stumbling, overconfident outlaw biker Eric Von Zipper in the beach party movie series during the 1960s. He also turned in noteworthy performances in both the stage and screen versions of Stalag 17. He was the father of actor/director Michael Lembeck and actress Helaine Lembeck-Lembeck continued to perform and teach up until his death from a heart attack on January 5, 1982. In an interview taped shortly before his own passing in 1985, Phil Silvers said he was shocked and saddened by the untimely passing of Lembeck, and missed him terribly).…and Cpl. Steve Henshaw (Allan Melvin), and his long-suffering superior was Col. John T. Hall (Paul FordFord was born Paul Ford Weaver in Baltimore, Maryland. At a young age, he showed an adept talent for performance, but was discouraged when directors thought he was tone-deaf. However, in later years, he made his hollow, reverberating voice one of the most recognized of his era. His success was long in the making, and he did little acting, but instead raised his family during the Great Depression.Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Public Works programs provided Ford with work, and to the day he died, he was a passionate Democrat. Ford auditioned for a play under his birth name, but did not get the part. Later, he dropped his surname and was known professionally as Paul Ford.Ford became an “overnight” success at age 54 when he played Colonel Hall opposite Phil Silvers on Silvers’ Sergeant Bilko TV show. His signature role may well be the part of Mayor George Shinn, a befuddled politico in the film adaptation of the Broadway show The Music Man. Ford played the role straight, and received glowing reviews. Ford had an active career in both films and television until his retirement in the early 1970s.
He appeared in the 1962–1963 season in the CBS anthology The Lloyd Bridges Show. He starred in The Baileys of Balboa, which lasted only one season (1964–1965).His stage credits include Another Part of the Forest (1946), Command Decision (1947), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1953), Whoop-Up (1958), replacing David Burns as Mayor Shinn in The Music Man (1957), A Thurber Carnival (1960), Never Too Late (1962), 3 Bags Full (1966) and What Did We Do Wrong? (1967).Most actors who worked with Ford claimed he was a kindly and very funny man. He was known for his quotes about the Depression in later years, including, “My kids used to think everyone lived on peanut butter sandwiches.”George Vreeland Hill said that Paul Ford is one of the greatest character actors of all-time.
Paul Ford died at the age of 74 after suffering a massive heart attack at his home in Mineola, New York in 1976. His remains were cremated.-). The large supporting cast included Herbie Faye (a former burlesque crony of Silvers’) as Pvt. Sam Fender,( Herbie Faye (February 2, 1899—June 28, 1980) was an American actor who appeared in both of Phil Silvers’s CBS television series, The Phil Silvers Show (1955–1959) and The New Phil Silvers Show (1963–1964).
Aged 55, Faye was cast in his first major acting role as Corporal Sam Fender in twenty-four episodes of Silvers’s first series, first known as You’ll Never Get Rich and then in rebroadcasts as Sergeant Bilko. Faye appeared in such segments as “Bilko, the Art Lover”, “Guinea Pig Bilko”, “Doberman Missing Heir”, “The Colonel’s Second Honeymoon”, and “The Weekend Colonel”. After the original program ended, Faye appeared four years later as Waluska on the second series in which Silvers (1911–1985) played Harry Grafton, the foreman of fictitious Osborne Industries who is eager to make a profit by nearly any means possible. His co-stars on the program were Stafford Repp, Buddy Lester, Elena Verdugo, Ronnie Dapo, and Sandy Descher) Maurice Gosfield as the slovenly Pvt. Duane Doberman(Maurice Lionel Gosfield (January 28, 1913 in New York City – October 19, 1964 in New York City) was an American comic actor, most famous for his portrayal of Private Duane Doberman on the 1950s sitcom You’ll Never Get Rich (later called The Phil Silvers Show).’Maury’ Gosfield was born in New York in 1913, but was raised in Philadelphia and later in Evanston, Illinois. He began acting with the Ralph Bellamy and Melvyn Douglas Players in Chicago, and joined the Summer Stock theatre circuit in 1930. During World War II he served in the U. S. Army’s Tec 4 unit in the 8th Armoured Division, and gained the rank of Sergeant. In 1950 he played an uncredited role in the film Ma and Pa Kettle Go to Town. He also appeared in Toast of the Town in 1956. In 1955 Gosfield first appeared as Private Duane Doberman in the television show You’ll Never Get Rich; this was renamed The Phil Silvers Show in 1956. Because of the popularity of Private Doberman in the show DC Comics published eleven issues of a Private Doberman comic from 1957 to 1960Gosfield again played Private Doberman in the 1959 television show Keep in Step. He next appeared in the made for television movie The Teenage Millionaire (1961).Gosfield also provided the voice for Benny the Ball on the cartoon series Top Cat which was partially based on the Sergeant Bilko series. His last role was in the 1963 film The Thrill of It All, playing a truck driver. In 1964 he unsuccessfully tested for the role of Uncle Fester in the TV series The Addams Family. Phil Silvers, the star of The Phil Silvers Show, in his 1973 autobiography, said of Gosfield that he had a pomposity and condescension off-screen, behaving ‘like Clark Gable playing a fat man’. Gosfield died at Saranac Lake, New York, of a sudden heart attack at the age of 51 on October 19, 1964. He is buried at Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale, Suffolk County in New York)Joe E. Ross as camp cook Sgt. Rupert Ritzik,( Joe E. Ross (March 15, 1914 – August 13, 1982) was an American actor known for his trademark “Ooh! Ooh!” exclamation, which he used in many of his roles. He starred in such TV sitcoms as The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You?. Ross was born Joseph Roszawikz to Jewish immigrant parents in New York, New York. He dropped out of Seward Park High School at the age of 16 to become a singing waiter at the Van Cortlandt Inn in the Bronx. When the cafe added a girl dancer and singer, Ross was promoted to announcer. He added some jokes and became a comedian.In 1938, he appeared at the Queens Terrace, near Jackson Heights, New York. Jackie Gleason had already been playing there for 16 weeks, and the manager was about to ask Gleason to stay a while longer. Ross heard of the opening, auditioned for it, got the contract, and also stayed 16 weeks. Ross then turned burlesque comic on the Schuster circuit out of Chicago.
His career was interrupted by World War II. He served in the Army Air Corps at Camp Blanding, Florida, before being stationed in England.Discharged at the war’s end, Ross became an announcer-comic at Billy Gray’s Bandbox in Hollywood. He kept his ties to burlesque, and appeared in Irving Klaw’s feature-length theatrical film Teaserama (1955), a re-creation of a burlesque show.In 1955, Ross worked at a nightclub in Miami Beach called Club Ciro. He was spotted by Nat Hiken and Phil Silvers, who were planning You’ll Never Get Rich (later known as The Phil Silvers Show) and loved Ross’s comedy skills. Ross was hired on the spot and cast as the mess sergeant, Rupert Ritzik.Ross made Ritzik memorable. Ritzik was henpecked, dumb, and greedy, always an easy mark for Bilko’s schemes. Whenever Ritzik had a sudden inspiration, he would hesitate and stammer “Ooh! Ooh!” before articulating his idea. The catch phrase came from the actor’s own frustration when he couldn’t remember his lines. Silvers would deliberately stray from the scripted dialogue and give Ross the wrong cues, prompting a genuinely confused reaction and an agonized “Ooh! Ooh!” from Ross.
After The Phil Silvers Show ended in 1959, Nat Hiken went on to produce Car 54, Where Are You? and cast Joe E. Ross as Patrolman Gunther Toody of New York’s 53rd Precinct. Fred Gwynne, another Bilko alumnus, played Toody’s partner, Francis Muldoon. Toody could usually be counted on at some point to say,”Ooh! Ooh! Francis!” Ross became so identified with his policeman role that he recorded an album of songs entitled “Love Songs from a Cop.” Roulette Records released the LP in 1964. Ross did the voice for Toody for the episode “Car 54″ of Hanna-Barbera’s “Wait Till Your Father Gets Home”, in which Toody and Muldoon moonlight running a day care center and one of the boys turns up missing.Ross also starred as Gronk in Sherwood Schwartz’s ill-fated 1966 sitcom It’s About Time, which featured two 1960s American astronauts who were thrown back in time to the prehistoric era.Ross also was a prominent cartoon voice into the 1970s, playing the stereotypical bumbling sergeant in many cartoons such as Hong Kong Phooey (as Sgt. Flint) and Help! It’s The Hair Bear Bunch (as Botch). His “Ooh! Ooh!” phrase was emulated by Frank Welker in the animated series Fangface.
PersonalRoss’s personal life was as noisy and troubled as his screen characters. According to fellow nightclub comedian Hank Garrett, Ross was “married eight times and they were all ex-hookers. It was cheaper to marry them than keep visiting them.” Co-workers also complained that Ross was continually vulgar, even cursing around children. Imogene Coca, who played Ross’s caveman wife in the sitcom “It’s About Time,” hated working with Ross and referred to him as “that awful man.” However, others called him “a man of sweet character.” DeathRoss died of a heart attack on August 13, 1982. He was stricken while performing in the clubhouse of his apartment building in Van Nuys, California, a suburb of Los AngelesHe was buried in Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery.
Ross’ gravestone is inscribed with the double entendre “This man had a ball!”) Beatrice Pons as loud-mouthed Mrs. Ritzik,( Beatrice Pons (January 28, 1906 – June 1991was an American stage, television and film actress, best-known for her recurring television roles on Sgt. Bilko and Car 54, Where Are You?. She appeared as “Mother” in the independent cult horror film Mother’s Day under the name Rose Ross.) Billy Sands as Pvt. Dino Paparelli, Jimmy Little as Sgt. Francis Grover, and Mickey Freeman as diminutive Pvt. Fielding Zimmerman. Other characters included Jack Healy as the tough-talking Pvt. Mullin, Ned Glass as quartermaster Sgt. Andy Pendleton Who played ‘Doc” the drug store owner in the film West Side Story), and former boxer Walter Cartier as botany fiend Pvt. Claude Dillingham. Some episodes gave Bilko a romantic interest, Elisabeth Fraser as Sgt. Joan Hogan.The series frequently featured so many secondary cast members, with so many speaking parts, that the show ultimately became too expensive to sustain. It was this factor more than any notable decline in ratings which led to the show’s demise in 1959. Though The Phil Silvers Show was never a huge ratings magnet, it was considered the top television comedy of its time. The show was Emmy Award-nominated for both Comedy Writing and Best Series in all four of its seasons, winning both awards in 1956, 1957, and 1958. The series received nine other nominations during its run, with Silvers winning one individual Emmy for his performance, and Nat Hiken winning one for direction. As Silvers later recalled, “We went out at our height.”Guest stars included Dick Van Dyke, Eric Fleming, Fred Gwynne, Alan Alda, Paul Reed, Suzanne Storrs, Darry Richard, and Paul Lynde, then near the beginning of their careers. Later episodes used a wealth of veteran Hollywood character actors, including Harold Huber, Marjorie Gateson, and Frank Albertson.The series was originally set in Fort Baxter, a sleepy, unremarkable U.S. Army post in the fictional town of Roseville, Kansas, and centered on the soldiers of the Fort Baxter motor pool under Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko. However, Bilko and his men seemed to spend very little time actually performing their duties—Bilko in particular spent most of his time trying to wheedle money through various get-rich-quick scams and promotions, or to find ways to get others to do his work for him. Bilko and his men wore the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 69th Division, then a training division at Fort Dix, New Jersey.His soldiers regularly helped Bilko with his schemes, but were just as often Bilko’s “pigeons” ripe for the plucking. Nevertheless, Bilko exhibited an odd paternalism toward his victims, and would doggedly shield them from all outside antagonists. The sergeant’s attitude toward his men has been described thus: “They were his men and if anyone was going to take them, it was going to be him and only him.” Through it all, the platoon was generally loyal to Bilko despite their wariness of his crafty nature, and would depend on him to get them out of any military misfortune or outside mistreatment. In such circumstances, Bilko would employ the same psychological guile and chicanery he always used to outwit his suckers, but for good purposes.Bilko’s swindles were usually directed toward (or behind the back of) Col. John T. Hall, the overmatched and beleaguered post commander who had early in his career been nicknamed “Melon Head”. Despite his flaws and weaknesses, Col. Hall would get the best of Bilko just enough to establish his credentials as a wary and vigilant adversary. The colonel would often be shown looking fretfully out his window, worried without explanation or evidence, simply because he knew that Bilko was out there somewhere, planning something. The colonel’s wife, Nell (Hope Sansberry), had only the kindest thoughts toward Bilko, who would shamelessly flatter her whenever he saw her.The show’s setting changed with the fourth season, when the men of Fort Baxter were reassigned to Camp Fremont in California. This mass transfer was explained in storyline as being the inadvertent result of a Bilko con gone wrong. In reality, creator Hiken had departed, and it was an easy excuse to move the production to California and fill the episodes with celebrity guest appearances from nearby Hollywood. The show, however, was still filmed in New York.Sgt. Bilko’s service number – RA 15042699 – indicated that he had enlisted in the Army sometime after 1940 from one of four states: Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio or West Virginia. According to the series, he enlisted in 1941. Coincidentally, Phil Silvers co-starred in a 1941 film, You’re in the Army Now, in which he enlists in the US Army.FinaleIn the series finale, “Weekend Colonel”, Bilko discovers a short-order cook who is the exact double of Colonel Hall. Bilko hires the cook to impersonate the colonel, so he can cheat the other officers in a bogus charity effort. The real Colonel Hall learns of the scam, and Bilko, Henshaw, and Barbella end up being locked away in the guardhouse. As Colonel Hall looks at his prisoners on a newly installed closed-circuit TV system, he quips: “It’s a wonderful show, and as long as I’m the sponsor, it will never be cancelled.” The camera cuts to Bilko and his henchmen finally behind bars. Bilko waves to the camera and says, “Th-th-that’s all, folks!” So ended the series.Aftermath
Following the show’s cancellation, CBS shortsightedly sold the films to NBC, which immediately aired reruns five days a week to great financial returns. Some of the show’s other actors were recruited by “Bilko” producer Edward J. Montagne to appear in Nat Hiken’s followup sitcom Car 54, Where Are You?, and in McHale’s Navy.Silvers was able to play off his durable Bilko persona for the rest of his career. In 1963, he starred in The New Phil Silvers Show, which attempted to transplant his mercenary character to a factory setting, but the result proved unpopular. Silvers frequently guest-starred on Buddy Ebsen’s The Beverly Hillbillies as a character called Honest John. He also played an unscrupulous Broadway producer on an episode of Gilligan’s Island who stole the castaways’ concept for a musical version of Hamlet. In an episode of The Lucy Show, Silvers was a demanding efficiency expert; at one point, Lucy’s boss Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon), remarks that Silvers reminds him of a sergeant he used to know. Silvers also portrayed greedy connivers in various movies, notably It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (in which Ford had a supporting role, interestingly enough as a colonel, though they shared no scenes) and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The British film Follow That Camel cast him as a scheming sergeant (this time in the French Foreign Legion).The original You’ll Never Get Rich program, which was filmed in black-and-white, was widely rerun into the 1970s. The advent of color television rendered it and many similar programs less marketable than they had been previously. The series reemerged in the late 1980s on the fledgling cable channel Comedy Central, then again on Nick at Nite for a short time during the 1990s (serving as charter programming for TV Land in 1996).LegacyThe Bilko persona was borrowed by the Hanna-Barbera animation studio for its television cartoon series Top Cat, which drew on elements from The Phil Silvers Show. Maurice Gosfield from the original platoon voiced Benny the Ball. Hokey Wolf was another Hanna-Barbera production that borrowed heavily from The Phil Silvers Show. The episode of The Flintstones that introduced Dino gave the pet dinosaur a Sgt. Bilko-styled voice and character. After this atypical debut, Dino never spoke again. Another episode recruited Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble into the army, where they were conned by an unnamed Bilko-like character into becoming astronaut test pilots.The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film) used the names of several people associated with Sgt. Bilko for the members of a Korean War patrol such as Cpl Allan Melvin, Pvt Silvers, Pvt Hiken, and Pvt Lembeck. In 1987 a British tourist visiting Tibet was wearing a Phil Silvers Sgt Bilko T-Shirt that Chinese soldiers attempted to rip off her as they thought the image of Sgt Bilko was the Dalai Lama. UK receptionThe series was a staple of BBC One’s post-11pm late-night schedule throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, appearing up to several times per week immediately prior to the channel’s signoff (before BBC1 became a 24-hour broadcaster in November 1997). During the 1990s, the series moved to BBC Two, where it often held a late-night slot, as well as runs during the daytime programmes and even occasionally in an early evening slot.
Phil Silvers (May 11, 1911 – November 1, 1985) was an American entertainer and comedy actor, known as “The King of Chutzpah.” He is best known for starring in The Phil Silvers Show, a 1950s sitcom set on a U.S. Army post in which he played Sergeant Bilko.Early life and careerBorn Philip Silver on Thursday, May 11, 1911, in Brooklyn, New York, in the working-class Brownsville section, he was the eighth and youngest child of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Saul and Sarah (née Handler) Silver. His siblings were Lillian, Harry, Jack, Saul, Pearl, Michael, and Reuben Silver. His father, a sheet metal worker, helped build the early New York skyscrapers.Silvers started entertaining at age 11, when he would sing in theaters when the projector broke down (a common occurrence in those days). By age 13 he was working as a singer in the Gus Edwards Revue, and then worked in vaudeville and as a burlesque comic. Silvers next worked in short films for the Vitaphone studio, such as Ups and Downs (1937), and on Broadway, where he made his debut in the short-lived show Yokel Boy in 1939. Critics raved about Silvers, who was hailed as the bright spot in the mediocre play. The Broadway revue High Kickers (1941) was based on his concept. He made his feature film debut in Hit Parade of 1941 in 1940 (his previous appearance as a ‘pitch man’ in Strike Up the Band was cut). Over the next two decades, he worked as a character actor for MGM, Columbia, and 20th Century Fox, in such films as Lady Be Good (1941), Coney Island (1943), Cover Girl (1944), and Summer Stock (1950). When the studio system began to decline, he returned to the stage.Silvers wrote the lyrics for Frank Sinatra’s “Nancy (With the Laughing Face)”. Although he was not a songwriter, he wrote the lyrics while visiting composer Jimmy Van Heusen. The two composed the song for Van Heusen’s writing partner Johnny Burke, for his wife Bessie’s birthday. Substituting Sinatra’s little daughter’s name Nancy at her birthday party, the trio impressed the singer to record it himself. The song became a popular hit in 1944 and was a staple in Sinatra’s live performances. Silvers scored a major triumph in Top Banana, a Broadway show of 1952. Silvers played Jerry Biffle, the egocentric, always-busy star of a major television show. (The character is said to have been based on Milton Berle.) Silvers dominated the show and won a Tony Award for his performance. He repeated the role in the 1954 film version that was originally released in 3-D. Top Banana is a musical with music and lyrics by Johnny Mercer and book by Hy Kraft which premiered on Broadway in 1951. Comedian Phil Silvers starred, and won the Tony Award in 1952.ProductionThe musical opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre on November 1, 1951 and closed on October 4, 1952 after 350 performances. The original cast co-starred, in addition to Phil Silvers, Rose Marie, Lindy Doherty, Jack Albertson, Bob Scheerer and Ted “Sport” Morgan. Produced by Paula Stone and Mike Sloane, the musical was directed by Jack Donohue and choreographed by Ron Fletcher with vocal arrangements and direction by Hugh Martin, musical direction by Harold Hasting, and orchestrations by Don Walker. Scenic and lighting design were by Jo Mielziner and costume design was by Alvin Colt. It was filmed and released in a film version by United Artists in 1954. SynopsisJerry Biffle is the star of the Blendo Soap Program. He has been invited to participate in an autograph-signing party for his new book at an important department store. Jerry meets Sally Peters, one of the department store models, and makes her part of his TV troupe. As part of his campaign to court Sally, Jerry gets Cliff Lane, the tenor of his TV company, to sing to her over the phone. When Sally and Cliff meet, they fall in love, with Biffle ignorant of the complications.Biffle engineers a big publicity wedding between Cliff and “a girl,” not knowing that Sally is the girl. To further complicate his life, Jerry learns that he is about to lose his sponsor. The publicity elopement between his girl and Cliff almost shatters his entire career and life.When it seems that his whole world will cave in, Jerry’s sponsor comes up with a new format for the Blendo program and, as far as Jerry is concerned, the day is saved.Cast and charactersPhil Silvers as Jerry Biffle Rose Marie as Betty Dillon
Lindy Doherty as Cliff Lane Judy Lynn as Sally Peters Jack Albertson as Vic Davis Bob Scheerer as Tommy Phelps Joey Faye as Pinky
Silvers had suggested that a musical be made of the “madness of week-to-week television…I would do Uncle Miltie”. Milton Berle began hosting the Texaco Star Theater on television in 1948. Because of their friendship, Silvers was able to use his knowledge of Berle to create the character of Jerry Biffle. Later, Berle performed the song “Top Banana” on the Muppet Show with Fozzy Bear.According to the documentary on the DVD of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Silvers was not a traditional comedian: he was a comic actor. Silvers never did stand-up, and out of character, he was not known for cracking jokes1950s fame and later careerSilvers became a household name in 1955 when he starred as Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko in You’ll Never Get Rich, later retitled The Phil Silvers Show. The military comedy became a television hit, with the opportunistic Bilko fast-talking his way through one obstacle after another. In 1958 CBS switched the show to be telecast on Friday nights and moved the setting to Camp Fremont in California. A year later the show was off the schedule.Silvers returned to Broadway in the musical Do Re Mi in December 1960, receivng a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Stanley Green wrote that “It was particularly blessed by offering two outstanding clowns in Phil Silvers as the pushiest of patsies and Nancy Walker.” Throughout the 1960s he appeared in films such as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and 40 Pounds of Trouble (1963) He was featured in Marilyn Monroe’s last film, the unfinished Something’s Got to Give (1962In the 1963–1964 television season, he appeared as Harry Grafton, a factory foreman interested in get-rich-quick schemes, much like the previous Bilko character, in CBS’s 30-episode The New Phil Silvers Showwith co-stars Stafford Repp, Herbie Faye, Buddy Lester, Elena Verdugo as his sister, Audrey, and her children, played by Ronnie Dapo and Sandy Descher. In 1967 he starred as a guest in one of the British Carry On films, Follow That Camel, a Foreign Legion parody in which he played a variation of the Sergeant Bilko character, Sergeant Nocker. Producer Peter Rogers employed him to ensure the Carry On films’ success in America. Silvers’ presence did not ensure the film’s success on either side of the Atlantic. His salary was £30,000, the largest Carry On salary ever, only later met by the appearance of Elke Sommer in Carry On Behind.Silvers was offered the leading role of conniving Roman slave Pseudolus in the Broadway musical comedy A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Silvers declined, and the role went instead to Zero Mostel, who was so successful in the role that he repeated the role in the 1966 film version. By this time Silvers realized his error, and agreed to appear in the film as a secondary character, flesh merchant Marcus Lycus. When actor-producer Larry Blyden mounted a Broadway revival of Forum in 1972, he wanted Phil Silvers to play the lead, and this time Silvers agreed The revival was a hit and Silvers became the first actor ever to win a Tony Award in a revival of a show.Silvers also guested on The Beverly Hillbillies, and various TV variety shows such as The Carol Burnett Show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and The Dean Martin Show. Perhaps Silvers’ most memorable guest appearance was as curmudgeonly Hollywood producer Harold Hecuba in an episode (titled The Producer) on Gilligan’s Island (broadcast in 1966where he and the castaways performed a musical version of Hamlet (Silvers’ production company Gladasya – named after his catchphrase “Gladdaseeya!” – financed the show).Illness and deathSilvers suffered a stroke during the run of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in August 1972. He was left with slurred speech. Despite his poor health, he continued working into the early 1980s including co-starring in The Chicken Chroniclesan appearance on Fantasy Island as an old comic trying to reunite with his old partner, and on Happy Days as the father of Jenny Piccolo (played by his daughter Cathy Silvers)
A frail Silvers, interviewed shortly before his death, revealed one of his secrets: “I’m an impatient comedian. And I feel the audience is as impatient as me.”Silvers died in his sleep on November 1, 1985 in Century City, California. “Mr. Silvers’s family said he died of natural causes.” He was interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. Personal lifePhil Silvers was married twice, to Evelyn Patrick and to Jo-Carroll DennisonBoth of his marriages ended in divorce. He had five daughters — Candace, Cathy, Laurie, Nancey, and Tracey Edythe — all by his second wife. Silvers was a compulsive gambler and suffered from depression on and off over the years. While staying in Reno, Nevada, in the 1950s, he would often gamble all night. On one occasion, at the tiny Cal-Neva Lodge in nearby Lake Tahoe, Nevada, Silvers spent an entire night playing craps until he lost all his money, and then went through $1,000 in credit. A taxi was called to return him to Reno. It was “[o]ne of the worst nights of my life’, Silvers told the driver, adding, “Don’t wait for any lights and don’t wait for any tip . . . I left it at the Cal-Neva!” is memoirs are titled This Laugh Is On Me.
LegacyIn 1996 TV Guide ranked him number 31 on its 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time list In 2003, The Phil Silvers Show was voted Best Sitcomin the Radio Times Guide to TV Comedy. In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, Silvers was voted #42 on the list of the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. Dick Van Dyke, who made his TV debut on Bilko says he “was always fascinated with Phil’s sense of timing. Incredible.”Voice actor Daws Butler employed an impression of Silvers as the voice of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Hokey Wolf and also used the same voice in numerous cartoons for Jay Ward. The premise of The Phil Silvers Show was the basis for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Top Cat, for which Arnold Stang moderately imitated Silvers’ voice for the title character. The 1993 cartoon series The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog featured a character called Wes Weasley, who had a very similar appearance and voice to Silvers. The Playboy cartoon “Little Annie Fanny” featured the character of manager Solly Brass, who was based on Phil Silvers.In The Simpsons episode “Homer the Vigilante” (Episode #1F09, 6 January 1994), Bart tricks Phil Silvers’ character Otto Meyer from the 1963 film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World into driving into a river.” Stage credits
1939 Yokel Boy 1947 High Button Shoes 1951 Top Banana – Tony Award (winner) 1960 Do Re Mi – Tony Award (nominated)
1971 How the Other Half Loves 1972 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – Tony Award (winner)
Ups and Downs (1937)
Here’s Your Hat (1937)
The Candid Kid (1938)
Strike Up the Band (1940)
Hit Parade of 1941 (1940)
The Wild Man of Borneo (1941)
The Penalty (1941)
Tom, Dick and Harry (1941)
Lady Be Good (1941)
You’re in the Army Now (1941)
All Through the Night (1942)
Roxie Hart (1942)
My Gal Sal (1942)
Footlight Serenade (1942)
Tales of Manhattan (1942) (scenes deleted)
Just Off Broadway (1942)
Coney Island (1943)
A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)
Four Jills in a Jeep (1944)
Cover Girl (1944)
Take It or Leave It (1944)
Something for the Boys (1944)
Diamond Horseshoe (1945)
Don Juan Quilligan (1945)
A Thousand and One Nights (1945)
If I’m Lucky (1946)
Summer Stock (1950)
Top Banana (1954)
Lucky Me (1954)
Something’s Got to Give (1962) (uncompleted)
40 Pounds of Trouble (1962)
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966)
A Guide for the Married Man (1967)
Carry On…Follow That Camel! (1967)
Damn Yankees (1967)
Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968)
The Boatniks (1970)
Hollywood Blue (1970)
The Strongest Man in the World (1975)
Won Ton Ton, the Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976)
The Chicken Chronicles (1977)
They Took Miss Beautiful (1977)
The Cheap Detective (1978)
The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980)
There Goes the Bride (1980)