Wednesday, May 11, 2011


One of the greatest natural clowns and incredibly funny men would have turned one hundred years old today. His name was Phil Silvers: the absolute master of in your face, but honest comedy. His Sgt. Bilko character was the best and I'm sorry to say can not be imitated-- even though dear Steve Martin tried. Funny funny man. Known as the "King of Chutzpah" Phil was born on Thursday, May 11, 1911, in Brooklyn, New York where he was the eighth and youngest child of Russian- Jewish immigrants, Saul and Sarah (née Handler) Silver. His brothers and sisters were Lillian, Harry, Jack, Saul, Pearl, Michael, and Reuben Silver. His father was a sheet metal worker, helped build the early New York skyscrapers. Dear Phil Silvers started entertaining at age 11, when he would sing in theaters when the projector broke down (a common occurrence in those days). Two years later, he left school to sing professionally, before appearing in vaudeville as a stooge. He then landed work in short films for the Vitaphone studio, burlesque houses, and on Broadway where he made his debut in the short-lived show Yokel Boy. Critics raved about Silvers, who was hailed as the bright spot in the mediocre play. He then wrote the revue High Kickers, until he went to Hollywood to appear in films.He made his 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 man for MGM, Columbia , and 20th Century Fox in such films as Lady Be Good , Coney Island Cover Girl and Summer Stock. 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. Phil Silvers 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 huge television hit, with the opportunistic Bilko fast-talking his way through one obstacle after another. Most episodes of the series were filmed in New York . The series ceased production in 1959, not owing to any decline in popularity, but because of the high production costs of a show with a huge ensemble cast.

Throughout the 1960s he appeared internationally in films such as It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and 4o Pounds of Trouble . He was featured in Marilyn Monroe's last film, the unfinished Something's Got To Give" . In 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 Phil Silvers Show. Today is also the birthday of Irving Berlin: the father of American music. Amazing guy. He never read a note of music and he could only play the black keys on the piano. One of his early arrangers was George Gershwin. Early on, Irving sent him away saying "George, you are much too talented to be regelated as a note taker for me. Sorry alsdo to hear about Frank Wildhorn's musical "Wonderland" which will be closing after only thirty-three performances on May 15th. It's sad: Frank hasn't had much success lately on Broadway in the last ten years. but somehow I knew intrinsically that this musical was just not going to make it. It wasn't "large" enough in the high concept department and in my humble opinion just didn't pass the public's "Who Cares?" test that we've talked about here. It cost an average of $125.00 and $150.00 to see a Broadway show today-- so guess what? Today's Broadway musical has to be really top of the hill in high concept. Movie titles help, but are no guarantee. That pitch has got to contain the who, what, where, when and how in two sentences-- and those are the two sentences that need to resonate in the minds of the public. John and I continue to write as many high concept shows that we can. We're writing one on Saint Valentine and Jack The Ripper that looks at the story from Jack's Point of view. By the way, I found some funny signs that you might enjoy also. It's crazy how people don't realize what kind of message they are delivering!


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