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Phil Silvers was born Philip Silver in Brooklyn, New York in 1911, to a poor Russian/Jewish family (he was the youngest of 8 kids!). He began singing in theaters when he was 11, and two years later he quit school and went to work, first singing, and then as a vaudeville comic. He got a part in a Broadway show, and then wrote a comic show of his own, but it wasn't until 1940 that he was in his first movie, Hit Parade of 1941. In 1942 he wrote the lyrics for a song, Bessie (with the laughing face) for a friend's wife, and it went over so well he started performing it at every female birthday party he attended, with the appropriate girl's name added. When he performed it at Frank Sinatra's house for his daughter Nancy's birthday, Frank thought it had been written for her, and Frank recorded it, and it became a hit record! Phil spent the 1940s working as a comic in many movies, but always in secondary roles. He finally got a big break in 1952 in the lead in a Broadway show called Top Banana, loosely based on Milton Berle. Silvers won a Tony for the show, and starred in the movie version two years later. In 1955, he got the part of a lifetime, as Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko in You'll Never Get Rich (later called The Phil Silvers Show). It was one of the huge hits of early TV, and deservedly so, for it is a wonderful ensemble comedy, and the shows hold up very well today! After the show went off the air in 1959, Silvers mostly returned to secondary roles, and continued on TV and in the movies and on the stage (two of his most memorable appearances were in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and on the Gilligan's Island show, which Silvers produced). He turned down the lead role in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and when it was turned into a movie he took a secondary role. When the show was revived on Broadway, Silvers finally got to play the lead, and he won a Tony, the first time an actor won for a revival. Silvers passed away in 1985 at the age of 74. He was a wonderful fast talking comedian who was perfectly cast as Sgt. Bilko, and if you have never seen this great show (or if it has been many years since you have, I highly recommend you find some episodes, for you will surely be very entertained!).
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