b. Philip Silversmith, 11 May 1911, New York City, New York, USA, d. 1 November 1985, Century City, Los Angeles, California, USA. Spotted by impresario Gus Edwards, Silvers was a professional comedian at the age of 12. After touring with a burlesque troupe, he made his Broadway debut in Yokel Boy (1939) and was in High Kickers (1941). His early 40s films include Lady, Be Good! (1941), Cover Girl (1944, singing ‘Who’s Complaining?’), and Four Jills In A Jeep (1944), although his personality rarely shone through. Back on Broadway he was a huge success in High Button Shoes (1947). He played in the film Summer Stock (1950) with Gene Kelly, then was back on Broadway for Top Banana (1951), winning a Tony Award as Best Actor In A Musical. The stage show was filmed and released in 1954. Another film of the period was Lucky Me.
Then came the role of Silver’s life, that of Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko in television’s You’ll Never Get Rich (later becoming The Phil Silvers Show aka Sergeant Bilko). The show ran from 1954-59, winning two Emmy awards. Subsequently, Silvers found it hard to shake off the Bilko image, although he was nominated for a Tony award for his Broadway role in Do Re Mi (1960), co-starring with Nancy Walker. Another television situation comedy, 1963’s The New Phil Silvers Show, tried and failed to repeat the Bilko formula. Silvers’ films of the 60s included It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966). His own television production company was involved with Gilligan’s Island (1964) and he occasionally appeared in that show and in The Beverly Hillbillies. He had films roles in Follow That Camel (1967) and Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968). In the 70s it was back to Broadway for How The Other Half Loves (1971) and a revival of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1972), winning a second Tony for Best Actor In A Musical. During this run Silvers suffered a stroke and had to leave the cast. Thereafter, he occasionally appeared in small roles in films and on television. Among films of the 70s were Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), The Cheap Detective (1978) and Racquet (1979). An inveterate gambler, Silvers seldom enjoyed for long the financial comfort his huge talent had earned for him. His autobiography was published in 1973.