PHIL SILVERS Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Born Philip Silversmith in May 1912 in Brooklyn, New York, Silvers was the youngest of eight children. His father, a Russian Jew immigrant was one of the workers on the early New York skyscrapers. Silvers started entertaining at age 11, when he would sing in cinemas when the projector broke down (a common occurence in those days). Two years later, he left school to sing in professionally, before appearing in vaudeville as a stooge.


In 1934 Silvers, who up until then had played a stooge to more established acts, decided to go it alone, and began appearing as a bottom-of-the-bill comedian at small theatres. It took him just 5 years to become an established name, eventually appearing in the broadway hit Yokel Boy.


He made his screen debut in 1941, appearing in a succession of bit parts. He continued to act in a variety of supporting roles in musicals and comedies, until he appeared alongside Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in Top Banana; a part which won him the 1951 Tony Award.


Greater roles followed, but Silvers always found himself playing the co-star. It wasn’t until he made a return to television in 1955 with the self titles Phil Silvers Show that he found real fame. The character created for this show was of course Sgt Bilko; a character which even today remains just as popular as ever (a movie version was made in 1996 starring Steve Martin in the title role). Bilko has become a folk hero for American soldiers. The show won a handful of awards over the years and continues to be repeated the world over.              


Silvers’ appearance in Carry On-Follow that Camel was part of an effort on the part of the producers to improve the series’ footing in America. Unsurprisingly, Silvers was cast very much as a Bilko character in the film, and it is this role which helps make some of the production’s most memorable moments.


For the last five years of his life, Silvers suffered poor health due to an earlier stroke. Nevertheless, he continued to work, appearing in a range of films and television shows. He died at the age of 73 on 1 November 1985.