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The Phil Silvers Show aired from September 1955 until September 1959 on CBS.
One of the favorite sitcoms of the 1950's, The Phil Silvers Show was created by Nat Hiken and was set at Mythical Fort Baxter, Kansas and was an outrageous satire on military life. Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko ( Phil Silvers) was the biggest con man on the post. With little to do in the wilds of America , Bilko spent most of his time gambling, conjuring up assorted money-making schemes and outmaneuvering his immediate superior, Col Hall ( Paul Ford). Loud, brash and highly resourceful, Ernie could talk his way out of almost any situation. His attitude and approach filtered down to most of the members of his platoon, and colectively they ran roughshod over the rest of the men stationed at Fort Baxter.
His platoon included Cpt. Rocco Barbella ( Harvey Lembeck), Pvt. Sam Fender ( Herbie Faye), Pvt. Duane Doberman ( Maurice Gosfield), Sgt. Rupert Ritzik ( Joe E. Ross), Cpl. Henshaw ( Allan Melvin), Pvt. Dino Paparelli ( Billy Sands), Pvt. Zimmerman ( Mickey Freeman) and Sgt. Grover ( Jimmy Little). WAC Joan Hogan ( Elisabeth Fraser), who worked in the base's office , was Bilko's mild romantic interest during the first three seasons , but was phased out. For its final season Bilko and all his coharts moved from Fort Baxter to Camp Fremont in California. Bilko had discovered a map of an abandoned gold mine, located within Camp Fremont and pursuaded Col. Hall and his command to relocate.
The Phil Silvers Show was one of the few shows of the 1950's to feature black performers-Bilko's platoon almost always included at least one black. Phil Silvers once told a story of how he was mugged by a black man in New York-until the man realized it was Silvers he was mugging. " You're okay," the man said and let him go. In early 1959 , four years after Bilko's premiere ,Silvers was surprised-and-appauled -to hear that CBS had canceled his show. Without telling him. Two years before , Hiken had sold his interest in the show to CBS, and the network wanted to syndicate the show while it was still hot. Back then TV shows didn't enter syndication until their original runs were finished. Hiken went on to create, produce and direct Car 54, a Bilkoesque sitcom that never achieved Bilko's popularity or sucess. He died in 1968.
The original title of the series was You'll Never Get Rich, which remained as the subtitle when the series became The Phil Silvers Show less then two months after its premiere. The series was syndicated under the title Sgt. Bilko.
The name Bilko was supposedly taken from real-life baseball player Steve Bilko, a hero of series creator Nat Hiken.
An Article from Time Magazine
The Week in Review
Monday, Oct. 24, 1955 Article
TV humor, like all gall, is divided into three parts, 1) slapstick, 2) situation comedies, 3) synthetic shyness. Last week a baker's dozen of high-priced comics was laboring hard in all three varieties spraying each other with Seltzer, spinning out plots as remote from reality as life on the moon, or being browbeaten by guest stars and fellow actors.
The results were not always sidesplitting. Martha Raye proved that slapstick can be tasteless with an interminable skit that required Douglas Fairbanks Jr. to pretend that he was madly in love with her (a role often filled last year by Actor Cesar Romero). Jackie Gleason is back with The Honeymooners, but the show is now filmed by the Electronicam method, which Gleason and the system's inventors (Du Mont) insist is just as good as live TV, from the evidence of the first two shows, not all of Gleason's audience will agree: on film, the battles between Jackie and Audrey Meadows seemed longer and less funny, while Art Carney's sewer-born impetuosities have lost their quality of brash unexpectedness. Red Skelton, helped by Comedienne Nancy Walker, took off after that comedy staple, The $64,000 Question, with a skillfully built parody of a member of the studio audience determinedly prompting Contestant Walker all the way to the summit question. NBC's Sid Caesar showed hopeful flashes of his old form with a rousing, doubletalk version of Pagliacci. Neither Groucho Marx, flourishing his cigar and convivial sneer, nor Jimmy Durante, with his patented songs and spotlighted exit, saw any reason for changing the formulas that have kept them among the leaders for years.
Situation comedies are as traditional with television as baggy pants with burlesque. As the granddaddy of the art form, I Love Lucy is back for its fifth year and as dependent as ever on the flawless mugging, caterwauling voice and limitless energy of Lucille Ball. Burns & Allen have changed their script sufficiently to allow a place for their son, Ronny, who supplies an unaccustomed note of sobriety into the antic proceedings; Danny Thomas is still pumping up a smidgeon of wit through 30 minutes of sentimental goo, while Schoolmarm Eve Arden in Our Miss Brooks has switched from public high to private elementary school without making any great change in the standard cast or plot. The brightest of the new situation shows is You'll Never Get Rich, starring Funnyman Phil Silvers as an Army top sergeant with a heart of solid larceny. Silvers makes life in the armed forces seem like a rainbow-colored version of a goldbricker's dream.
Since the departure of Wally Cox, George Gobel is the shyest comic left on television. Gobel ended last season No. 1 in the Nielsen ratings, but his opening program did not have the look of a winner as Gobel traded arch repartee with a fluttery actress pretending to be his mother, endlessly rubbed noses with plump Singer Peggy King, and finally salvaged some shreds of comedy from an interview with Actor Fred MacMurray. Gobel this year may have a rival in CBS's Johnny Carson, another minor-keyed comic who can extract a remarkable amount of amusement from such items as his meeting last week with his three-girl fan club. Like Gobel, Carson has a cute girl singer, Jill Corey, and they spend too much time nuzzling each other. It seems that the shy-type comic cannot survive on TV without a soubrette to lean against.
An Article from Time Magazine
Old Army Game
Monday, Dec. 12, 1955 Article
When owl-eyed Phil Silvers scored his surprising Trendex rating victory over Milton Berle, he was the first entertainer to accomplish the feat in all Berle's years on television. Silvers followed his win with a similar victory over Martha Raye. Last week, to prove it was no accident, he beat Uncle Miltie again. Bald, horn-rimmed Phil Silvers, 43, has been near the show-business top for years (as in Broadway's hit musicals, High Button Shoes and Top Banana}, but until his TV Phil Silvers Show (Tues. 8 p.m., CBS), he had never quite scored a national success. He is still bitter about Hollywood, which kept him dangling for nearly a decade: "When I did work in pictures, I was always Blinky, the hero's best friend. I was the one in the last reel who tells Betty Grable that the guy really loves her." Phil began to circle cautiously around television a year ago. NBC offered to star him in some Spectaculars, but he refused: "So you make a big hit in a Spectacular the next day you're the forgotten man. I wanted a steady job and a steady pay check.'' CBS gave him a contract and tossed in Producer-Writer Nat Hiken, a gloomy young man (41) who has supplied funny lines and situations for a generation of radio and TV comics, including Fred Allen, Jack Carson, Milton Berle and Martha Raye. The two men moved into Hiken's private office, a coldwater, off-Broadway flat on Manhattan's West Side, and set to work. They considered and discarded dozens of formats. For a while. Phil was going to play a busybody brother-in-law; then they switched to making him the manager of a minor-league baseball team; then the proprietor of a combined gymnasium and rehearsal hall. Silvers says: "When Nat first thought of this Army thing, I didn't like it. But it had one major quality it wasn't show business. I'm fed up with comedies about show business." So Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko was born. As Silvers plays him, the sergeant's middle name is larceny: he bamboozles everybody on the post with the fast-talking ease of a gypsy promising to double a housewife's savings if she will just wrap up the dough in a clean handkerchief. The show is filmed in Manhattan, where Brooklyn-born Phil Silvers is happiest, and he has his weekends free to go to prizefights, hockey games, and, in season, root for the Dodgers. His left-footed TV platoon is loaded with ex-ringmen (Middleweight Walter Carder, Light-weight Maxie Shapiro, Fight Manager Jack Healy), and Silvers hopes he is settled for a long TV run: "I had adoration before, but it was never anything like this. It was a limited-type adoration. Now they adore me all out."
An Article from Time Magazine
Monday, Mar. 26, 1956 Article
Phil Silvers became the first triple-winner last week in the annual Television Academy of Arts and Sciences awards. Funnyman Phil, whose portrayal of larcenous Sergeant Bilko in the filmed Army series has boosted his show into a top rating, won his three Emmys for Best Comedian, Best Actor in a Continuing Performance, and the Best Comedy Series. The double-winners were Perry Como as Best Male Singer and Best Master of Ceremonies, and Nanette Fabray (who last week was dropped from next season's Sid Caesar Show because of "contractual difficulties") as Best Comedienne and Best Supporting Actress.
Other Emmy winners:
Best Variety Series: Ed Sullivan Show.
Best News Commentator: Ed Murrow.
Best Actress in a Single Performance: Mary Martin in Peter Pan.
Best Actor in a Single Performance: Lloyd Nolan in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.
Best Actress in a Continuing Performance: Lucille Ball.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Art Carney.
Best Adventure Series: Disneyland.
Best Quiz Show: The $64,000 Question.
An Article from Time Magazine
Monday, Apr. 13, 1959 Article
From the day he enlisted in television's army Sept. 20, 1955, Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko (Phil Silvers) was obviously just the sort of career soldier whom TV sorely needs. Week after week, the Phil Silvers Show gave Bilko a chance to prove that noncoms really run the regiment, and week after week Bilko proved that he rated his stripes. Bolder than the brass he heckled, brasher than the brightest operator in his informal command, Bilko ran his outfit with the earthy, barracks-brand humor that can make service life (and TV watching) tolerable. He was one of those rare peacetime soldiers, a guy who never figured to need any "shipping over" music; any Army recruiting sergeant could recognize him as a 30-year man. But Phil Silvers' sponsors (Reynolds Tobacco, Schick Razor) no longer agree. Lately, the Bilko episodes have become more strained, more cluttered with guest stars. With no one to pick up the tab, CBS last week gave Ernie Bilko his discharge. Next season Phil Silvers will surely be back on TV but in civvies.
Right from the start, Your Hit Parade was a hit. Just by playing the country's top tunes first on the radio (15 years), then on television (9 years) the American Tobacco Co. sold so many cigarettes that it even produced a new brand: Hit Parade. Lannie Ross, Lawrence Tibbett, Frank Sinatra, Noel Coward, Fred Astaire, W. C. Fields all marched on the show with such regulars as Dorothy Collins and Snooky Lanson. Then came rock 'n' roll. The sort of stuff that Elvis sings began to lead the Parade, and American Tobacco apparently decided that kids who listen to that brand of song are hardly sophisticated enough to smoke. After long and faithful service to the pop-music fan, Your Hit Parade will peter out this month.
Here is Phil Silvers Obituary from the New York Times
PHIL SILVERS, TV'S SERGEANT BILKO, DEAD AT 73
By PETER KERR
Published: November 2, 1985
Phil Silvers, the comedian who portrayed Master Sgt. Ernie Bilko in the 1950's television series ''The Phil Silvers Show,'' died in his sleep yesterday afternoon at his home in Los Angeles, a CBS spokesman said. He was 73 years old.
The spokesman, Dan Bagott, said that medical authorities had not yet determined the cause of death, but Mr. Silvers's family said he died of natural causes.
The bald, bespectacled and fast-talking comic made his career playing a long line of slick but kindhearted hucksters in movies, television and on stage, earning roles in comedies like ''It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World'' and ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,'' and winning a Tony Award for his role the stage version of ''A Funny Thing'' in 1972.
Long Associated With Bilko
But through the years Mr. Silvers always remained closely associated with his own television show, which ran on CBS from September 1955 to September 1959.
The character Mr. Silvers portrayed, Sergeant Bilko, lived up to the verb from which the name was derived: gambling, conjuring up money-making schemes and outmaneuvering his immediate superiors on the fictional Kansas army base of Fort Baxter.
Whenever confronted by his commanding officer, a stuffed-shirt career colonel played by Paul Ford, Sergeant Bilko could hide his exploits with a flash of a smile, his brash voice and an instantly-devised set of lies.
''I can make any villain lovable and sympathetic,'' Mr. Silvers said in an interview at the time. ''Maybe it's because as a small boy I wanted to grow up to become a man who could fix horse races or second-deal himself four aces in a poker game.''
Lacking a talent for real criminal conniving, he added, ''About the only thing I could do was become an actor and play the part.''
In Vaudeville at 13
Mr. Silvers was born and raised in Brooklyn, the son of a tinsmith who had immigrated from Russia and who worked on New York skyscrapers. At age 13 he began singing as a soprano in vaudeville acts and moved on to ''borscht belt'' hotels, burlesque shows and nightclubs.
In 1938, Mr. Silvers appeared in his first Broadway show, ''Yokel Boy,'' and the next year he signed a movie contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Later he joined 20th Century-Fox, which brought him nearly two dozen minor roles.
''I always played the same type role,'' he later recalled. ''I was always cast as Blinky the hero's good friend, who told the girl, usually Betty Grable, in the last reel that the hero really loved her.''
After a 1946 U.S.O. tour with Frank Sinatra, Mr. Silvers returned to Broadway in ''High Button Shoes,'' which ran for 727 performances. In 1951, he opened as the star of ''Top Banana,'' which ran for two years including a long road tour and was made into a feature film.
Unusual Television Fare
In 1955, he agreed to appear in ''The Phil Silvers Show,'' which offered a gentle satire of military life unusual for television fare of that generally patriotic decade.
The show, originally entitled ''You'll Never Get Rich,'' was well received by critics and audiences and eventually won six Emmy awards. It also had a properous afterlife for decades in syndicated reruns and elevated Mr. Silvers to the top rank of the nation's television comic stars.
Until the early 1970's, when he suffered a stroke, Mr. Silvers was a common guest figure on variety shows and television specials and appeared in numerous films, including ''Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell,'' with Peter Lawford and Gina Lollobrigida, and ''A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,'' with Zero Mostel.
Mr. Silvers's daughter, Tracey, told the Associated Press that her father had not been seriously ill since 1972, when he suffered a stroke.
''This is totally from natural causes,'' she said. ''He was going over some fan mail with his personal assistant. He went to take a nap for an hour and that was it.''
She said services would be held Sunday at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Mr. Silvers is survived by his wife, Evelyn, five daughters and one granddaughter.
For episodes of The Phil Silvers Show go to http://www.solie.org/alibrary/ThePhilSilversShow.html
For more on The Phil Silvers Show go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Phil_Silvers_Show
To go to Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20110213041920/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/bilko.html
For a Sgt. Bilko Episode Guide go to https://web.archive.org/web/20050208191236/http://www.fourminus.freeserve.co.uk/
For the Phil Silvers Appreciation Society go to http://www.philsilvers.co.uk/
For Comedy-O-Rama Phil Silvers (BILKO) Tribute Page go to https://web.archive.org/web/20110213073541/http://www.comedyorama.com/philsilvers/
For some Phil Silvers Show -related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/phil-silvers-show-the-aka-youll-never-get-rich-aka-sergeant-bilko
For three Reviews of The Phil Silvers Show go to https://web.archive.org/web/20090419232824/http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/bilko.htm and http://www.museum.tv/eotv/philsilvers.htm and http://childoftv.blogspot.com/2006/07/classic-comedy-lookback-phil-silvers.html
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Keywords: Phil Silvers Show Logo ( Links Updated 7/22/2018)