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November 1: Sergeant Bilko

November 1, 2013

bilkoPhil Silvers (Silversmith), a comedian best known for his television role as the fast-talking military con man, Sergeant Ernie Bilko, on “The Phil Silvers Show,” died at 75 in Century City, California on this date in 1985. Born to immigrant Russian Jews in Brooklyn, Silvers entered show biz at the age of 11 by singing in movie theaters when projectors broke down, not a rare occurrence. He made his way into vaudeville, short films, and a Broadway debut in 1939. Silvers was a character actor in a series of hit movies (including “Cover Girl,” 1944, in which he kept up as a dancer with Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth). He was also a periodic lyricist with Jimmy Van Heusen, with whom he wrote Frank Sinatra’s hit, “Nancy (With the Laughing Face).” But Silvers became a household name in 1955 with the launch of “You’ll Never Get Rich” (renamed “The Phil Silvers Show”), a television sit-com in which he played a fast-talking, back-slapping, swindling army sergeant with a hapless crew of soldiers (among them Fred Gwynne, Alan Alda, and Paul Lynde). The show ran for 149 episodes across four seasons and was America’s top-ranked television comedy. To view an episode, look below.

“I’m an impatient comedian. And I feel the audience is as impatient as me.” —Phil Silvers