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Phil, a man who tootled on the clarinet for fun, collected songwriters as friends. He'd been close to Saul Chapman and Sammy Cahn since the early 1930s when they'd work summers together in the Catskills. He also knew the likes of Jule Styne, Johnny Mercer, Johnny Burke, Jerome Kern and Jimmy Van Heusen.
It was an idle comment at the home of Burke, the lyricist behind the classic Misty track, that led to Phil's sole songwriting credit. When Phil described Burke's wife as "Bessie with the laughing face" Van Heusen, Burke's frequent writing partner, commented,
"Good title for a song." Burke replied "It's my day off -- you two guys do it" leaving Phil the task of co-writing the song with Van Heuse. Some days later, at Frank Sinatra's daughter Nancy's birthday party, Phil presented the finished song with "Nancy" substituted for "Bessie". Sinatra liked the song so much he put it in his concert repertoire. The song became a popular hit.
Phil hit his stride in movies, playing the part of the rubber-seeking ice cream salesman in Tom, Dick and Harry, at RKO and he really came into his own with a solid run at Charlie Foy's Supper Club. In the audience one night was non other than, Darryl Zanuck (legendary American Film Producer) Phil Silvers saw this as an opportunity to really impress the movie mogul.....Zanuck's view of Phil's act became accidentally blocked...... which prompted Phil to say, "Excuse me, Zanuck can't see me!!" The next day this (off-the-cuff) remark appeared in all the newspapers and Zanuck thought Phil was so terrific that he signed him to a long term contract at Twentieth Century Fox.
1941 saw Phil had a bit part as a waiter alongside legendary "hard man" Humphrey Bogart.....this was in the thriller movie All Through the Night....the presence of Phil in the film was due to the direct intervention of Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner, who personally phoned director Vincent Sherman to insure that he and another upcoming star, one Jackie Gleason, be added to the cast.
Next up was a comedic role alongside Jimmy Durante in You're in the Army Now (pictured right).......Here the intrepid duo played obnoxious vacuum cleaner salesmen (Jeeter Smith and Breezy Jones), who accidently get drafted into the US Army.
Jimmy and Phil could have been right in with the Marx Brothers with their unbearably terrible but still funny antics as vacuum cleaner salesmen and later buck privates. But the mayhem really got going when they started tugging, with the help of a tank, the Colonel's house in the middle of the night! Eventually ending up left perched off a clifftop overlooking a demolition site.
He was a standout in such pictures as My Gal Sal and Coney Island. In a lot of these early 1940s movies, from Footlight Serenade to My Gal Sal to Coney Island for reasons best known to Hollywood moguls, he was never cast in any part except that of an idiot boy mixed up with tough gangsters, a sort of court clown for criminals. "I was always called Blinky and I was forever going out to the car to get something for The Boss and never being seen again. I think my biggest line in three years went like this: 'You have said it, killer. Yes, you have. You deedy-deedy-did.' Very funny bit there. They fired me soon after." Phil said later.
From 19 June 1941 onwards, Phil appeared on radio many times, making his airwave debut on the Rudy Vallee and the Sealtest Program. This was in the show called Camp Aggrevation in the Pine - also appearing was Marjorie Rambeau .
Check out more of Phil, on the airwaves, by clicking Here.
Phil & Bing Crosby Photo gallery click to expand
Phil spent most of the 1940s in Hollywood, but professionally they were unfulfilling years. Following standard procedure, MGM's casting department ordered him to do a screen test, but quite preposterously, they asked him to read for the straight role of an English vicar in Robert Z. Leonard's 1940 version of Pride and Prejudice. His Brooklyn voice rendered the scene unintentionally funny --- "My dear Dame Elizabeth, your modesty does you no dis-soy-vice" --- Phil believed this test, which he later tried to destroy, derailed his early film career.
At this time, he couldn't get a part in the movies, but was well compensated by his MGM bosses. He kept busy entertaining at Hollywood parties and was every big star's idea of the perfect goofball buddy.
1940: Makes his film debut in Hit Parade of 1941 (his previous appearance as a pitch man in the musical film, Strike Up the Band was deleted).