Phil Silvers, who claimed he was a gambler long before Bilko rattled his first pair of dice, had just placed his biggest bet.
Phil has a competent warm up man getting the saturday audience in a jolly mood, Jackie Gleason is in the time slot just before his new show. And the act that follows isn't exactly anti-climactic. Right after Phil finishes his portrayal of a larceny-minded factory foreman, The Defenders appear to present the case for law and order.
Phil says he is risking a major portion of his personal bankroll. But he laid-off his bet, to a great extent. He sold the show to General Foods before he spent a cent of his own money. In his business dealings he says he learned a lesson or two from Bilko. He conned his sponsor into buying the show without going to the expense of producing a pilot.
During a closed circuit television interview, Phil explained how he managed a commitment that has earned him the respect of the shrewdest financial wits in television.
"This show was born without a pilot. I went to see the people involved after they expressed interest. They began to talk pilot." (Pilots can cost $100,000.)
Phil continued, "I said, 'Gentlemen, you are a billion dollar firm. Lets say that you are going to give me $10 million a show. That's a pretty good deal. When a man says roll for the first show, will your dynasty fade into obscurity if it fails? My pride is on the line, I don't know how to blow a show. So why a pilot? Relax and believe in my record. The 30th show is what I'm thinking about."
This wasn't exactly a speech you can print in an annual report. It was confusing and the figures were plainly inaccurate. But the powers-that-be were impressed by the direct approach. Did the General Foods executives read the script before signing? May the stockholders forgive them if it goes pear-shaped.
Phil continued, "I told them the nature of what I hoped to do. I had nothing on paper at the time, just a thought, and they went along with it. With this kind of trust. I certainly hope I don't abuse it.
Phils' new character is Harry Grafton, maintenance superintendent at a small manufacturing unit in Los Angeles, called Osborne Industries .........he raffles off his paycheck to run his take home pay from $127 to $800 a week. He gives himself fringe benefits - a machine that turns back the time clock when he punches in late and a private passageway to the executive washroom. Harry loved loot but hated work! Like the Bilko show Phil would oversee a motley crew of characters. And his motives would be the same -to get rich quick without working. Phil said this, "I suppose the character is slightly modified. Because you can't do in a factory what you can do in the army. But on the other hand, the scope for a comedy show is wider when it's set in civilan life."
Phil, believe it or not, was a sentimental man behind the brash front. He became downright emotional when he talked about returning to the 20th Century-Fox studios in Hollywood where this television show was filmed. It was the very same lot where twenty years ago, he worked a contract making twenty three "wan sagas" in four years. The first show was called Man, It's Like Progress - this got its first television airing on September 28, 1963.
A tinted scene from 75 and a Half Trombones. Phil with young Jon Ogawa
The New Phil Silvers Show aired at 8:30 Eastern time on Saturday nights,
The large supporting cast included Stafford Repp playing Harry Grafton's supervisor, Mr. Brink, Stafford later joined the Batman series to become totally immortalised as Chief O'Hara; Herbie Faye, a friend of Phil since the 1930s, was Waluska and Norm Grabowski was Grabowski. A man of many talents, Norm designed the car driven by the character "Kookie" on ABC's detective series 77 Sunset Strip.
At mid-season, the format of the show was changed, instead of basing the plot around the factory floor it was moved to the home-life of Harry.
Phil said he decided to change the situation despite the fact that theratings had climbed out of the danger zone. He commented on the new format, "I'm not married. I don't think a bum like me ought to be married. Instead I live with my sister and she has two kids -- a boy, 10, and a daughter, 16. In that factory I was a watered-down Bilko."
The sister was played by Elena Verdugo, she was the star of an early hit series called Meet Millie. Elena's last assignment was in the 1963 western series, Redigo. Of his sister Mr Silvers remarked, "My sister is wise to me although I con everyone else. She's a terrific protagonist. In the factory I didn't have anyone who was really hard to outsmart. That was one weakness of the show. I knew the previous format wasn't working because my juices weren't pumping!!"
Phil will now be accompanied by a 10-year old boy on the show. His name? Ronnie Dapo.
"This kid isn't bad for a child actor. I can remember when I threw a kid across the stage every evening in High Button Shoes. The audience loved me for it." Said Phil
Phil believed that Harry Grafton had failed in the factory because in real life, the factory owner is the underdog and if a factory worker did the things he did he would be fired no questions asked.
Phil wanted to be remembered to a personal friend who lives on Miami Beach, "Tell Judge Bernard Frank that if this doesn't go, I'll be out on Miami Beach playing shuffleboard next season..........I've got to earn a lot because I'm a big tipper and I need a lot of bathtubs. I get home and find all my bathtubs filled with women. My mother-in-law soaking in one, my wife in the other and my four daughters taking turns in the rest of the tubs. I'm surrounded by women. I have to go to the Friar's Club for my bath."
Unbelievably, just as the show seemed to be on a roll, CBS cancelled it. After thirty episodes it was put out to grass, sadly Harry Grafton was no more. The final show Moonlight and Dozes was aired on April 25, 1964,
Scriptwriter Laurence Marks worked on all thirty of the shows. He would go on to write countless episodes for the classic American comedies; Hogan's Heroes and M*A*S*H.
November, 1964 Phil conquered his greatest inability by teaching himself how to swim!
At the time he said this, "When other kids in my neighbourhood in New York were diving off the dock I was fighting with the drummer in a theater. I taught myself to dance, to play the clarinet and a dozen other harder and ridiculous things. But swimming was my mental block."
When Phil and his family moved to California they settled into a house with a swimming pool.
"I never went near it except to watch. Then my four oldest girls -- seven, five and the twins three -- all learned to swim like fishes. Only the baby girl, nine months and I couldn't."
"It bugged me. I found myself sitting beside the pool and cautioning the kids not to go near the deep end."
"Finally, at night, when everybody else was asleep, I'd go down to the pool and crawl down the steps and sometimes stand there waist deep for hours."
"But I finally conquered my fears and little by little, I taught myself to swim."
"I don't say I'll swim the Catalina channel yet -- not in this weather -- but who knows."
Phil developed glaucoma, a disease that damages the optic nerve, not just in one eye but in both eyes. This condition affected his balance and also his acting performance wasn't as sharp as it had been. After a lifetime of living in hotels, working twenty hours a day, and playing poker with the guys in the orchestra pit, Phil couldn't quite adapt to being husband material. He and his wife Evelyn, sadly went their seperate ways. Phil moved into a condominium called Twin Towers in Century City. Nevertheless, their marriage produced five beautiful daughters, Tracey, Cathy, Candace, Nancey and Laury and a legacy that goes on even today. Later on Phil would say this; 'My wife divorced me. After that I lost my eyesight which, according to the doctors, was because of psychomatic trauma. I became a recluse.' In 2003, Tracey Silvers said this about her father; 'He would have been a content bachelor, but having children was a great thing for him......because he liked children -- he didn't feel uncomfortable around them. He would play these little-kid tricks on us all the time. My sister worked at a movie theater once, selling tickets in the little booth out front, and he'd come with his clarinet and stand under the marquee, serenading her while she sold tickets. When I was up sick in the middle of the night, it was my dad with me, not my mom. And if you wanted to discuss a problem with him, he would sit down and really discuss it with you ---- he would have a serious, deep conversation and try to help you.'
In 1966, his "comeback" on television was in the classic American comedy, Gilligan's Island. A show produced by Gladasya Productions!
In this he would play the part of Harold Hecuba, in an episode entitled The Producer.
The choice of casting Phil was a masterstroke, at this time I couldn't imagine anybody better for this part than the King of Chutzpah, himself.
This classic episode stands out as one of the most elaborate, imaginative, and funniest in the series. This was Phil at his brilliant best. The idea to produce Shakespeare's Hamlet on the island, to the music of Bizet's Carmen turned out to be hilarious. The moment I find unbelievably funny is when Harold starts playing all the parts himself, singing, as Ophelia, 'Hamlet, Hamlet, do be a lamblet....... you seek to harm your uncle and mom, but you're scaring me to death', to the tune of Franz Schubert's Bacarolle. The producer of the show, Sherwood Schwartz said this of Phil; "Phil only shot one episode of Gilligan's Island. He was brilliant, just hysterical as Herold and we were delighted to have him on the show."
Five beautiful daughters. Clockwise, Tracey, Cathy, Laury, Candace, Nancey
From September to November of 1965, Phil was filming in Spain, that movie was released 16 October 1966. It was a musical comedy movie based around a Broadway farce, called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Early in the 1960s, Phil was actually offered the lead part of Pseudolus in the original Broadway production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum but he turned the part down.
Zero Mostel took the role on Broadway as Pseudolus, and Richard Lester was his choice to direct the film version.
In this film version, Phil would play the part of Marcus Lycus. There was an argument over whether Phil should be allowed to wear his trademark glasses, Melvin Frank said yes as it was part of his popular persona but Richard Lester said no as he did not want any historical anachronisms.
Filming was done at Samuel Bronston Studios in Madrid, Spain, and on location around that city. The budget was an estimated $2 million.
Based on the stage musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. The musical was adapted for the screen by Melvin Frank and Michael Pertwee. They rearranged the plot and cut most of the songs.
The movie was directed by Richard Lester, with Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford re-creating their stage roles. It also features silent movie legend Buster Keaton in his last motion picture role, and of course, Phil Silvers. Also appearing are Michael Crawford, Michael Hordern and Roy Kinnear.
The main stars of the movie, Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford, Buster Keaton and Phil, were known as The Forum Quorum on set.
After a disagreement during filming, Phil shut himself away in his trailer and refused to come out. Director Richard Lester asked Jon Pertwee to step into the role of Lycus, as he already knew the part after performing it on stage. Once Phil heard he had been replaced, he came out of his trailer, bursting with new vim, vigour and enthusiasm for the project!
Richard Lester rewrote a great deal of the screenplay, particularly the scenes involving Michael Crawford and the planning of the musical numbers. Lester managed to insert personal flashes of wit, like the horse in the steam bath, and the christians being teed up for the gladiator who is practising his swing.
This movie takes place in the city of Rome sometime during the reign of Emperor Nero. Pseudolus is "the lyingest, cheatingest, sloppiest slave in all of Rome", whose only wish is to buy his freedom from his henpecked master Senex and his dominating wife Domina. When he finds out that Senex's handsome but none too smart son, Hero, has fallen in love with Philia, a beautiful virgin concubine from the house of procurer (i.e. brothel owner) Marcus Lycus (Phil) next door, Pseudolus makes a deal: he will get the girl for Hero, in return for his freedom. Unfortunately, the virgin has been sold to the great Roman soldier, Captain Miles Gloriosus, who even now is on his way from conquering Crete to claim her as his bride. Pseudolus blackmails his overseer, Hysterium into masquerading as the corpse of Philia to fool the captain, but, as they always must in a farce, things go wrong at every turn.
In the end, the boy gets the girl; Senex's next-door neighbor, Erronius finds that Phillia and Miles Gloriousus are not only twins, but are in fact his long lost children; and Pseudolus gets his freedom and a beautiful concubine to be his wife, compliments of Marcus Lycus.
After the Forum movie Phil was offered a part in the huge hit comedy, The Lucy Show (aka The Lucille Ball Show). Lucille Ball had made a memorable guest appearance as a fainting lady on The Phil Silvers Show some seven years earlier. Could Phil rmake an impact on his appearance on Lucy's show. It was never in doubt, of course he could!
Phil would appear as Oliver Kasten, an 'efficiency expert' who threatens to change the way Mr. Mooney runs his bank branch.