Far left, Carl Ballantine. Right of him is Larry Blyden
Hero (John Hansen) and Philia (Pamela Hall)
And so it was full steam ahead onto Broadway for the grand opening at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 46th Street, New York. Three preview performances were given late March, 1972 and then the official opening night was on 30 March of the same year.
For this revival, the song 'Pretty Little Picture' was dropped from Act I and 'Farewell' was added; the song 'That'll Show Him' was dropped from Act II and 'Echo Song' was added.
The performance of Phil was magnificent, so good in fact that he became the first actor ever to win a Tony Award® in a revival of a Broadway show.
At the awards ceremony, Phil delivered an emotional acceptance speech. Sadly, a few short days later, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire left side. This time the show, for Phil at least, couldn't go on.
The show finally closed on August 12, 1972 after 156 majestic performances
New York 1972 Tony Awards. Phil with fellow award winners; Sada Thompson, Alexis Smith & Cliff Gorman
Tony Award® Best Actor in a Musical - Phil Silvers [winner]
Best Featured Actor in a Musical - Larry Blyden [winner]
Tony Award® Best Direction of a Musical - Burt Shevelove [nominee]
During 1971, whilst appearing in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Phil, who entertained audiences via motion pictures, stage, television and nightclubs and won many awards, reminisced about the joys of his profession and reflected on the Los Angeles theatre scene and the pleasure of going to see a live play.
The titillations of stage-performing are myriad. You often get the question, "Isn't it boring to do the same thing every night for months?" And I invariably answer, being very clever, "Do you get tired of a good meal every night? Do you get tired of playing golf if you play well?" It's the same with an actor. If you're fortunate enough to be in a good show, it's fun to keep doing it. And for variety, audiences are never the same. A player constantly has to tone his performance to the particular group of people watching.
And how can you get bored when you're nervous? Maybe that's not quite the word; I'm referring to that special feeling of being strung tight before and sometimes during a performance. Most theatre people have it, I think. A lot of the greats, really greats, stand in the wings in complete terror before going on stage. Marvelous Ethel Merman is an exception. She does the best opening nights of any performer. She's just a completely healthy theatrical animal. "If they could do what I'm doing, they'd be up here doing it," is her answer to that situation.
But not many of us are that lucky. Steve Sondheim is hovering over this production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum as much as he did over the broadway opening. The same for Burt Shevelove, who co-wrote the book and is now directing. They're both highly proficient professionals, and one thing that makes them good is this -- call it "apprehension." That's the way of theatrical people, and I love it. I want the guy or gal upstage being as apprehensive as I am. I don't like any casual approach to the theatre.
Going over the 'Forum' script
Which brings me to theatre-going. One of the nicest evenings I had this summer was coming down to The Music Center to see Company. It brought me back to what made me go into show business in the first place: love for the theatre, the festiveness of it. Everybody dressed up and social. It wasn't a casual thing. They had prepared to go to the theatre. It was an event. This kind of joyous anticipation sort of flows over the floodlights to the actors, and they reflect it.
Los Angeles play-goers are fortunate to have such a beautiful setting for theatre. I was startled by my first glimpse of The Music Center -- with the Pavilion, the Mark Taper, and the Ahmanson. Restaurants on the grounds, a plaza and fountains -- the perfect background for gala evenings
Before A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I really didn't know much about the workings of the Ahmanson's Center Theatre Group. After I signed, George Cukor called and said, "We're delighted to have you." I had been unaware that George was one of its moving forces. The same for my very dear friend, George Seaton, and Bobby Fryer, the new Managing Director. These are wonderful theatre people active in what I consider to be one of the most attractive theatrical ventures anywhere.
Do you get the feeling I'm quite delirious to be playing Los Angeles again? Actually, the only other time I performed here on the stage was in Top Banana at the end of its run. We were booked at the Biltmore because the biggest theatre was owned by a church group that felt the musical had a connotation of burlesque or something. There was nothing dirty about it. It was raucous, that's all. Times have changed a lot.But my feeling about the theatre hasn't. Even when I was very young, before I ever dreamed of being part of it, I'd somehow get up that 50 cents for the locaL big-time vaudeville house. It meant a subway ride from where I lived to the Bushwick Theatre, which was next in line to the Palace. The acts that played the Palace one week would come the very next week to the Bushwick
I always got there early because the box seats were unreserved at matinees. You could sit on the rail or wherever. And I learned fast. For instance, in no time at all, when the band would strike up 'Some of These Days', I knew it was Sophie Tucker coming on. I knew all the actors.
I was a lonely little boy now that I think of it. The theatre was my outlet. I came from an affectionate family, but nobody knew my dream. They thought it was wonderful that I could sing so well, but they didn't know how deep it was within me. And so I was both a lover-of-doing, an extrovert, and an introvert. I'm still two people. Most people who are withdrawn are withdrawn -- period. But when I'm at a party, I'm very loquacious. On the other hand, I'll happily sit in my apartment alone.
When I'm working, the theatre is the central point of my life. The play is the thing, and I usually don't even go out following the performance for the traditional get-togethers. My best moments are between matinee and evening performances. I send out for some food, and I eat in the dressing room. I am safe in the theatre, where I belong.........
Sadly the phenomenal return would be short-lived. Phil suffered a stroke. Although it was a minor stroke and the initial medication he was given helped to reduce the severity of the effects, it was enough to close the production of Forum. Phil had lost the use of his arms and legs, his doctors assured him that his brain function had not been affected and that he would regain the use of his limbs. Phil was again thrown into deep turmoil by the events. "I asked myself....why me? Why now after I was back on top? My doctors had no answer. It was blind bad luck again."
Phil spent the next several months recuperating, trying desperately to restore himself. It was a long hard-fought battle. Gradually he regained the use of his limbs. "I lifted weights and walked the sidewalks for months. I felt embarrassed when anyone saw my infirmity. After I met someone who wished me well, I retreated to my apartment and holed up for the rest of the day."
After many months of gruelling physiotherapy, Phil finally regained his health. The battle he then faced was getting back to work. It would again prove to be another long, lengthy uphill struggle. His recuperation did at least give him the chance to spend time with his beloved daughters.
Phil Silvers was very steadily regaining his ability to move and speak throughout intensive therapy. He was sixty years old so obviously his complete recovery wouldn't be quick.
He had been writing his life story, alongside his 'ghost writer' - Robert Saffron. Throughout this time Phil was still not a completely well man, the publisher wanted the book done as soon as possible - in fact they wanted it finished, by all accounts, no matter what. Phil was unable to see the final galley-proofs and was not able to make the sweeping changes he wanted. In fact, in all, he was probably only involved with the first third of the writing, the rest was done by the 'ghost writer'.
The book was published, by Prentice Hall books in 1973, under the guise of "official autobiography", the title was; This Laugh is on me - The Phil Silvers Story.
Two years after starring in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Forum on Broadway, Phil was back appearing in the UK production of the acclaimed comedy. Appearing alongside him was non other than Arnold Ridley from TV's Dads Army.
At the time Phil said this, "I'm an anglophile and I love this country and I've seen parts of it I might never have seen otherwise, but I don't dig this cold. I came in from springlike California and we opened in a place called Billingham where I froze to death. I think.........I'm getting used to the weather."
Those who went to the provincials to catch him in Forum sent back word of superlative performances and of great box office takings considering the state the UK was in with all the industrial unrest at the time. The plan was for a short tour followed by an extended London season. But the nation ran into an energy crisis and a three-day working week so it was decided to keep the show away from the capital awhile longer.
"I hadn't realized it had played here before. I wouldn't have taken if I had. On the other hand I won a Tony in a revival of Forum on Broadway so I should do well here. No I will do well here. I promise you." Phil commented. "I live in a terror of my own. I have a fear of not showing up on stage. If you are a star you must show up. The stage is my cocoon. No one can hurt me there." At this point he pointed to a picture of his lovely family and said, "We were happy once. Where did it all go?" He then proceeded to answer himself. "I was bawling out my wife for spending $900 for a dress that she would wear maybe only a couple of times. And then I realized I had just blown $1000 on a single horse race." At this moment he calculated that he would have been a millionaire with his wife and children warm and loving if it hadn't been for the gambling.
Throughout the Nineteen seventies and eighties, Phil Silvers was kept busy appearing as a guest star on numerous television shows and amazingly he was still in demand as a film star!
He appeared in these movies: The Strongest Man In The World (1975), Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976), The Chicken Chronicles (1977). The Cheap Detective (1978) (small cameo), Hey Abbott (1978), Racquet (1979), Goldie & The Boxer (1979), The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980), There Goes The Bride (1980), Take Me Up To The Ball Game (1980) (distictive tones only)
He also appeared on these TV shows: Parkinson (1974), Kolchak (1974), Get Christie Love (1975), S.W.A.T. (1975), The Carol Burnett Show (1975), Joys: Bob Hope Special (1976), The Ted Knight Musical Special (1976), The New Love Boat (1977), Charlie's Angels (1977), The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977), The Love Boat (1977), 29th Annual Emmy Awards (1977), Fantasy Island (1978), The Norman Gunston Show (1978), CBS: On The Air (1978), Roasted: Medium Rare (1980), Happy Days (1981), Live At The Improv (1982), CHiPS (1983), The Sonny Foxx Show (1985), Television: Canned Laughter (1985), Pebble Mill At One (1985)
Of the suspense drama, The Night They Took Miss Beautiful - Phil was asked if he hams up the role, which was a ripe one for parody. He shook his head and said, "I don't do a parody. Comedy is no laughing matter. If I played it funny, we've got no picture. I played it -- it's funny as hell -- I played it straight, like I was doing Shakespeare. Pompous. Walter Murphy wrote the perfect song for this. It is so bad that it's perfect. It gave me the chance to do it seriously." Arms stretched wide, he sang, "She's the most beautiful girl in the world. And she stands with her proud flag unruffled. She's so pure, she's so fine. How I wish she were mine. The most beautiful girl in the world..........Do you have to satirize that?"
During the filming of Miss Beautiful Phil came down with food poisoning -- "It was a hot summer day and we had to sit in this little shack in San Pedro," he recalled. "I hesitated to say I was ill because they would have exaggerated it and said it was the consequences of the stroke."
They were testing for a forthcoming television show called The Sunshine Boys. The day he went the hall was full of old actors who had never tested before. Phil skated through his test brilliantly. He knew it too. "By now, I got no time for nonesense. I don't say I'm good when I'm not," he said. Phil never heard a thing afterwards so he decided to make a courtesy call to the director. Apparantly he said he and the producer had both agreed that Phil was great. It was no contest, Phil was brilliant they thought trouble was the producer bottled it and turned Phil down on the grounds that he had been ill. The show went ahead and flopped with Red Buttons in the role earmarked for Mr Silvers. "When you know pain, you change. I'm in constant pain. Not from the stroke. I licked that," said Phil
1979, The Phil Silvers Show has just had its 50th rerun on Channel 13 and magically outrated the network programmes. In Australia, Phil Silvers is still an idol and if he goes to England he cannot cross the street without being mobbed!!
Charlie's Angels as Max ('Angels on Ice')
When Cathy Silvers, Phil's daughter, landed a part in Happy Days as the mischievous, Jenny Piccalo, she did so on her own merit. Cathy had no help whatsoever, from her world-famous father. Producer of Happy Days Garry Marshall said at the time; Where did this young girl learn this?' Then someone told him she was Phil Silvers' daughter and it made sense. 'She learned all those rhythms around the house.' About acting Cathy said; 'It's in our blood. We spent our childhood watching repeats of Bilko. I ask Dad for advice all the time. Things, like, "you listen well, your timing's good" Any words from my dad are like God's you know.'
He loved nothing more than when the family came to visit!
Phil Silvers lived in an apartment in Century Towers, a huge complex built on the old Twentieth Century Fox backlot.
This was the place where he had earlier played all the characters he'd affectionately called Blinky. The unforgettable, Phil Silvers spent his final days watching movies and eating enormous amounts of his favourite snack, Mallomars.
He died in his sleep on November 1, 1985. When the great Phil Silvers was found his face was caught in a beautiful, radiant smile, beneath his wool knit cap covering his bald head. He was seventy four years of age.
Phil Silvers we were all so Gladtoknowya!