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Joe E. Brown

from the trailer for the film
Bright Lights (1935).
Born Joseph Evans Brown
July 28, 1892
Holgate, Ohio, USA
Died July 6, 1973, (aged 80)
Brentwood, California, USA
Years active 1928–1964
Spouse(s) Kathryn Francis McGraw (1915-1973) (his death) 4 children

Joseph Evans Brown (28 July 1892 – 6 July 1973) was an American actor and comedian. In 1902 at the age of 10, he joined a troupe of circus tumblers known as the Five Marvellous Astons which toured the country on both the circus and vaudeville circuits. He gradually added comedy into his act and transformed himself into a comedian. He moved to Broadway in the 1920s first appearing in the musical comedy Jim Jam Jems.

Contents

Biography

In late 1928, he began making films, and the next year for Warner Bros.. He quickly shot to stardom after appearing in the first all-color all-talking musical comedy On with the Show (1929). He starred in a number of lavish Technicolor Warner Brothers musical comedies including: Sally (1929), Hold Everything (1930), Song of the West (1930) and The Merchant of Venice (1932). By 1931, Joe E. Brown had become such a star that his name began to appear alone above the title of the movies in which he appeared.

He followed Fireman, Save My Child, a comedy in 1932 in which he played a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, with Elmer, the Great with Patricia Ellis and Claire Dodd in 1933, and Alibi Ike with Olivia de Havilland in 1935, in both of which he portrayed ballplayers with the Chicago Cubs.

In 1933 he starred in Son of a Sailor with Jean Muir and Thelma Todd. In 1934, Brown starred in A Very Honorable Guy with Alice White and Robert Barrat, and in The Circus Clown again with Patricia Ellis and with Dorothy Burgess. 1936 saw Polo Joe with Carol Hughes and Richard "Skeets" Gallagher, and Sons O' Guns.

In 1933 and 1936, he managed to become one of the top ten earners in films. In 1937, he left Warner Brothers to work for David Loew. In 1938, he starred in The Gladiator, a loose film-adaptation of Philip Gordon Wylie's 1930 novel Gladiator, which influenced the creation of Superman.[1] He gradually switched to making "B" pictures.

During World War II, he spent a great deal of time entertaining troops, spending many nights meeting personally with servicemen at the famous USO Hollywood Canteen. In 1939, Brown testified before the House Immigration Committee in support of a bill that would allow 20,000 German Jewish refugee children into the United States, and he later adopted two refugee boys.[2] In 1941 Brown's son, Captain Don E. Brown, was killed when his military plane crashed near Palm Springs, California.[3]

He was the Mystery Guest on What's My Line? during the January 11, 1953 episode. During the episode, it was mentioned that he spent a lot of time overseas in Europe entertaining the troops.

He had a cameo appearance in Around the World in 80 Days, as a stationmaster talking to Fogg (David Niven) and his entourage in a small town in Nebraska.

His best known postwar role was in Some Like It Hot (1959) comedy directed by Billy Wilder in which he played the aging millionaire, Osgood Fielding III. The character of Fielding falls for Daphne (Jerry), played by Jack Lemmon in drag, and gets to say one of the most famous punchlines in film history. Another of his notable postwar roles was that of "Cap'n Andy Hawkes" in MGM's 1951 remake of Show Boat, a role that he reprised onstage in the 1961 New York City Center revival of the musical, and on tour. The musical film version included such promiment costars as Ava Gardner, Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson. Brown performed several dance routines in the film, and famed choreographer Gower Champion appeared along with first wife Marge. Brown is also one of the few vaudeville comedians to appear in a Shakespeare film; he played Francis Flute in Max Reinhardt's film version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1935, and contrary to what might be expected, was highly praised for his performance.

Brown was a sports enthusiast, both in film and personally. Some of his best films were the "baseball trilogy" which consisted of Fireman Save My Child (1932), Elmer the Great (1933) and Alibi Ike (1935). He was also a television and radio broadcaster for the New York Yankees in 1953. His son, Joe L. Brown, inherited an interest in baseball, becoming the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates for more than twenty years. Brown also spent Ty Cobb's last days with him before he died, discussing his life.

Brown's sports enthusiasm also led to him becoming the first president of PONY Baseball and Softball (at the time named Pony League) when the organization was incorporated in 1953. He continued in the post until late 1964 when he retired. Likable and gregarious, Brown traveled many thousands of miles visiting G.I.s in far sections of the globe during World War II and later traveled additional thousands of miles telling the story of PONY League hoping to interest adults in organizing baseball programs for young people. He was also a fan of Thoroughbred horse racing, a regular at Del Mar Racetrack and the races at Santa Anita.

He was caricatured in the Disney cartoons Mickey's Gala Premiere (1933), Mother Goose Goes Hollywood (1938), and The Autograph Hound (1939). All of them contain a scene in which he is seen laughing so loud that his mouth opens extremely wide.

He was impersonated by Daws Butler for the title character of the Peter Potamus cartoon.

He had four children: two sons, Don Evan (b. December 25, 1916) and Joe LeRoy (b. Fall, 1918), and two daughters, Mary Katherine Ann (b. 1930) and Kathryn Francis (b. 1934). Both daughters were adopted from the cradle.

His final film appearance was in The Comedy of Terrors (1964). Weeks earlier he had appeared with Joan Blondell and Buster Keaton in an episode of Jack Palance's ABC circus drama, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Bowling Green State University dedicated one of its three theaters to him (the one in which he appeared in "Harvey" in the 1950s) as The Joe E. Brown Theatre.

Death

Brown died of a stroke in 1973 in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. The comedian was three weeks shy of his 81st birthday.[4]

References

  1. ^ Jones, Gerard. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book. New York: Basic Books, 2004 (ISBN 0465036562), pg. 80
  2. ^ "The Holocaust Chronicle." Publications International Ltd., 2000 (ISBN 0-7853-2963-3), pg. 162
  3. ^ "Capt. Don Brown, Actor's Son, Dies In Bomber Crash.". Chicago Tribune. October 9, 1942. http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/chicagotribune/access/468627642.html?dids=468627642:468627642&FMT=CITE&FMTS=CITE:AI&date=Oct+09%2C+1942&author=&pub=Chicago+Daily+Tribune&desc=CAPT.+DON+BROWN%2C+ACTOR'S+SON%2C+DIES+IN+BOMBER+CRASH&pqatl=google. Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
  4. ^ "Joe E. Brown, Comedian Of Movies and Stage, Dies.". New York Times. July 7, 1973. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10B17FE3859137A93C5A9178CD85F478785F9. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "Joe E. Brown, the beloved elastic-mouth comedian, died at his home here today. He was 80 years old. Mr. Brown was incapacitated by a stroke several years ago, and he had also suffered from severe arthritis." 

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