The Phil Silvers Show made its official series debut on the CBS Television Network on September 20th 1955. William Paley, who was the head of CBS Television at the time, had seen the original 1954 pilot for the show and immediately commissioned a series saying "This is money in the bank. Take it off the rack and go ahead!"
CBS executive Hubbell Robinson gave the go ahead for Nat Hiken and Phil Silvers to proceed with the series. He took the unusual decision to begin filming the show before a show sponsor had been found.
"We actually made half a dozen episodes before the sponsor found us." said Phil. "It was a withdrawn, lonely feeling to work in a vacuum without public notice. In television and stage there's a morning-after reaction. But here...we sweated and screamed and our captive audience roared and....nothing!"
R J Reynolds Tobacco, most famous for their Camel cigarette brand, eventually came on board as the shows sponsor.
Within a few short weeks the show became a hit....toppling Milton Berle from his undisputed throne as the King of Television. Phil's theory as to why the show became such a hit was simple, "I believe the children found us...and in American homes they have first refusal on the tuner. Our share of the audience climbed with each show. Eventually we reached 23 million viewers. BILKO knocked Berle off the air!".
For a total of 144 episodes (including the original pilot) and a 1-hour live special (Keep In Step) spanning four glorious seasons The Phil Silvers Show became the greatest sitcom in television history. Its influence is still felt within the industry today and the show has achieved a well-deserved cult status the world over.
Join us as we present this guide to......
THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW
Audition Show (26 Aug 1954 - Written by Nat Hiken)
Bilko and the other characters stationed at Fort Baxter are introduced in this pilot show.
Filmed by Kenco Films, Inc. for CBS Television
Produced and staged by Nat Hiken
Directed by Al De Caprio
Photographed by William J. Miller
Supervised by Edward J.Montagne
Editor by Sy Singer, Ray Sandiford
Art Direction by Don Gilman, Al Brenner
Production Manager - M. Clay Adams
Music by John Strauss
Additional Music by Hank Sylvern
Recording Engineer - James Shields
Assistant to producer - Kevin Pynes
Settings by Jack Landau
Writers - Nat Hiken, Arnold Auerbach, Barry Blitzer, Vincent Bogert, Coleman Jacoby, Harvey Orkin, Arnie Rosen, Terry Ryan, Tony Webster
Credits Announcer: Bern Bennett (All four seasons)
Phil Silvers as Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko
Paul Ford as Colonel John Hall
Nick Saunders as Captain Barker
Harvey Lembeck as Corporal Rocco Barbella
Allan Melvin as Corporal Steve Henshaw
Harry Clark as Sergeant Stanley Sowici (1st season only)
Ned Glass as Sergeant Pendleton (1st season only)
Jimmy Little as Sergeant Grover
Joe E Ross as Sergeant Rupert Ritzik (2nd season onwards)
Elizabeth Fraser as Sergeant Joan Hogan (First 3 seasons)
Herbie Faye as Corporal Sam Fender
Billy Sands as Private Dino Paparelli
Maurice Gosfield as Private Duane Doberman
Mickey Freeman as Private Fielding Zimmerman
Karl Lukas as Private Stash Kadowski
Tige Andrews as Private Gander
Jack Healy as Private Mullen
Maurice Brenner as Private Irving Fleischman
Bernie Fein as Private Gomez
P J Sydney as Private Palmer
Walter Cartier as Private Claude Dillingham
John Gibson as The Chaplain
1 - New Recruits (20 Sep 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken)
Cleaned out by the other sergeants, Bilko needs to raise money for a big poker game - could some new recruits provide the solution?
2 - Empty Store (27 Sep 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken)
When Bilko rents an empty store in Roseville, nobody knows why - but everyone wants in!
3 - WAC - aka WAAC (4 Oct 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken & Arnold Auerbach)
Bilko battles with Sgt. Joan Hogan for a new posting at Fort Baxter - and the personal jeep that goes with the job.
4 - The Horse (11 Oct 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
Bilko and the platoon buy an ailing racehorse which they hope to transform into a winner - looking after it presents a few problems...
5 - A.W.O.L. - aka The AWOL (18 Oct 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken )
When a soldier goes AWOL - Bilko has to bring him back from Chicago before his absence is noticed.
6 - The Boxer - aka Boxing Tournament (25 Oct 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
Bilko discovers that Pvt. Dillingham is a former Golden Gloves boxer. However, Dillingham now refuses to fight - can Ernie persuade him to fight again?
7 - The Hoodlum (1 Nov 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken)
Bilko is out to win the 'Soldier of the month award' but his plans are threatened by an unruly recruit.
8 - Mardi Gras - aka Motor Pool Mardi Gras (8 Nov 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
Doberman is humiliated by Roseville socialite Joy Landers. Ernie decides to make Miss Landers eat humble pie!
9 - Eating Contest (15 Nov 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken & Arnold Auerbach)
Pvt. Honnergan is transferred to Bilko's platoon. A former army eating champion known as 'The Stomach', Bilko sees a chance to make money!
10 - The Centennial (22 Nov 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
Lieutenant Parker threatens to put a stop to Bilko's gambling activities. So Bilko uses a pageant marking Fort Baxter's centennial to make him see the error of his ways.
11 - Bivouac - aka Sick-Call Ernie (29 Nov 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
As the annual camp maneuvers approach, Bilko has to think about which tropical diseases he will 'contract' this year to ensure his non-participation. Colonel Hall has other ideas however...
12 - Singing Contest (06 Dec 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
Fort Baxter is in the grip of a big chill and Bilko hears of an Army singing contest with a 1st prize trip to Florida.
13 - The Twitch - aka Lecture (13 Dec 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
When Mrs. Whitney, also known as The Twitch, arrives on the post Bilko spots a chance to make some money!
14 - Reunion (20 Dec 1955 - Written by Nat Hiken & Arnold Auerbach)
At a reunion with his wartime buddies, Bilko is offered a job in New York- can he make his way in big business?
15 - Rich Kid (27 Dec 1955 CBS - Written by Nat Hiken)
Pvt. Thompson - sole heir to a multi-million dollar fortune- winds up in Bilko's platoon.
16 - Hollywood - aka Hollywood Picture (3 Jan 1956 CBS - Written by Nat Hiken)
The Pentagon send Sgt. Bilko to act as a technical advisor on a big Hollywood war movie.
17 - Investigation - aka Military Budget (10 Jan 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
A Congressional committee visits Fort Baxter to investigate reports of Army waste. However when Bilko gives the Congressmen a guided tour they discover the soldiers living in squalor.
18 - Kids In Trailer (17 Jan 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
When one of his men wins a 3-day furlough Bilko offers to baby-sit. However a crisis soon ensues and Bilko calls on the Army to help out!
19 - Revolutionary War (24 Jan 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
Inspired by the diary of his great-great uncle Joshua Bilko, Ernie decides to apply for officer training. But it soon becomes clear that Joshua Bilko's exploits reveal him to be anything but a good soldier.
20 - Transfer (31 Jan 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Vincent Bogert & Harvey Orkin)
Bilko gets himself transferred to another base - one full of amazingly gullible soldiers. But Ernie soon begins to realise that Fort Baxter is where he belongs.
21 - The Rest Cure (07 Feb 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Vincent Bogert & Harvey Orkin)
In the midst of a heatwave Bilko hits on the idea of having his platoon sent to Camp Paradise - a rest home for soldiers.
22 - Dinner At Sowici's (14 Feb 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Harvey Orkin & Barry Blitzer)
Bilko is convinced that Sgt. Hogan is trying to trap him into marriage. By showing her the Sowicis' plight he hopes to make her see the error of her ways.
23 - The Army Memoirs (21 Feb 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Harvey Orkin & Barry Blitzer)
Bilko is busted down to a Private. But Bilko has an ace up his sleeve when he announces he is to write his memoirs!
24 - Miss America (28 Feb 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Arnie Rosen, Coleman Jacoby, Terry Ryan & Barry Blitzer)
When Bilko sees a picture of Pvt. Honnegar's beautiful 'sweetheart' he decides to enter her in a beauty contest. But all is not what it seems.
25 - The Court-Martial (6 Mar 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
Captain Barker's mass induction program goes stupendously wrong and results in a chimpanzee by the name of 'Harry Speakup' being drafted into the US Army!
26 - Furlough In New York (13 Mar 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken & Terry Ryan)
Ernie and Joan decide to take a break from each other. They both wind up in New York - unbeknownst to each other!
27 - The Big Uranium Strike (20 Mar 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster, Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
Bilko is convinced that there is Uranium under Fort Baxter - but there is just one problem - the motherload is under Colonel Hall's house!
28 - Bilko And The Beast (27 Mar 1956 - written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster, Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
Sgt. Quinton Q. Benton, known as 'The Beast', is sent to Fort Baxter. Bilko's usual schemes fail to get the better of The Beast, so he is has to resort to psychological warfare.
29 - The Physical Check-up (10 Apr 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
Colonel Hall orders everyone to take a physical. Bilko thinks the Colonel is trying to get him out of the Army so he embarks on a crash course of exercise.
30 - Recruiting Sergeant (17 Apr 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster & Terry Ryan)
All the men are restricted to base while the Colonel is away on a recruiting drive. Ernie gets a sure-fire tip on a horse and needs to get off the base to place a bet.
31 - Hair - aka Barber Shop (24 Apr 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Terry Ryan, Barry Blitzer & Arnold Auerbach)
Bilko falls victim to his own vanity when he thinks Tony the Barber has discovered a cure for baldness!
32 - The Con Men (1 May 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken & Tony Webster)
Doberman is taken by some card sharks. Cue Bilko to take his revenge!
33 - War Games (8 May 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken & Arnold Auerbach)
When Bilko's promise to be best man at a friend's wedding coincides with Army war games, he has to sneak away from the mock battle.
34 - Bilko In Wall Street (15 May 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken & Tony Webster)
Bilko visits an old Army buddy who he believes is now a top banker in New York.
Credits as Season One Except for:
Edited by Ray Sandiford
Art Direction by Richard Jackson
Additional Art Direction by Robert Rowe Paddock
Additional Staging by Charles Friedman
35 - Platoon In The Movies (18 Sep 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster & Billy Friedberg)
The Motor Pool at Fort Baxter is chosen as the location to shoot an army training film. Bilko takes the chance provided by a break in filming to produce his own version of the film.
36 - It's For The Birds (25 Sep 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko enters Pvt. Honnergan in the '$64000 Question' TV show. Honnergan is peforming brilliantly on his specialized subject of birds, until he is struck by a case of amnesia.
37 - Bilko Goes To College (2 Oct 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Leonard Stern, Tony Webster & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko tries to get even with a bookie by placing a 1000-1 bet on Schmill College football team beating the champions from Notre Dame. Schmill have a terrible record, but the word on the streets is that this years team is something special.
38 - The Girl From Italy (9 Oct 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken)
Bilko helps to transform an Italian peasant girl into an object of desire and in the process falls for her himself.
39 - The Face On The Recruiting Poster (16 Oct 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster, Leonard Stern & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko tries to turn a new recruit into a movie star. First he comes up with a scheme to get his face on the new Army recruiting poster. Somehow Doberman winds up being picked as the poster boy!
40 - Bilko's War Against Culture (23 Oct 1956 - Written by Aaron Ruben, Phil Sharp & Nat Hiken)
The men are lured away from gambling by the culture classes run by two beautiful WAC's. As usual Bilko finds ways to incorporate gambling into the classes.
41 - The Song Of The Motor Pool (30 Oct 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg, Tony Webster & Leonard Stern)
Bilko overhears Paparelli singing a song in the shower and thinks he's found a new song for the motor pool. But at the Army talent contest someone else is singing from the same songbook!
42 - Bilko's Engagement (6 Nov 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Leonard Stern, Billy Friedberg & Tony Webster)
When Doberman mixes up packages from Kadowski & Bilko, Joan Hogan ends up with an engagement ring. Can Bilko avoid the big M?
43 - A Mess Sergeant Can't Win (13 Nov 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster, Billy Friedberg & Leonard Stern)
When Rupert Ritzik decides to leave the Army, Bilko tries to give him some money as a farewell gift. Rupert refuses to take the money so Bilko comes up with a host of bets designed to let Ritzik win the money. No matter what Ernies does he just can't lose to Ritzik.
44 - Doberman's Sister (20 Nov 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg, Tony Webster & Leonard Stern)
When Bilko arranges dates for the platoon, Doberman's sister is left without a date. Bilko invents Musselman's Law which states 'the uglier the brother, the more beautiful the sister'. Pretty soon the whole platoon are fighting to take out Duane's sister...including Bilko.
45 - Where There's A Will (27 Nov 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Leonard Stern, Tony Webster & Billy Friedberg)
When an old buddy of Bilko's is cheated out of his inheritance Bilko comes up with a clever ploy involving a parrot and a treasure map.
46 - Bilko's Tax Trouble (4 Dec 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Leonard Stern, Tony Webster & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko is mistakenly selected for audit by the IRS. Fearing that they have found out about his numerous schemes, he decides to overwhelm them with a trail of paperwork.
47 - Mink Incorporated (11 Dec 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken & Leonard Stern)
Bilko sets up mink farm at Fort Baxter to try to raise funds to pay off his gambling debts.
48 - Sergeant Bilko Presents Ed Sullivan (18 Dec 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Terry Ryan)
Bilko goes to New York thinking he is to star in a big production number on The Ed Sullivan Show.
49 - Bilko Gets Some Sleep (25 Dec 1956 - Written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko is having trouble sleeping. After seeing the camp psychiatrist he reforms his ways and finally starts to sleep again. But the camp becomes unsettled as they believe Bilko is up to no good.
50 -The Blue Blood Of Bilko - (8 Jan 1957- Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Tony Webster)
When a pal of Ernie's is not invited to his own son's wedding Ernie decides to help out in his own inimitable way!
51 - Love That Guardhouse (15 Jan 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg, Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
When Sgt. Ritzik wins $1500, Emma Ritzik persuades Colonel Hall to lock Rupert in the guardhouse to protect him from Bilko. Bilko goes all out to get himself arrested.
52 - Sergeant Bilko Presents Bing Crosby (22 Jan 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg, Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko stages a Bing Crosby concert and tries to pass off a Bing lookalike as the real thing.
53 - Bilko Goes To Monte Carlo (29 Jan 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko invents a foolproof system for beating the roulette wheel. With a bankroll put up by the entire camp, Bilko enlists the help of the airforce and heads to Monte Carlo on a weekend pass!
54 - Bilko Enters Politics (5 Feb 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg, Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
Bilko persuades Duane Doberman to run for Mayor of Roseville, hoping that once elected Duane will use his influence to help out the soldiers of Fort Baxter.
55 - Bilko's Television Idea (12 Feb 57 - Written by Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
When comedian Buddy Bickford visits Fort Baxter looking for ideas for his television show, Bilko tries to sell him a script called 'Andrew Armstrong - Tree Surgeon'. All he has to do is convince Buddy that wood is funny!
56 - The Son Of Bilko (26 Feb 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg, Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko becomes a father-figure to an orphaned draftee. Bilko ignores his antics until he forges Bilko's signature.
57 - Rock'n'Roll Rookie (5 Mar 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
When Elvin Pelvin is drafted, the army can't cope with his screaming fans. So they transfer him to a quiet, out-of-the-way post....and straight into the hands of Ernie Bilko!
58 - Bilko's Black Magic (19 Mar 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Tony Webster & Billy Friedberg)
Pvt. Mendelsohn is rescued from a Pacific island and receives over seven thousand dollars in back-pay. When he loses everything in a poker game with Grover and Ritzik, Bilko sets out to win back the money by using Goombah, the voodoo god of vengeance.
59 - Bilko Goes South (26 Mar 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Lou Meltzer)
Fort Baxter is in the grip of sub-zero temperatures. Bilko spies a chance to enter the platoon into a singing contest, with a first prize of a trip to Florida. But is a singing contest all that they have signed up for?
60 - Bilko Goes Around The World (2 Apr 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Tony Webster)
Bilko convinces movie mogul Mike Todd to run a competition to promote the film 'Around The World In 80 Days' - with a prize of $20,000 to the first person to go around the world in 80 hours. Bilko seems destined to win until he crosses paths with a kid at the airport.
61 - The Mess Hall Mess (9 Apr 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Tony Webster)
Bilko steals a French chef's casserole recipe to enter in a big money contest. But the so-called secret recipe was actually in the Army cookbook all along.
62 - The Secret Life Of Sergeant Bilko (16 Apr 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Terry Ryan)
When Bilko learns that a journalist is hunting a story that soldiers are leaking army secrets he decides to sell him some 'top secret' information.
63 - Radio Station B.I.L.K.O. (23 Apr 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Terry Ryan)
When Roseville's local radio station closes down, Bilko smells money to be made. He sets up his own station with such quality programmes as 'Rupert Ritzik's Kitchen Magic Time' and 'John's Original Wife'.
64 - Bilko, The Marriage Broker (30 Apr 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg, Coleman Jacoby, Arnie Rosen & Terry Ryan)
The lives of Bilko and his men are made miserable by an over-enthusiastic company commander. Bilko decides he might ease up if he was married.
65 - Bilko Acres (7 May 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko misinterprets rumours that Fort Baxter is to be sold off. Thinking the area is going to be developed he buys the adjacent swampland with the Platoon Welfare Fund and hopes to sell it for a huge profit.
66 - The Big Scandal (14 May 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Tony Webster)
Bilko sees money in hypnotism and practices on Rupert Ritzik. He inadvertantly hypnotises Doberman into believeing he is in love with Mrs. Hall.
67 - Bilko's Perfect Day (21 May 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken, Billy Friedberg & Terry Ryan)
It's the one day in his lfe when everything will go right for Ernie Bilko...but will he realise it in time for that one big bet?
68 - The Colonel Breaks Par (28 May 1957 - Written by Sidney Zelinka, Andrew Russel, Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko's plans are put jeopardy when the Colonel decides not to go on vacation. Ernie talks him into a golfing vacation and gets the Colonel out on the course to practice...with some surprising results.
69 - Show Segments (4 Jun 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
A number of the cast meet in Lindy's restaurant on Broadway and watch various scenes that were edited out of previous shows.
70 - His Highness, Doberman (11 Jun 1957 - Written by A.J. Russell, Sidney Zelinka & Billy Friedberg)
Doberman is thrown out of the house of the girl he loves. Bilko is incensed and comes up with a scheme that sees Doberman being passed off as 'His Highness, Crown Prince Doberman'.
As Season Two Except for
Staging by Aaron Ruben
Produced by Edward J Montagne
Directed by Al De Caprio
Writing Supervision by Billy Friedberg
71 - Bilko's Merry Widow (17 Sep 1957 - Written by Nat Hiken & Billy Friedberg)
Bilko borrows the Platoon Welfare Fund to bet on a horse that loses. When he reads about a $500 bonus to anyone who can stage a professional musical in Roseville Bilko decides to take on the challenge.
72 - Bilko's Boys Town (24 Sep 1957 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
Bilko organises a Boys Town gambling club at Fort Baxter to raise cash.
73 - Hillbilly Whiz (1 Oct 1957 - Written by Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
When Hank Lumpkin arrives at Fort Baxter, Bilko realises he is a natural baseball talent waiting to be discovered.
74 - Bilko's Valentine (8 Oct 1957 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
Using all his cunning Bilko sets out to bring Joan Hogan back from Sumter, South Carolina.
75 - The Big Manhunt (15 Oct 1957 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
An old army pal, whose life Bilko saved during the war, searches for Ernie with the promise of a reward...shares in a goldmine.
76 - Bilko's Double Life (22 Oct 1957 - Written by A J Russell & Sydney Zelinka)
While on furlough in New York Bilko is mistaken for the multi-millionaire Herbert Penfield III.
77 - Sgt. Bilko Presents (29 Oct 1957 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
When scriptwriter Hugo Lockman is transferred to Fort Baxter, Bilko sees a chance to become a Broadway impressario.
78 - Papa Bilko (05 Nov 1957 - Written by Billy Friedberg & Sydney Zelinka)
When a young girl he befriended in France comes to visit, Bilko has trouble explaining just why she calls him 'Papa'.
79 - Bilko Talks In His Sleep (19 Nov 1957 - Written by Billy Friedberg, Terry Ryan & Phil Sharp)
When Bilko begins to spill the beans on his gambling secrets whilst talking in his sleep, Grover and Ritzik decide to play Bilko at his own game.
80 - Cherokee Ernie (26 Nov 1957 - Written by Arnie Rosen, Coleman Jacoby, Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
When Bilko discovers a flaw in a treaty which could give Oklahoma back to the Indians he suddenly discovers his native-American heritage.
81 - Bilko Buys A Club (3 Dec 1957 - Written by Terry Ryan & Phil Sharp)
Bilko tries to set up a nightclub on the outskirts of Roseville.
82 - Lieutenant Bilko (10 Dec 1957 - Written by Sydney Zelinka & A J Russell)
When Bilko learns that a temporary WWII comission, which he held for just 3 hours, was never cancelled he tries to collect on his back pay!
83 - Bilko At Bay (17 Dec 1957 - Written by A J Russell, Terry Ryan & Sydney Zelinka)
While travelling to New York on furlough Bilko, Henshaw and Barbella pay a visit to Mrs.Doberman and get mixed-up with a bunch of crooks.
84 - Bilko F.O.B. Detroit (24 Dec 1957 - Written by Sydney Zelinka & A J Russell)
Assigned to pick up some army trucks in Detroit, Bilko decides to have some fun first.
85 - Bilko & The Flying Saucers (31 Dec 1957 - Written by Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
In order to keep a date in Washington, Bilko tries to convince the Pentagon that Fort Baxter is being plagued by flying saucers.
86 - Bilko & The Colonel's Secretary (1 Jan 1958 - Written by Phil Sharp, Terry Ryan, A J Russell & Sydney Zelinka)
When Bilko handpicks the WAC to replace the Colonel's secretary he soon wishes he hadn't.
87 - Doberman The Crooner (8 Jan 1957 - Written by Neil Simon)
When Bilko identifies Fort Baxter's mystery singer as Doberman he spies a fortune to be made.
88 - Bilko Presents Kay Kendall (15 Jan 1957 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko tries to sucker movie star Kay Kendall into one of his money-making schemes but Miss Kendall proves to be more than a match for Bilko.
89 - Bilko's Cousin (24 Jan 1958 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
Bilko's cousin Swifty arrives at the remote army base. Can Colonel Hall cope with two Bilkos at Fort Baxter.
90 - Bilko's Pigeons (31 Jan 1958 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
Bilko has trained the Fort Baxter carrier pigeons to be cash-winning racing birds. When he he is told to get rid of the birds he sees an opportunity to make some money.
91 - Cyrano De Bilko (11 Feb 1958 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
Bilko finds himself in hot water when he proposes marriage to a woman he doesn't love.
92 - The Colonel's Reunion (17 Feb 1958 - Written by Coleman Jacoby & Arnie Rosen)
Colonel Hall becomes an object of ridicule at his army reunion....until Bilko steps in.
93 - Bilko Saves Ritzik's Marriage (22 Feb 1958 CBS - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Ritzik's marriage is in trouble when Rupert misses his 15th Wedding Anniversary. It's up to Bilko to save the day.
94 - Bilko, The Art Lover (5 Mar 1958 - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
Bilko becomes peacemaker between a father and son.
95 - Bilko, The Genius (14 Mar 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko is tranferred by mistake into the ranks of the Army's intellectuals. He introduces them to the science of gambling.
96 - Bilko, Male Model (19 Mar 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
When his 'common, friendly face' catapults him into the society papers Bilko becomes a male model.
97 - The Colonel's Inheritance (4 Apr 1958 - Written by Phil Sharp,Terry Ryan & Paul Jordan)
Bilko gambles with the Colonel's $5000 inheritance money.
98 - Bilko's Honeymoon (11 Apr 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
In order to cash-in on an all-expenses paid vacation Paparelli must pose as Mrs.Bilko.
99 - Bilko's Chinese Restaurant (25 Apr 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
When Bilko opens a Chinese restaurant the Pentagon send him and his platoon to the island of Macoochi.
100 - Operation Love (30 Apr 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen, Coleman Jacoby & Terry Ryan)
When the furious WAC's of Fort Baxter revolt against their boyfriends spending too much time gambling with Bilko, Ernie must find a way to save the day.
101 - Bilko's TV Pilot (6 May 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko shoots a Western TV pilot....with Duane Doberman as his leading man.
102 - Bilko Retires From Gambling (13 May 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen, Coleman Jacoby & Terry Ryan)
Bilko is taken for everything by a card shark hired by Colonel Hall.
103 - Bilko's Vacation (23 May 1958 - Written by Terry Ryan & Neil Simon)
In order to get a free holiday at Dimmeldorf's Lodge, Bilko suckers the whole platoon and Colonel Hall into vacationing there too.
104 - Bilko's Insurance Company (30 May 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko's sure-fire 'maternity benefits' insurance scam goes disastrously wrong.
105 - Bilko's Prize Poodle (3 Jun 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko tries to win a dog show with a mongrel.
106 - Bilko's School Days (10 Jun 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko sees a money-making opportunity when he learns that Fort Baxter is to open a school for new recruits.
107 - Joan's Big Romance (24 Jun 1958 - Written by Terry Ryan)
Joan decides to teach Ernie that she is more important than his poker games
Production credits as Season Three except for
Directed by Aaron Ruben
Make-Up by Bob Kelly
Wardrobe by William Griffin
Assistant Director Peter Scoppa
108 - Gold Fever (23 Sep 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
When Bilko finds a map showing gold deposits in California he manages to have the whole of Fort Baxter transfered to Camp Fremont.
109 - Bilko's Vampire (1 Oct 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko convinces Sgt. Ritzik that he is actually a vampire and tries to land him a role in a Hollywood horror movie.
110 - Bilko's De Luxe Tours (8 Oct 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko invests the platoon's money in a broken down coach.
111 - Bilko The Potato Sack King (15 Oct 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko thinks he can talk the Pentagon into making Army uniforms out of burlap sacking. He just happens to have a huge quantity he can lay his hands on.
112 - Bilko Vs. Covington (22 Oct 1958 - Written by Neil Simon, Arnie Rosen & Terry Ryan)
Bilko has a rival at Camp Fremont in the shape of Sgt. J. J. Covington. It's all-out war as the two sergeants go head to head.
113 - Bilko Joins The Navy (28 Oct 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko dons a Navy uniform, hoping to crash a big sailors' poker game. Somehow he ends up on an aircraft carrier bound for Alaska.
114 - Bilko's Big Woman Hunt (5 Nov 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
After getting trapped in an elevator with a beautiful woman Bilko pulls out all the stops to find her again.
115 - The Bilkos And The Crosbys (12 Nov 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko imagines what his life would be like if he, rather than Bing, was head of the Crosby family.
116 - Bilko's Allergy (19 Nov 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby) When Bilko develops an allergy to playing cards, he realises he must give up poker.
117 - Bilko And The Chaplain (26 Nov 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko and the Chaplain wind up in jail in San Francisco.
118 - Bilko Presents The McGuire Sisters (3 Dec 1958 CBS - Written by Phil Sharp & Terry Ryan)
When Bilko stages a concert at Camp Fremont he promises some famous names. Top of Bilko's bill are The McGuire Sisters...not the famous female group but a troupe of Hungarian dancers.
119 - Bilko's Secret Mission (10 Dec 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
When Bilko and Ritzik end up working on Operation KO they wind up in Las Vegas where Rupert tries out his new-found gambling skills.
120 - Bilko's Giveaway (17 Dec 1958 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko wins a host of prizes on a TV quiz show, but he must come up with a way of getting rid of them when he realise he must pay tax on his winnings.
121 - Bilko And The Medium (22 Dec 1958 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
When the Ritziks introduce Bilko to the spirit world he soon goes into the seance business when he spies a way of making money.
122 - Bilko's Bopster (1 Jan 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
When a gifted jazz drummer is drafted into the motor pool, Bilko starts planning a European tour.
123 - Bilko's Hollywood Romance (9 Jan 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko takes Hollywood by storm when he begins to date Hollywood starlet Monica Malamar.
Keep In Step (23 Jan 1959 - Written by Billy Friedberg, Arnie Rosen, Coleman
Jacoby & Terry Ryan)
Bilko learns that a movie is to be made about him but just who will play him?
(A live 1 hour show broadcast as The Phil Silvers Pontiac Special)
124 Bilko's Grand Hotel (28 Jan 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko buys a run-down hotel in Grove City. Just as it starts to make money the hotel burns down.
125 - Bilko's Credit Card (4 Feb 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko launches a Diners Club credit card for the soldiers of Camp Fremont.
126 - Viva Bilko (11 Feb 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko winds up in trouble in Mexico when he crosses paths with some Mexican bandits.
127 - The Colonel's Promotion (18 Feb 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko tries to help the Colonel's promotion chances by getting him in to the President's golfing foursome.
128 - Bilko's Sharpshooter (25 Feb 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko tries to turn a woman sharpshooter into the new Annie Oakley....but love soon gets in the way.
129 - Bilko's Formula Seven (4 Mar 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko tries to get the beauty industry to buy his new miracle face-cream made from his own secret formula.
130 - Bilko's Ape Man (18 Mar 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko hears that Hollywood are looking for a new Tarzan and he tries to set up an audition for one of his recruits.
131 - Warrant Officer Paparelli (25 Mar 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko has Paparelli promoted to Warrant Officer. But soon it seems he has created a monster.
132 - Bilko's Godson (3 Apr 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
When he is chosen as godfather, Bilko tries to enroll his godson in the Stanford University class of '77.
133 - Guinea Pig Bilko (17 Apr 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko changes his ways when he is tranquillized but soon his whole platoon try to take over his gambling empire.
134 - Bilko The Butler (24 Apr 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko takes up the offer of dinner with a wealthy socialite family.
135 - Ritzik Goes Civilian (1 May 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Emma Ritzik persuades Rupert to leave the army to get away from Bilko.
136 - Bilko's Small Car (8 May 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko gets into the motor industry when he creates a new car, the 'Arrivederci', by converting an Army jeep.
137 - Doberman, Missing Heir (15 May 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
Bilko reunites Doberman with a wealthy family who think he is their son. However Doberman soon becomes reluctant to share his new-found wealth.
138 - Bilko's Casino (22 May 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko thinks his prayers have been answered when he finds the one place in California where gambling is legal.
139 - The Colonel's Second Honeymoon (29 May 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby)
When Bilko takes a vacation it just so happens that the Colonel and his wife are also going there on their second honeymoon.
140 - Bilko In Outer Space (5 Jun 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
Bilko lures Grover and Ritzik into a space chamber where they will be alone for three days, in an attempt to fleece them of a $600 bankroll.
141- The Bilko Boycott (12 Jun 1959 - Written by Arnie Rosen & Coleman Jacoby) Henshaw sets up Gamblers Anonymous at Camp Fremont. So Bilko targets the WACs on camp.
142 - Weekend Colonel (19 Jun 1959 - Written by Neil Simon & Terry Ryan)
While the Colonel is away Bilko brings in a lookalike so he can get rid of all the TV cameras the Colonel has had installed and turn the officer's club into a casino.
As the fourth season drew to it's conclusion, the escalating costs of producing the show made it an easy decision for the sponsors to cancel their support. CBS Television reasoned they could make just as much money, if not more, from the show by simply selling it into syndication all over the world.
Phil Silvers, although he never allowed it to show on screen or in his performance, was secretly tiring of the schedule and particularly the strain of maintaining such a high-energy performance. At the time he was quoted as saying "I've been ready to give up Bilko for the last six months. It's been a real chore for that long to do the show week after week!"
The cast and crew, all with varying degrees of success, went their own separate ways.....and Sgt. Bilko, his motley Motor Pool Platoon and The Phil Silvers Show became a part of television history........forever immortalised in glorious monochrome!
FILMING - THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW
Filming on The Phil Silvers Show was a hectic, frantic process. A finalised script usually arrived at the production office on a Monday. This was then usually given a final polish by Nat Hiken and was then given the greenlight to go to filming.
The cast would usually spend Tuesdays and Wednesdays with a read through and then rehearsals and blocking at the Nola studios, above Lindy's Delicatessen in New York. The cast would break for lunch at Lindy's.
On Thursdays the cast would then move to the DuMont Studios on 67th Street, New York for full dress rehearsal and final blocking. Often the scripts would also be trimmed, or new material added as needed.
On Fridays, following a full, final dress rehearsal and the set-up of cameras, lighting and sound equipment a small audience was ushered in and seated. Initially the audience consisted of tourists, by-standers and passers-by, but as word got out that the show was a hot ticket people like Milton Berle, Cary Grant and Jack Benny graced the bleachers! Following a brief introduction and warm-up, usually given by Phil Silvers, filming would commence at 3.00pm.
In order to maintain the flow of the show and the comedy, Phil and Nat asked that filming be done in sequence with a minimum of re-takes. They felt this helped the show retain it's energy and also allowed the comedy to fizz along.
Filming was done using a three-camera set-up. The cameras ran simultaneously from three different angles allowing them to capture everything. This system of filming was pioneered on I Love Lucy and was found to be very efficient and cost-effective.
It usually took an hour to film a 25-minute episode. Nat Hiken placed great emphasis on concentrating on the actors performances and maintaining the momentum of the comedy. He felt that the filming process was secondary. Mickey Freeman says that Nat once told him "They came, they saw, they laughed. Leave it alone!"
Finally we'll leave you with a look at the wonderful opening titles and theme music of The Phil Silvers Show - along with a brief glimpse of Ernie Bilko in action!
The Phil Silvers Show - New Recruits (1955)
Selection of photos documenting the history
of one of television's greatest sit-coms
The Phil Silvers Show
The success of The Phil Silvers Show undoubtedly belongs to the cast, writers and crew. However, during its four year run the show played host to a huge number of guest stars - whose appearances and performances added to the show's appeal. They ranged from emerging actors to established stars, celebrities and even sporting personalities.
We present for you here a list of those guest stars along with the episodes in which they appeared.....
The Phil Silvers Show - Guest Stars
Ed Sullivan - Bilko Presents Ed Sullivan, Show Segments
Dean Martin - Bilko's Secret Mission
Lucille Ball - Bilko's Ape Man
Jule Styne - Bilko Presents Ed Sullivan
Bing Crosby - Bilko Presents Bing Crosby
Margaret Hamilton - Bilko Enters Politics, Bilko's Merry Widow
Paul Lynde - Bilko In Outer Space, Bilko's Big Woman Hunt
Harry Dean Stanton - Bilko's Engagement
Orson Bean - Bilko's Insurance Company
Mike Todd - Bilko Goes 'Round The World
Julie Newmar - The Big Scandal
Bruce Kirby - Where There's A Will, His Highness Doberman, Bilko Buys A Club
Dina Merrill - Bilko's War Against Culture, The Rest Cure
Tom Poston - The Face On The Recruiting Poster, Love That Guardhouse
Eric Fleming - Hollywood, Recruiting Sergeant, Thee Face On The Recruiting Poster
Dick Van Dyke - Hillbilly Whiz, Bilko's Cousin
Fred Gwynne - Eating Contest, It's For The Birds
Constance Ford - Mardi Gras, Bilko The Marriage Broker, Bilko & The Flying Saucers
Natalie Schafer - Bilko's Formula Seven
Pat Hingle - A.W.O.L.
Alan Alda - Doberman The Crooner, BilkoThe Art Lover
Robert Morse - Bilko Goes To College
Ronnie Graham - Bilko's Bopster
Larry Storch - Bilko's Bopster, Bilko Joins The Navy
Charlotte Rae - The Twitch, Bilko & The Medium
Sammy Cahn - Joan's Big Romance
Tina Louise - Bilko Goes South
William Hickey - Bilko Goes To College, Bilko F.O.B. Detroit, Bilko's Cousin
Murray Hamilton - Eating Contest
Dan Frazer - Bilko's Tax Trouble, Guinea Pig Bilko
J.D. Cannon - Bilko's Allergy
Dick Cavett - Bilko's Godson
Barnard Hughes - Bilko's Prize Poodle
Paul Reed - Bilko's Vampire, Bilko & The Crosbys
Lee Merriwether - Cyranno De Bilko
George Kennedy - Bilko The Genius, Bilko Retires From Gambling, Weekend Colonel
Efrem Zimbalist Jnr - The Blue Blood Of Bilko
Peggy Cass - Bilko's Sharpshooter. Operation Love
Morey Amsterdam - Bilko's Giveaway
Edward Andrews - Bilko The Genius, Bilko Buys A Club, Bilko & The Fling Saucers
Keefe Braselle - Bilko Vs Covington
Iggy Wolfington - Bilko Vs Covington
Robert Webber - Bilko Gets Some Sleep
Ronnie Graham - Bilko's Bopster
Stanley Simmonds - Hollywood, Furlough In New York, Bilko Gets Some Sleep
Gretchen Wyler - Bilko's Honeymoon, Bilko's Merry Widow
Gerald Hiken - Bilko's Black Magic
John Anderson - Reunion, Platoon In The Movies
David White - The Rest Cure, The Song Of The Motor Pool, Bilko, Male Model
Al Lewis - Bilko's Credit Card, Weekend Colonel
Eddie Hanley - Joan's Big Romance, Big Man Hunt, Bilko's Big Woman Hunt
Joey Faye - The Court Martial
Sam Snead - The Colonel Breaks Par
Johnny Seven - Boxer, Bilko's Engagement
Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Gil McDougald, Phil Rizzuto - Hillbilly Whiz
Kay Kendall - Sgt. Bilko Presents Kay Kendall
The Maguire Sisters - Bilko & The McGuire Sisters
Gary, Dennis, Phillip and Lindsay Crosby - Bilko & The Crosbys
Jim Perry - The Horse, The Twitch, Bivouac, The Court Martial
Mickey Rooney - Bilko & The McGuire Sisters
Mark Rydell - Rich Kid
Danny Dayton - Con Men, Bilko's TV Idea, Bilko Retires From Gambling, Bilko's Vampire
Charles McLean Savage - Bilko In Wall Street, Bilko Goes To College
Bob Hastings - Transfer, Bilko Goes Round The World, The Colonel Breaks Par, Bilko's Cousin
Clifton James - Bilko Buys A Club
Jon Cypher - Bilko Goes To Monte Carlo
Mason Adams - Bilko The Genius
Alfred Sandor - Bilko The Genius, Gold Fever
John Marley - The Colonel's Inheritance, Bilko's Allergy
Heywood Hale Broun - The Big Scandal, Bilko's Double Life
Fred Herrick - The Blue Blood Of The Bilko's, Bilko's Ape Man
Frank Campanella - Bilko The Genius, Hillbilly Whiz, Bilko At Bay
John Boruff - The Court Martial, Face On The Recruiting Poster, Lt. Bilko, Bilko's Bopster
Robert Strauss - Bilko Goes To College
Paul Lipson - War Games, Bilko's Perfect Day, Bilko's Godson, Bilko's Double Life
Philippa Bevans - Bivouac, Bilko's Engagement, His Highness Doberman, Bilko The Butler
Edward Andrews - Bilko Buys A Club, Bilko & The Flying Saucers
In 1985, authors David Thomas and Ian Irvine released their book, Bilko: The Fort Baxter Story to mark the 30th anniversary of The Phil Silvers Show.
The following is a fictional interview between The Roseville Times and Sgt. Bilko himself. It's a well observed piece, which manages (by clever use of dialogue from the show) to capture the flavour of Bilko. It also served as the introduction to the book.
BILKO: I'm sorry I'm late. I was up all night mourning for my late uncle Felix. It was a tortuous night.
RT: Oh, I'd been told you were playing poker.
BILKO: It wasn't a poker game. It was more of a wake with deuces wild. Old Uncle Felix would have wanted it this way!
RT: I'm sorry to be intruding on you so soon after your bereavement.
BILKO: I didn't say he died yesterday. I just heard about it yesterday. Actually he died in1940. I was just a kid when it happened. My family wanted me to wait until I was old enough to stand the shock.
RT: Were you able to sleep in today and rest?
BILKO: Sleep? How can I sleep when there are bugles blowing and men marching up and down. Besides, once I'm up in the afternoon I can never get back to sleep.
RT: When would you rise under normal circumstances?
BILKO: I get up at the crack of dawn. Every morning, bright and early, I'm down in the grease pit.
RT: Frankly, I don't believe you.
BILKO: O.K., I get up at the crack of noon.
RT: Don't you have to deliver your morning report straight after breakfast?
BILKO: I sometimes feel that the whole philosophy of morning reports is open to honest debate between honest men. Why let the enemy know our strength? I must say, I go along with Napoleon when he said 'Keep'em guessing!'.
RT: But don't you have a duty to be up and about your business?
BILKO: Well, the way I look at it is, the army pays me to defend my country. I've left strict instructions with Corporal Barbella to wake me up the instant we're invaded.
RT: Surely though, a man of your intelligence would want to be around to get all the good things first? After all, the early bird catches the worm.
BILKO: You still falling for that old propoganda? Take my word for it. The early bird catches the worm, but it's the smart bird who sleeps late then talks the early bird out of the worm.
RT: Do you ever act like a conventional soldier?
BILKO: Lest we forget, there is a military aspect to the army too. I take the men out to the drill field, rifle range and on short hikes. Weather permitting of course!
RT: I noticed you were parading some of the men this afternoon.
BILKO: Well, I don't mind a little stroll now and then, but the Colonel's on this new parade kick. Every time a big shot is in the area he parades us. What's he so proud of? If I had an outfit like this I'd try to hide them.
RT: So he's been working you hard?
BILKO: Walk, walk, walk. To the motor pool - back. To the mess hall - back.
RT: Does it come as a shock?
BILKO: When I was a civilian, I used to see the newsreels of soldiers riding around in jeeps. Every soldier has a jeep in the newsreels. But I joined the army. That was my big mistake. I should have joined the newsreels.
RT: So what would be your perfect day?
BILKO: Up at noon. Then eat. Two o'clock, the finals of the gin rummy round robin. Three o'clock, play bingo with map co-ordinates. Five o'clock, all bets in on the new colour of Lieutenant Duber's wife's hair - Corporal Henshaw to report from the camp beauty salon. Then at seven o'clock, the canasta tournament, after the finals of the bed-making contest.
RT: How do you feel about life at Fort Baxter?
BILKO: Ah, just think of Fort Baxter, with its shaded walks, the birds at eventide. I love Fort Baxter. I have a pet name for it.....Siberia!
RT: Tell me about your platoon.
BILKO: There are some outfits that get the sons of millionaires, TV stars, movie personalities. Do they ever send anyone like that here? Oh no. Do you know how they decides who comes to this platoon? The army is very careful. They gotta take an intelligence test. Those they find writing with the wrong end of the pencil - that's who comes to this platoon.
RT: So would you say that you take care of your men?
BILKO: When the army placed these stripes on my sleeves, they also placed something on my shoulders - responsibility! And what has been my biggest responsibility? The morale of my platoon. I want a smiling barracks. I want my boys to have fun, fun, fun!
RT: What would you say if I told you I had a thousand dollars in my pocket?
BILKO: I can't talk. I'm salivating.
RT: Let's talk about some of the individuals at Fort Baxter. Tell me about Colonel Hall.
BILKO: Nice guy, the Colonel. I met him overseas and after the war I sort of kept him with me.
RT: Then there's Joan Hogan - a fine woman. Will you marry her?
BILKO: Don't say that. Don't say that even as a joke. We have an agreement - no GI marriages. She's intelligent, sophisticated. We're too much alike to get married.
RT: Sgt.Bilko, you're a gambler, a sharpster and a promoter. You're everything a soldier is not supposed to be. And yet people like you. Why is that?
BILKO: Oh, I don't know. I guess I do have a nice personality!
When Nat Hiken and Phil Silvers finally settled on the premise of the new show they had been hired to create by CBS, they faced the next dilema of having to flesh out the central character.
They had created a character who was a master fenegler, a con man with a heart of gold, out to make a quick buck with a series of fantastic schemes and shennanigans. He was a sergeant in the US Army and Nat reasoned he needed a name worthy of the character, a name which would make him instantly recognisable and give a hint of the character's nature. Both Nat and Phil were keen gamblers and were fanatical about sports. One of Nat's heroes was a minor league baseball player named Steve Bilko. Bilko (born November 13, 1928 — died March 7, 1978), was a professional player known for his home run hitting as a minor league player during the 1950s.
Nat loved the name Bilko - it immediately had connotations of 'bilking' - a term used to describe the art of swindling, cheating or conning. The literal dictionary definition reads "to defraud, cheat, or swindle."He chose the first name Ernest as this again had a certain connotation - the character, although flawed and a rogue, was basically a decent everyman.
(Left) Phil Silvers with Steve Bilko
In his own words, Phil recalls some of his early thoughts on the character of Sgt.Bilko.
"This Sgt. Ernie Bilko is a complete picture of all the great goldbrick artists who ever made good in the army. He's king of the motor pool, lord of the mess hall, scourge of the orderly room.
Even the Colonel quails before Bilko. Bilko is the smoothest operator you've ever seen. He runs poker games, baseball pools and bed-making contests. He also sells embroidered pillows. He even rents his car at ten cents a mile - with a group plan available at special rates.
And not only that, but this Bilko comes from a distinguished line of army goldbricks. Why, his great-grandfather, Major Joshua Bilko, sold tickets to fill up the boat when Washington crossed the Delaware!".
(Left) Phil Silvers as the inimitable Sgt.Bilko!
It was January 6th, 1961 when Joe E Ross signed a contract to appear in Nat Hiken's new network television show, Car 54, Where Are You? (originally titled The Snow Whites, but changed following a legal wrangle with the Disney organisation).
Joe had enjoyed great success on The Phil Silvers Show, having portrayed Sgt. Rupert Ritzik. He had joined the show in the second season, his character having been brought in to fill the void left following the tragic death of Harry Clark (Sgt. Stanley Sowici) at the end of shooting of the first season.
"The original Mess Sergeant in the Bilko show, Harry Clark, died in 1956. " said Joe. "I was doing my act at a club in Miami. Nat Hiken and Phil Silvers happened to catch the show one night . We talked afterwards and I wasn't too hot on doing TV, but I figured I had nothing to lose."
A burlesque comic first and foremost, Joe had found it very difficult during his first season on The Phil Silvers Show. "I was used to working the theatre houses so my instinct was to shout out my lines. Well. Phil pulled me over and says 'Joe, you gotta learn how to listen...how to react to a line.' I knew he was right but I didn't know any other way. But Phil told me to just watch as many movies as I could and watch how the actors behaved! All of a sudden I caught on and I'm listening to my fellow actors. Phil says to me 'Congratulations Joe, you're acting now!'
Following the cancellation of The Phil Silvers Show in 1959, Joe E Ross returned to his burlesque roots. Nat Hiken had other ideas, as he felt that Joe would be the ideal actor to portray Patrolman Gunther Toody in his new sit-com, based on the day to day lives of a couple of New York policemen.
Nat Hiken had already cast Fred Gwynne as Patrolman Francis Muldoon (Gwynne had previously worked for Hiken in two Bilko episodes, Eating Contest and It's For The Birds) and he felt that Ross would make the ideal partner. In a 1961 interview, Joe said "Hiken is like that. He built Milton Berle and Martha Raye. He also invented the Doberman character for Maurice Gosfield on the Bilko show. He sees things in people that nobody else sees."
Although both actors were familiar to Nat Hiken and had, indeed, worked on the same show together, they had never met. "Fred and I had not only never worked together before Car 54," said Joe, "We never even met until the first day of shooting the pilot. Fred had done a couple of Bilko's too, but we had never been on the same episodes!."
"Hiken also thought it would be a great idea to bring back Beatrice Pons as my wife. She had played Emma Ritzik, on the Bilko show, and he thought we made a good team."
Car 54, Where Are You? would prove to be Joe's second big success in a television series. "I owe it all to Phil and Nat." Joe once said. "I guess I'm just a lucky stiff. Those guys helped me become a big success. When Bilko was on people on the street would shout 'Hey, Ritzik!' or 'Ooh, Ooh!'. These days, I find myself doing Toody on the streets. I think like Toody, make a face like Toody."
April 2011 will see the release of the complete season one of Car 54, Where Are You? onto DVD. Giving audiences the chance to once again enjoy the antics of Toody and Muldoon and the writing skills and the genius of Nat Hiken.
Joe E Ross, Sgt.'s Bilko, Grover and Ritzik, Gunther Toody
(This next feature appeared in the SUNDAY EXPRESS on January 21st, 1959 whilst Phil was in the UK on a promotional tour)
How much did you win at poker coming over on the boat?
Nothing - nobody would play with me. But my wife lost 31 dollars playing some Englishmen who said they'd never played the game before!
Do you really need to wear glasses?
Yes. I am quite near-sighted. But there's something psychological about this because on stage or on a show I have perfect vision and I don't need my glasses - so I just wear frames on those occasions.
How old are you?
Do you have any weight problem?
None. I'm a good eater, but I use such a lot of energy that I use up all my food.
Have you any children?
Two, both girls. Tracey aged 23 months and Nancey aged four months.
Why the name Nancey?
Because during the war I wrote a song called 'Nancy With The Laughing Face', just for fun, for Frank Sinatra's daughter Nancy. No one was more surprised than I was when it became a hit.
Was there any family opposition to your going on to the stage?
Yes, tremendous - everyone thought I had utterly disgraced the family. The disgrace eased a bit though, when at 16 they found I was earning more that all the rest of the family put together!
Some comedians are sad people in real life - why is this?
I guess in my own case it's because to me comedy is no laughing matter. I may be sitting at a show, thinking it's very funny, but I never laugh - because I'm too busy analysing and dissecting the thing professionally.
Is it true that Ike is a Bilko fan?
Yes, quite true. He sends for the films sometimes when he happens to miss the show.
Has the show had any effect on recruiting in America?
I'm told that it has trebled the enlistment rate - that's why I get full Government co-operation.
Were you ever in the Army?
No, but my experience with the USO - our equivalent of ENSA - during the war gave me a much vaster experience of Army life all over the world than I'd have got in the Army.
Did you ever meet a real-life Sgt.Bilko?
I met one in every camp I ever played!
Can you make your wife laugh?
Yes. It's harder than making an audience laugh, but I can do it.
Do you ever watch television?
Avidly. It's a great friend of mine.
At what age did you go bald?
Do you think you would be as funny with a full head of hair?
Oh sure, but when I had a full head of hair I was broke. I was a bit sensitive about my baldness at first, but Yul Brynner has made it easier for all of us!
Are you rich?
Not materially, just comfortable. You see I married late and as a young man I was rather wild. I like the ponies and having a good time and with the money that flowed through my hands I could have been a millionaire twice over. My mother is a big responsibility too. She's not very well.
Who are your close friends in showbusiness?
Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Sammy Cahn - the songwriter, and Sid Garfield - a publicity man!
Have you any friends outside showbusiness?
Name anyone in the sports world in America and he's my friend. Entertainment is my second interest, sport is my first. I have a permanent pass to the Yankee Baseball Stadium!
Have you any fears?
I don't like planes, but I go on them constantly. In fact I'm afraid of any sort of height, it's a phobia.
Where did you learn to speak so fast?
I didn't. It just came naturally. Nature hates a vacuum and I hate pauses in the conversation - so I fill 'em up!
How much fan mail do you get?
Oh it's just vast and more letters now come from England than the USA.
Do people suspect that you are doing a Bilko on them?
Oh yes. For instance I just can't get a friendly card game together!
Have you any hobbies?
Golf, I participate in. Other sports I am a crazily enthusiastic spectator. I even love cricket which I saw for the first time this week.
Have you any unfulfilled ambitions?
Yes. I always wanted to be a sports star. I was adept as a kid at baseball and might have made the big Leagues but then my eyesight went!
What has life taught you?
My life before I got married - at 45 - is just a fog. I was so intent on making good. But now I've found out, not too late, that you handle nothing worthwhile alone. The only thing you handle alone is anxiety. Now my life has purpose, and the money I make simply means extra security for the people I love. A big piece of money from some particular venture just means one step nearer a good colleg for the kids!
In the mid-1980's VIACOM issued a press-pack to accompany sales of the show. The pack included several 10 x 8 stills, a complete episode list, synopsis and full cast details of each show along with a wonderful glossy double-sided promotional card.
The introduction to the pack was written by noted film and TV historian, Leonard Maltin. That introduction is reproduced below:
"Every television season has its share of hit shows, but it isn't every year that a series becomes so popular, so widely recognized that it evolves into a part of American culture. Such a show was The Phil Silvers Show (YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH) -- better known as SERGEANT BILKO.
For as long as he lives, Phil Silvers will be identified with the conniving sergeant of Fort Baxter. It was the zenith of his career, and to this day, no matter where he goes around the world, people greet him on the street as Bilko, with a cry of 'Hey, sarge!'.
The show was tailor-made for Silvers' talents, well known after years in burlesque, on Broadway, in nightclubs and movies. CBS commissioned Nat Hiken, a comic genius whose former clients had included Milton Berle, Fred Allen and Martha Raye, to devise the ideal showcase for Phil Silvers' television debut.
Silvers wrote in his autobiography, 'The pilot script established the characters and setting. M/Sgt. Ernie Bilko, head of a motor pool at a mythical Fort Baxter, in Roseville, Kansas, was trimmed for the first time in the weekly card game by his buddies; he immediately concocted a beautiful, larcenous scheme to raise fresh money for the next game. The buddies were a platoon of malingerers, ragpickers, sharpies and enemies of any authority. Bilko was the eternal dreamer, the con man who dreamed up elaborate strategies to bamboozle the system. His high-flying plots collapsed because, like the hero of the Greek tragedy, he had a fatal flaw: he was a softy. You had to like Bilko because inside everyone, even the straightest pillar of the community, there is a con man wiggling to sneak out.'
Bilko made his debut on September 20, 1955, and America instantly took him to heart. Besides toppling the formerly unbeatable Milton Berle from his ratings perch, the show went on to win five Emmy Awards after one season: Best Comedy Series, Best Actor (Continuing Performance), Best Comedian, Best Comedy Writing and Best Director (Filmed Series). The show swept Comedy Series and Comedy Writing awards for the next two years, as well, confirming the general feeling that Bilko was the funniest show on the air.
Nat Hiken was the commander-in-chief, but the series drew its laughs from a large team of writers, among them a young man who later abandoned television for stage and films: Neil Simon.
Phil Silvers' supporting cast was equally adept. Harvey Lembeck, Allan Melvin, Herbie Faye, Joe E. Ross, Billy Sands, Mickey Freeman and the other members of the Motor Pool created an unforgettable rogues' gallery....not to mention Paul Ford as the hapless Colonel Hall.
Then there was Doberman. Silvers recalls, 'Maurice Gosfield came to us in an open casting call; we opened the door wide and there he was. We had to have him -- the Slob of the Century. Nat had an instinct for unique faces; they created characters for him. Gosfield looked like a doberman pinscher, and that's what he became: Pvt Duane (for a touch of class) Doberman.'
Young performers who got their start in the show were legion, among them Alan Alda, George Kennedy, Dina Merrill, Pat Hingle, Dick Van Dyke and a bit player named Dick Cavett.
Bilko and crew amassed 144 of the funniest television half-hours ever filmed before calling it quits. Nat Hiken recaptured some of the show's spark when he recruited much of the Bilko cast for CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? a few years later, while THE NEW PHIL SILVERS SHOW moved the comedian from an Army setting to a factory. But neither one could duplicate the success of the original (YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH). It was a one-time thing, possessed of a special magic.
And besides, there was only one Doberman!".
A selection of clips from TV's greatest-ever sitcom The Phil Silvers Show......(Windows Media Player required)
Keep In Step (1959) Bilko's Small Car (1959)
Bilko Presents Kay Kendall (1958) Bilko Presents The McGuire Sisters (1958)