The Phil Silvers Show: You May Never Get Rich, but You’ll Receive a Wealth of Humor

This month, we begin a new series, “We Salute You” and we will look at shows about the military. Our first series is The Phil Silvers Show a/k/a You’ll Never Get Rich.

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The sitcom debuted on CBS in 1955. The pilot was never aired, but the show was part of the television schedule until 1959, producing 143 episodes.

Nat Hiken created the series which ended up being nominated for Best Comedy Series every year it was on and winning that category in 1956, 1957, and 1958. In addition, Silvers won an Emmy for his performance, and Hiken won an Emmy for Best Director.

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Nat Hiken in the bowtie with Phil Silvers

In 1955, television was transitioning from New York to California. However, Hiken insisted on filming the series in New York. The earlier seasons were filmed at Dumont and later seasons moved to CBS studios in Chelsea, Manhattan.

The show was filmed like a play in front of a live audience. The cast members had to memorize the entire script. When Mike Todd guest starred in season two, he insisted that the show be filmed more like a movie. Takes were filmed out of sequence and multiple takes were allowed because there was no audience. The crew realized that this process was faster, cheaper, and easier for the actors, so the change was put in place permanently. The show was screened for the military though, and servicemen made responses that were used to make the show more realistic.

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Sergeant Ernie Bilko (Phil Silvers) is a con man. He runs a motor pool at a small US Army Camp, Fort Baxter in Roseville, Kansas. Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), who doesn’t trust Bilko, tries to stay on top of his schemes. Bilko tries to make money any way he can and is not above using the landing craft for midnight cruises, “borrowing” tanks, setting up poker games, and conniving with a local service station for spare parts for Jeep tires for his get-rich quick scams. Bilko has pulled the wool over Col Hall’s wife’s (Hope Sansberry) eyes and flatters her every chance he gets. Silvers said Bilko was so successful because “inside everyone is a con man wiggling to sneak out.”

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Although his men knew he could not be truly trusted, they were usually loyal to him and while he occasionally used them in a scheme, he typically made sure they were taken care of. Some of the situations Bilko found himself in included starting a mink farm, entering his platoon in a singing contest, investing in an ailing race horse, stealing a French chef’s family recipe, buying swampland, thinking there was uranium beneath Hall’s living room, and getting a hot racing tip but not being able to get his bet in on time.

For the fourth season, the camp moved from Kansas to Camp Fremont in California. The move was explained that Bilko orchestrated the new location because he learned there was a gold deposit near the abandoned army post. The primary reason for the geographical change was so stars could guest on the show because the camp was now said to be close to Hollywood. Some of these celebrities included Dean Martin, Mickey Rooney, Bing Crosby, Dorothy McGuire, and Lucille Ball.

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Bing Crosby visits the base

In addition to the stars who were said to come from Hollywood, guest stars on the show included Charlotte Rae, Fred Gwynne, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Tom Poston, Dina Merrill, Alan Alda, Bea Arthur, and Tina Louise.

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I was surprised by the large cast that was featured on this show as opposed to Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes, or McHale’s Navy. Bilko’s comrades were Corporal Barbella (Harvey Lembeck) and Corporal Henshaw (Allan Melvin).

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Bilko with Barbella and Henshaw

The rest of the men included Corporal Sam Fender (Herbie Faye), Sergeant Grover (Jimmy Little), Privates Doberman (Maurice Gosfield), Zimmerman (Mickey Freeman), Kadowski (Karl Lukas), Gomez (Bernard Fein), Paparelli (Billy Sands), Mullen (Jack Healy), Fleischman (Maurice Brenner), Sugarman (Terry Carter) and Dillingham (Walter Cartier), as well as quartermaster Sergeant Pendelton (Ned Glass). Bilko even had a romantic interest in Sergeant Joan Hogan (Elisabeth Fraser).

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Because the series had so many secondary cast members, it became too expensive to maintain, and that was the primary reason it was canceled. I was surprised it did not affect the ratings because there were a lot of cast members to follow from week to week.

The show started out on Tuesday nights the first season. Its competition was The Legend of Wyatt Earp and Milton Berle.  The ratings at first were not good and Camel Cigarettes, the sponsor, considering withdrawing. The network moved the show so it didn’t need to compete with Berle’s second-half hour. The ratings skyrocketed. The second and third seasons, it continued on Tuesday nights but was up against Cheyenne both years and against The Big Surprise on the second season and The Eddie Fisher Show the third season. The Phil Silvers Show continued to be in the top 30 for season two but fell below those rankings in season three. Season four found the show on Friday nights up against Man with a Camera and M Squad.  I would have thought that season might have the weakest competition but the show never recovered its higher ratings. However, Friday nights many people were out, not home watching television.

Another downfall with such a large cast is the personality conflicts that might occur. Apparently, Phil Silvers did not get along with Maurice Gosfield. Gosfield had trouble remembering his lines which frustrated the other actors; however, he got the most fan mail which Silvers resented. In his memoir, Silvers discussed this issue and wrote that Gosfield “thought of himself as Cary Grant playing a short, plump man.”

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Gosfield as Doberman

Phil Silvers would play the same type of con man on many sitcoms later including The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island, The Lucy Show, and the movie It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

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After its cancellation, CBS sold the show to NBC which was a great move on NBC’s part. The network made a ton of money on the show’s syndication because reruns were run for decades.

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DC Comics published comic books based on the show as well. From 1957-1960 there were 16 issues of a Sergeant Bilko comic book and 11 issues of a Private Doberman comic book.

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In 2009, the US Postal Service issued a set of stamps honoring early television programs. This show was commemorated with an image of Sergeant Bilko.

I remember the show being on the air a lot while I was growing up, but I rarely see it now. I am going to rely on a fellow blogger to sum up the show. In a recent blog on neatorama.com from February 14, 2019, the show was described as follows:

It is my opinion that THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (aka YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH) remains the single most underrated sitcom in television history and that Phil Silvers remains the most underrated comedian in that medium. This is really saying something because the series has indeed received great acclaim over the years. Even so, Silvers is just not given his proper due for creating the Bilko character. But it is Phil Silvers, his facial expressions, his bugle-call barking of orders, his complete manipulation of everyone on the base, and his wild schemes to make money that never seem to get old no matter how much you watch the episodes on video. The show is a great testament to the talents of Phil Silvers. With its complex plotlines and quickfire dialogue it’s still a treat to watch Silvers’s monumental character. The most oft-said line in the series must be “but, Sarge! as Bilko launches into another diabolical and, ultimately, flawed scheme to make money and dodge work.”

Photo: philsilversshow.com

Bilko isn’t a bad guy; he’s just not trustworthy. As he himself likes to say, “All I ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.” Maybe in this politically correct world we live in, making fun of the military is a taboo. It’s too bad because all the critics loved this show. If you want to check it out for yourself, the series is on DVD, so it is available for a week-end of binge watching; you can purchase individual seasons or the complete series.

If It’s Friday Night, It’s Time for the Adults to Gather Round and Watch . . . Cartoons?

In September 1960 several iconic shows had their debut including My Three Sons and The Andy Griffith Show. On Friday nights at 8:30 eastern time, a very unusual show also began on ABC that fall:  The Flintstones.  Many viewers don’t realize that The Flintstones began life as a prime-time animated show aimed at adults. Created by Hanna-Barbera (H-B), it continued to run at night until April of 1966, a total of 166 episodes.

H-B went to New York for 8 weeks to pitch the show. After being turned down by every ntework, ABC decided to take a chance on it.  It was the most financially successful animated show for 30 years until The Simpsons was created. Variety described its premier as “a pen and ink disaster,” but the show was nominated for Outstanding Comedy, losing to The Jack Benny Show.

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Set in Bedrock, population 2500, the Flintstones and the Rubbles were neighbors and best friends.  The show’s success had a lot to do with the fact that these Stone Age families participated in the same modern-day activities that families did in the 1960s. They relied on the same technology; it’s just that their technology was powered primarily by animals and rocks.

H-B considered other historical eras for the show.  They researched hillbillies, the Roman Empire, and American Indians before settling on Stone Age characters. The original title was The Flagstones.  It was then changed to The Gladstones, and, finally, The Flintstones. In the first creation, Fred and Wilma had a son — Fred Jr. H-B decided that they wanted both couples to be childless, so Fred Jr. was written out.  A Golden Book which came out in 1960 was released before the show changed its concept, and it features Fred Jr.

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Let’s review the regular characters.

Fred Flintstone works at Slate Rock and Gravel Co. He had a quick temper but was a loving father and husband.  He is tall and broad with black hair. He was on a bowling team and belonged to the Loyal Order of Buffaloes, Lodge No. 26. Alan Reed was the voice of Fred. In one episode, Fred was supposed to yell “Yahoo.” Reed asked if he could say “Yabba Dabba Doo” which he based on a Brylcreem jingle his mother used to say, “A little dab’ll do ya.” That became his catchphrase.  In 1977, when the show was in syndication, Henry Corden took over after Reed passed away. Fred was based on Ralph Kramden. In a 1986 , article Jackie Gleason revealed that his attorney told him he could have easily won a lawsuit and stopped The Flintstones, but he advised against it or Gleason would have been known as the man who destroyed The Flintstones.

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Wilma Flintstone is a practical and level-headed wife. She is a true redhead and loves to shop. She often has to get Fred out of bad situations or is forced to convince him to apologize to Barney or Mr. Slate. Jean Vander Pyl was the voice of Wilma.

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Pebbles Flintstone was born at the end of Season 3.  She wore bones in her hair for bows and was a happy little girl. Vander Pyl also played Pebbles.

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Dino is their purple pet.  He barks and often acts like a dog, but he is officially a prosauropod. The incredible Mel Blanc was the voice of Dino.

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Barney Rubble is Fred’s best friend and next-door neighbor. He and Fred get into spats regularly. Barney is shorter than Fred, easy going, and friendly.  Barney was on Fred’s bowling team and part of the Water Buffaloes. Barney was also voiced by Mel Blanc. After Blanc’s death, several actors played Barney.

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Betty Rubble is Wilma’s best friend.  They often conspire to get their husbands to mend their friendship.  Betty is a brunette. Bea Benaderet was the voice of Betty for seasons 1-4.  After her death, Gerry Johnson took over for seasons 5 and 6.

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Bamm-Bamm is the Rubbles’ adopted son.  He is absurdly strong and says “Bamm-Bamm” a lot. Don Messick was the voice of both Bamm-Bamm and the Rubbles’ pet.

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Hoppy is Rubbles’ pet hopparoo (a cross between a kangaroo and a dinosaur).  He doesn’t appear until Season 5.

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More than 100 “guest” characters appear on the show, but several are better known and appear more often, including:

Mr. Slate owns the company where Fred works.  Sometimes Barney works there as well but it doesn’t seem to be consistent. Mr. Slate fires Fred a lot but always takes him back. John Stephenson voiced Mr. Slate.

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Arnold is the Rubbles’ and Flintstones’ paperboy. Fred doesn’t like him because Arnold can outsmart him. Don Messick played Arnold.

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Joe Rockhead is a friend of Fred and Barney’s. He is mentioned in one show as being the chief of the Bedrock Volunteer Fire Department. Irwin Keyes played Joe.

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Pearl Slaghoople is Wilma’s mother.  She is hard to please and has always disapproved of Fred. Verna Felton and Janet Waldo played Pearl.

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Gazoo is an alien who helps Fred and Barney.  He can only be seen by those two, small children, and pets. Harvey Korman was the voice of Gazoo. He appeared during the final season as a way to boost viewership. The show had begun to try to capture younger viewers during the final two seasons.

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Many famous people also showed up on the show. The 6th episode of the 6th season featured Darrin and Samantha Stephenson from Bewitched. H-B produced the animated opening of Bewitched, so there was a tie-in. Other stars included Stony Curtis (Tony Curtis), Ann Margrock (Ann Margaret), and Cary Granite (Cary Grant) as well as the Green Bay Pachyderms.

One strange thing about the show was that the Flintstones home and furniture placement was not consistent.  You can see changes in almost every episode. Their address also changed. It was given as 345 Cave Stone Rd., 1313 Cobblestone Way, and 222 Rocky Way.

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A theme song, “Rise and Shine” was created for the show and used in seasons 1 and 2. The tune was similar to Bugs Bunny’s theme, and in season 3 it was changed to “Meet the Flintstones.” A 22-piece jazz band and a 5-person singing group, the Skip Jacks, recorded it. When the show went into syndication, “Rise and Shine” was replaced with “Meet the Flintstones” for the first two seasons as well. Hoyt Curtin was in charge of the underscores for seasons 1-5 and Ted Nichols took over for season 6.

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Believe it or not, the first two seasons were sponsored by Winston Cigarettes, and there were ads featuring Fred and Barney smoking. These seasons were aired in black and white. Seasons 3-6 would be in color. In season 3, Welch’s became the sponsor for the last four years. They created jelly jars which could be re-used as drinking glasses. At this point, it was decided that the Flintstones would have a baby. A boy was written into the script. A marketing director suggested they change it to a girl because girl dolls sold better. Based on his recommendation, they created Pebbles. Apparently, he was right because during the first few months, they sold 3 million of them. In season 4, Bamm-Bamm was adopted.

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Some of the clever products included an alarm clock that is a bird, a bird car horn, a dinosaur crane, an octopus dishwasher, a pelican garbage can, a porcupine hairbrush, and a swordfish knife. Several famous brands were seen in the stone age such as Stoneway Pianos and Polarrock cameras.

The show was offered in syndication till 1997. Ted Turner purchased H-B in 1992, and The Flintstones ran on TBS, TNT, and the Cartoon Network. In 2000, Boomerang began airing the show where it continued until 2016. Now it’s only available on Boomerang’s subscription video-on-demand service.

The Flintstones had 12 different television series versions and 13 tv specials produced. In addition, there have been 5 tv movies, 6 educational filmstrips and 2 big-screen films.

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Two theme parks exist: Bedrock City in Custer, SD and Valle, AZ. A stage production took place in Universal Studios in Hollywood from 1994-1997. DC Comics produced a 2016 Flintstones comic book. Flintstones collectibles have been produced for almost 60 years.

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Fifty-eight years after the debut of the show, Bedrock characters are still promoting products.  One-a-Day vitamins features Flintstones Chewables and Fruity and Cocoa Pebbles are made by Post.

 

A typical conversation between Fred and Barney is:

Fred: How can you be so stupid?

Barney: Hey, that’s not very nice. Say you’re sorry.

Fred: I’m sorry you’re stupid.

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For the remainder of January, we will continue to look at prime-time animation series.