Joe E. Brown

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Joe E. Brown

from the trailer for the film
Bright Lights (1935)
BornJoseph Evans Brown
(1891-07-28)July 28, 1891
Holgate, Ohio, USA
DiedJuly 6, 1973(1973-07-06) (aged 81)
Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Years active1928-1964
Spouse(s)Kathryn Francis McGraw
(1915-1973; his death; 4 children)
 
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Joe E. Brown

from the trailer for the film
Bright Lights (1935)
BornJoseph Evans Brown
(1891-07-28)July 28, 1891
Holgate, Ohio, USA
DiedJuly 6, 1973(1973-07-06) (aged 81)
Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, USA
Years active1928-1964
Spouse(s)Kathryn Francis McGraw
(1915-1973; his death; 4 children)

Joseph Evans Brown (July 28, 1891 – July 6, 1973)[1][2] was an American actor and comedian, remembered for his amiable screen persona, comic timing, and enormous smile. In 1902 at the age of nine, he joined a troupe of circus tumblers known as the Five Marvelous Ashtons who toured the country on both the circus and vaudeville circuits. Later he became a professional baseball player. After three seasons he returned to the circus, then went into Vaudeville and finally starred on Broadway. 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

Childhood

Joseph Evans Brown was born on July 28, 1891, in the small town of Holgate, Ohio, near Toledo. He spent most of his childhood in Toledo. He performed as a tumbler in vaudeville shots as a child. He was also skilled baseball player and turned down an opportunity to sign with the New York Yankees in order to pursue his career as an entertainer.

Film career

In late 1928, Brown began making films, starting the next year with 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), and Song of the West (1930),"Going Wild (1930)". 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 in Fireman, Save My Child (1932), a comedy in which he played a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, with Elmer, the Great (1933) with Patricia Ellis and Claire Dodd, and Alibi Ike (1935) with Olivia de Havilland, 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 and with Maxine Doyle in Six-Day Bike Rider. Brown was one of the few vaudeville comedians to appear in a Shakespeare film; he played Francis Flute in the Max Reinhardt/William Dieterle film version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), and was highly praised for his performance. He starred in Polo Joe (1936) 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. He was sufficiently well known internationally by this point to be depicted in comic strips in the British comic Film Fun for twenty years from 1933.

He left Warner Brothers to work for producer David L. Loew, starring in When's Your Birthday? (1937). 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.[3] He gradually switched to making "B" pictures.

World War II

Joe E. Brown and Irving Leroy Ress (right) c. 1950

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 children.[4] In 1942 Brown's son, Captain Don E. Brown, was killed when his military plane crashed near Palm Springs, California.[5] During World War II, he spent a great deal of time entertaining troops, spending many nights working and meeting servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen. He wrote of his experiences entertaining the troops in his book Your Kids and Mine.

Joe E. Brown's own two sons were in the military service. At 50, he was too old to enlist. Likable and gregarious, Brown traveled many thousands of miles at his own expense to entertain American troops. He was also the first to do so, traveling to both the Carribean and Alaska before Bob Hope or the USO were organized.

On his return to the States he brought sacks of letters, making sure they were delivered by the Post Office Department. He gave shows in all weather conditions, many in hospitals, sometimes doing his entire show for a single dying soldier. He would sign autographs for everyone. Brown was one of only two civilians to be awarded the Bronze Star in World War II.

Postwar work

In 1948, he was awarded a Special Tony Award for his work in the touring company of Harvey.[6]

He had a cameo appearance in Around the World in 80 Days (1956), as a stationmaster talking to Fogg (David Niven) and his entourage in a small town in Nebraska. In the similarly epic film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), he cameoed as a union official giving a speech at a construction site in the climactic scene. He was the Mystery Guest on What's My Line? during the January 11, 1953 episode.

His best known postwar role was that of aging millionaire Osgood Fielding III in Some Like It Hot (1959), the comedy directed by Billy Wilder. Fielding falls for Daphne (Jerry), played by Jack Lemmon in drag, and gets to say one of the most celebrated 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 prominent 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 with fellow comedian Buster Keaton in a 1962 episode of Route 66.

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. Later he 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.

In popular culture

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.

Later life, family, and legacy

He had four children: two sons, Don Evan Brown (December 25, 1916 — October 8, 1942, Captain United States Army Air Force, killed during pilot training) and Joe LeRoy "Joe L." Brown (September 1, 1918 — August 15, 2010), and two daughters, Mary Katherine Ann (b. 1930) and Kathryn Francis (b. 1934). Both daughters were adopted as infants.

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. Brown died at his home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California from arteriosclerosis on July 6, 1973. He began having heart problems in 1968 after suffering a severe heart attack and underwent cardiac surgery.

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.

Joe E. Brown has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1680 Vine Street.[7]

Selected filmography

Books published

Death

Brown died in 1973 in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California, three weeks before his 82nd birthday.[8] He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.

References

  1. ^ California Deaths, 1940–1997 Joe E. Brown
  2. ^ The Grave of Joe E. Brown, separate monument and family monument pictured together, separate monument up close, family monument up close (Find a Grave)
  3. ^ Jones, Gerard. Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book. New York: Basic Books, 2004 (ISBN 0465036562), p.80. Also see Moskowitz, Sam Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction, Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Co., 1963 (ISBN 0-88355-130-6), pp.278–295
  4. ^ The Holocaust Chronicle. Publications International Ltd., 2000 (ISBN 0-7853-2963-3), p.162
  5. ^ "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. 
  6. ^ 1948 Tony Award Winners
  7. ^ Hollywood Walk of Fame
  8. ^ "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 81 years old. Mr. Brown was incapacitated by a stroke several years ago, and he had also suffered from severe arthritis." 

External links