Phil Silvers was a onetime vaudevillian and burlesque comic who became world famous on television as a congenial Army con man named Sgt. Ernie Bilko.
"He loved television," daughter Tracey Silvers said. "Bilko was the biggest thing in his life, but he loved the theater. He loved live audiences. He loved comedy and the response he got from the audience. Television made him an international star, but it was the theater he loved."
Silvers, whose bald pate and black, horn-rimmed glasses became his trademarks, appeared in seven Broadway musicals, his biggest hits being "High Button Shoes" in 1947 and "Top Banana" in 1951. He won a Tony award for the latter show, as well as for his performance "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in 1972.
He also won two Emmys for his Bilko portrayals in the series that began on the CBS network in 1955 as "You'll Never Get Rich" and later became "The Phil Silvers Show." He was also nominated for three other Emmys and another Tony.
He appeared in such Hollywood films as "Hit Parade of 1941," "Tom, Dick and Harry" (1941), "My Gal Sal" and "Footlight Serenade" (both 1942), "Cover Girl" and "Four Jills in a Jeep" (1944) and "40 Pounds of Trouble" and "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (both in 1963).
But Silvers once confided that he felt his movie years were wasted.
"When I did work in pictures," he said, "I always was Blinky, the hero's good friend, who told the girl, usually Betty Grable, in the last reel that he [the hero] really loves her."
When her father died in 1985, Tracey Silvers recalled: "My dad told me comedy is no laughing matter. To be very funny, you have to be very serious about it. I've never forgotten that. He really was a genius. He was funny till the last minute. He always had a joke for every situation. He was a funny guy."