Joe E. Brown (July 28, 1891 – July 6, 1973) was an actor and comedian, remembered for his amiable screen persona, comic timing, and enormous smile. He was one of the most popular movie and radio comedians in the 1930s and 1940s with successful films like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Earthworm Tractors and Alibi Ike. In his later career Brown starred in Some Like It Hot, in which he speaks the famous punchline “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Brown was elected to The Lambs in 1924 during his Vaudeville days. He later became a Life Member.
Joseph Evans Brown was born on July 28, 1891, in Holgate, Ohio, near Toledo. He spent most of his childhood in Toledo. In 1902, at the age of eleven, 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.
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).
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.
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. He gradually switched to making “B” pictures.
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 U.S., and he later adopted two refugee children. In 1942 Brown’s son, Captain Don E. Brown, was killed when his military plane crashed near Palm Springs, California. During WWII, he spent a great deal of time entertaining troops, spending many nights working and meeting servicemen at the Hollywood Canteen.
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 thousands of miles at his own expense to entertain service members. Brown 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. In 1945 Brown was one of only two civilians to be awarded the Bronze Star, “for meritorious service in entertaining troops in adverse weather and despite a grueling schedule.” The other was journalist Ernie Pyle.
In 1948, he was awarded a special Tony Award for his work in the touring company of Harvey.
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; at the end of the film, Lemmon takes off his wig and reveals to Brown that he is a man, to which Brown responds with “Well, nobody’s perfect”, 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 played on tour.
Brown died from arteriosclerosis on July 6, 1973, at his home in Brentwood, Los Angeles. He began having heart problems in 1968 after suffering a severe heart attack and underwent cardiac surgery.
Brown is interred in Los Angles at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1680 Vine Street. A caricature of Brown by Brother Lamb Senator Ford hangs in the Lambs’ clubhouse.