Wheeler, Bert

Bert Wheeler

Albert Jerome “Bert” Wheeler (7 April 1895 – 18 January 1968) was a comedian who performed on Broadway, in Hollywood, on radio, and in Vaudeville. He was the comedy partner of Robert Woolsey (1888-1938), and together they formed a successful double act called Wheeler & Woolsey from 1927-1937. His comedy career stretched five decades.

Wheeler was elected to The Lambs in 1927. He is an Immortal Lamb.

Wheeler was born in Paterson, New Jersey, on 7 April 1895. His mother was only 17 years old when she tragically died. Baby Albert was raised by his father and aunt. When his father remarried, the family moved to New York, and he got involved with show business.

He got his first break with star-marker Gus Edwards, working in several shows, among them The Gingerbread Man and When Dreams Come True. During this show he met his first wife, Margaret Grae, with whom he formed up a successful vaudeville team. He was asked several times to make movies (among them a request by Harold Lloyd), he stayed with Vaudeville. In 1926 they divorced. Wheeler would go on to have four more wives. With his second wife, actress Bernice Speer (Audray Myland), they had one daughter, Patricia Wheeler.

In 1927 he was signed by Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. for his show Rio Rita, where he was teamed with Robert Woolsey, who was also a member of The Lambs. They clicked and formed a comedy team. The pair were so successful, that they were signed by RKO to repeat their stage roles in a movie version. Wheeler & Woolsey were the first comedy team to emerge as stars from sound pictures with their partnership lasting until Woolsey’s death in 1938.

Following Woolsey’s passing, Wheeler struggled to restart his career. Friend and former film costar Dorothy Lee agreed to tour with him in a vaudeville act. He also worked on radio, nightclubs, and regional theater.

In 1950 Wheeler appeared with Jackie Gleason on his TV variety show Cavalcade of Stars. His last theatrical films were two slapstick short films for Columbia Pictures, filmed in 1950 and produced by Jules White. He also kept up a busy schedule of live performances in nightclubs and on the legitimate stage, in such plays as Harvey (in the leading role of Elwood P. Dowd) and Three Wishes for Jamie. In 1955 Wheeler co-starred with Keith Larsen in the CBS Western series Brave Eagle; Wheeler played the “half-breed” Smokey Joe, known for his tall tales and tribal wisdom.

In the 1960s Wheeler teamed with a young member of The Lambs, Tommy Dillon. (Dillon later wen on to become Shepherd for 17 years.) They played Manhattan’s Latin Quarter and other clubs.

Bert Wheeler died of emphysema on 18 January 1968 in New York. He was 72 years old. He is interred in the Catholic Actors Guild of America plot at Calvary Cemetery in Queens.

For his contributions to The Lambs, Bert Wheeler was named an Immortal Lamb.