Joe E. Brown

Film Comedian and Baseball Buffoon

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About the Book

As a young boy in the depths of the 1890s depression, Joe E. Brown had a job: making faces at the firemen on passing coal-burning trains so they would throw coal at him. As a child he also worked as a circus acrobat and newsboy. His inventiveness and spunk helped his family get through hard times but also fueled his fascination with entertainment, and he built up a repertoire of rubber-faced expressions and funny antics that would make his stage and screen work memorable. Baseball was a favorite pursuit in his life and thus a recurring theme in his films and skits.
In this biography—the first on one of the top film comedians of the 1930s—the reader learns of Joe’s challenging childhood and how it prepared him for later screen roles, and how his love of baseball translated into screen successes. His early career in vaudeville is discussed, his work as a Broadway comedian in the Roaring Twenties, his road to movie stardom, and how he parlayed his love of sports into big hits like 1930’s Elmer the Great. The year 1935 gets its own chapter; its films are considered the pinnacle of Brown’s career, including Alibi Ike, Bright Lights and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The final chapters reveal what happened after he left Warner Bros., including the bittersweet 1940s, when he entertained troops around the globe while mourning a son lost to the war. The book concludes with a comprehensive filmography of his features from 1928 to 1963.

About the Author(s)

Wes D. Gehring is a distinguished professor of film at Ball State University and associate media editor for USA Today magazine, for which he also writes the column “Reel World.” He is the author of 36 film-related books, including award-winning biographies of James Dean, Carole Lombard, Steve McQueen, Robert Wise, Red Skelton and Charlie Chaplin.

Bibliographic Details

Wes D. Gehring
Foreword by Conrad Lane
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 228
Bibliographic Info: 36 photos, filmography, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2006
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2589-1
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8351-8
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword by Conrad Lane      1

Preface and Acknowledgments      3

1. “It Takes Guts to Be a Kinker [Acrobat]”      7

2. Acrobat to Actor … But Ever the Athlete      18

3. A Solo Stage Star      29

4. Making It in the Movies      38

5. Top Speed—More Than a Film Title      53

6. Lardner & Brown and the National Game      67

7. Between the Baseball Pictures: 1932–34      86

8. Brown’s Memorable 1935      107

9. Before the Fall      125

10. Creative Free Fall and the Children’s Advocate      134

11. “G. I. Joe” for Your Kids and Mine      147

12. The Last Act      162

Afterword      177

Joe E. Brown Filmography      183

Chapter Notes      191

Bibliography      205

Index      217

Book Reviews & Awards

“Gehring remains supreme in film comedy scholarship”—Choice; “fascinating”—Sports Collectors Digest; “the first biography of the comedian…worthwhile”—The Slide Area.