“Big” Billy Gilbert (Billy Gilbert # 1)

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Tip of the hat to the great character comedian Billy Gilbert ( William Gilbert Barron, 1894-1971). We call him “Billy Gilbert #1” to distinguish him from the the silent movie comedian of the same name. This Billy Gilbert, as if you didn’t know was a very large, often mustachioed man who specialized in playing comic foils and foreigners. And also sneezing.

Gilbert’s parents were singers in New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company. He began performing himself in vaudeville starting around 1906. Gilbert was brought to pictures by none other than Stan Laurel, who saw him in a revue called Sensations of 1929. Gilbert started working in comedy shorts for Hal Roach, Vitaphone, RKO, Columbia and others. Among the famous shorts he appears in are the much cherished The Happy Hottentots (1930), one of the only appearances of Joe Frisco on film; Laurel and Hardy classics like The Music BoxThe Chimp, County Hospital and Towed in a Hole (all 1932) and Them Thar Hills (1934), and Three Stooges shorts like Men in Black (1934). He also starred and co-starred in his own shorts in the early 30s.

He also got scene-stealing turns in features, including the all-star Million Dollar Legs (1932), Wheeler and Woolsey’s Cockeyed Cavaliers (1934), the Marx Brothers A Night at the Opera (1935), On the Avenue with the Ritz Brothers (1937), Block-heads with Laurel and Hardy (1938), screwball classics like Destry Rides Again (1939) and His Girl Friday (1940), the melodrama parody The Villain Still Pursued Her (1940) and Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940). He was also the voice of Sneezy in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and the Giant in Mickey and the Beanstalk (1947). From time to time he had small roles in films that weren’t comedies, such as the horror classics Mad Love (1935) and  Todd Browning’s The Devil-Doll (1936).

Gilbert continued to work in film and television until 1962. His penultimate (second to last, wisenheimer) was the mind-blowing Paradise Alley. 

2 comments

  1. Billy Gilbert #3

    Gilbert William Loverich (b 1862, San Francisco, d. 1903, New York City). I don’t know a lot about him besides what was written in his obituary. He went by the name “Billy Gilbert” and was half of a vaudeville comedy duo “Gilbert and Goldie.” His partner was Walter Goldie. I have seen a reference to him in a glowing review from the San Francisco Call, 1898:

    Gilbert and Goldie got one of the most hearty welcomes ever accorded an artist at the Orpheum. They were prime favorites from the start. They have an entirely new line of work. Mr. Gilbert’s impersonation of the Hebrew who was intensely stupid on all matters except the money question was a clever piece of character work, while Mr. Goldie was not one whit behind him in presentment of the oversmart young man.

    “Other Wigwam favorites were… Gilbert & Goldie, who could stay a year at a house and never put on the same specialty twice.” (from a retrospective article on the original Wigwam theater in San Francisco, Vaudeville News, 1921.

    His wife, Mignon (Minnie Gilbert) was also in vaudeville. I have seen references to
    Minnie (or Mignon) Gilbert, lady drummer. I have also seen references to his daughter, Myrtle Loverich in vaudeville: Myrtle Gilbert, widely known soubrette and daughter of Billy Gilbert of “Gilbert & Goldie” (1913).

    Gilbert Loverich was the brother of Cecila Belasco (wife of theatrical producer and playwright David Belasco). Gilbert was also brother of San Francisco theatre owner and manager, Sam Loverich (who was my great grandfather).

    Like

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