Gus Schilling: From Minsky’s to the Mercury Theatre

Augustus “Gus” Schilling (1908-1957) was a burlesque and Broadway comic who became a beloved Hollywood bit player and star of comedy shorts. A son of New York’s German-American community, Schilling had a Nervous Nellie face and demeanor that served him well in sketches on Minsky’s burlesque circuit in the 1920s and ’30s. His wife, burlesque dancer Betty Rowland is, as near as I can tell, still with us at age 103! Schilling also appeared in the Broadway shows Hold Everything (1928-1929) and Flying High (1930-31), where he understudied Bert Lahr, The Vanderbilt Revue (1930), where he understudied Joe Penner, and an out-of-town edition of Earl Carroll’s Vanities.

In the late ’30s, Orson Welles became a fan and cast him in various radio shows, his live touring production of Five Kings (1939), and in the films Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Lady from Shanghai (1947), MacBeth (1948), and Touch of Evil (1958). From 1945-1950, he starred in his own series of Columbia comedy shorts with Richard Lane. He also appears in such comedy classics as Mexican Spitfire Out West (1940), Olsen and Johnson’s Hellzapoppin (1941), and Chatterbox (1943) with Joe E. Brown, along with several dozen other film credits.

Schilling died of a heart attack at the young age of 48 — I guess he had a right to be nervous!

To learn more about vaudeville and burlesque please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy film, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.