Joe Besser

Joe Besser

Original Name Jerome Besserer
Saint Louis, St. Louis City, Missouri, USA
Death 1 Mar 1988 (aged 80)
North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Burial Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Plot Dedication, L-4404, space 2A
Memorial ID 1554 · View Source
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Actor. He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, and from a very early age knew he wanted a career in show business. His parents, who had immigrated from Poland in 1895, encouraged his love of magic and the theatre. As he would remark later in life, he spent most of his time attending vaudeville shows as opposed to going to elementary school. While still rather young, he worked as a delivery boy for Western Union, a distributor of handbills for the Fox Theatre Council, and a song-plugger for the Waterson, Berlin, and Snyder sheet music store. His love of magic continued, and by the age of thirteen wanted to become a professional magician. For five years he regularly attended the magic shows of Howard Thurston and asked if he could join the act. In 1920, he got tired of being told to wait until he was older for them to talk about the possibility of his joining the act, and stowed away on the train the night Thurston's act left St. Louis for Michigan. The next morning he was discovered sleeping on top of the lion's cage, and after his parents were contacted, he was finally allowed to become a part of the show. In 1923, he parted ways with Thurston and became an assistant to the magician Madame Herman. Six months after that, he became Queenie DeNeenen's prop assistant in her circus tightrope act. By this point he had realized that he wanted a career as a comedian, not a magician, and performed with a number of popular vaudeville acts of the day, such as Alexandria and Olsen. In 1928, while on one of his vaudeville tours, he met Ernestine Dora Kretschmer, an Allan K. Foster dancer who later changed her name to Erna Kay before being nicknamed Ernie. They began dating, and four years later, in 1932, got married. During this time, he was continually gaining more and more popularity, and before long was a headliner on the theatre circuits of Paramount, RKO, the Orpheum, and Loew's. After experiencing much success on Broadway and vaudeville, Besser was signed to a contract with Columbia Studios in 1938, and appeared in both features and short subjects. In addition to his newfound movie career, he continued to perform onstage and also began getting an increasing number of requests to perform on the radio, with such stars as Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Eddie Cantor, and Fred Allen. In 1946 he also began performing on television, on a variety series entitled 'Hour Glass.' He stole the show with his opening military skit, "The Rookie," and got the attention of a great many television producers. Throughout the Fifties he appeared on such programs as 'The Ken Murray Show,' 'Mr. District Attorney,' 'Hollywood House,' 'Saturday Night Revue,' 'The Spike Jones Show,' 'My Little Margie,' 'The Millionaire,' 'The Jack Benny Show,' 'The Martha Raye Show,' and 'The Ray Milland Show.' His best-remembered television appearances came on 'The Abbott and Costello Show,' in which he played a man named Stinky on thirteen episodes. He had previously appeared with Abbott and Costello in their 1949 film 'Africa Screams,' and remained proud of his long association with the duo. He also continued to appear in his own series of comedy shorts for Columbia throughout the Fifties. In 1956, he joined the Three Stooges after the death of Shemp Howard, and appeared in sixteen shorts with them. It is perhaps unfortunate that this period of his career is what many people most remember him for today, for many critics and fans agree that this was not representative of his talents or vast body of work. Additionally, Besser happened to join the group at a time when the studio's budgets were down to almost nothing, television had all but wiped out theatre attendance, and the short subject had become a dying breed forced to live on long past its time, as well as the fact that Besser's own unique style of comedy was at odds with the more physical Stooges. However, Besser always said he greatly enjoyed this short period of his career and never regretted it. In 1958, he left the act to be with his wife, who had just suffered a heart attack. After she had recovered, he continued with his acting career, appearing on many more television programs and in feature films. Starting in 1962 and continuing through 1965, he was a regular on 'The Joey Bishop Show,' which gave a large boost to his already high level of popularity. He appeared on eighty-eight episodes, playing the apartment superintendent Jillson. After his long fruitful association with Joey Bishop ended, he made frequent cameo and character appearances throughout the Sixties and Seventies on television shows such as 'The Danny Thomas Special,' 'That's Life,' 'The Jerry Lewis Show,' 'Love American Style,' 'Batman,' 'My World and Welcome to It,' 'That Girl,' and 'The Bing Crosby Christmas Special.' He also lent his voice to the character Babu on the cartoon series 'Jeannie.' In his spare time after his retirement he enjoyed gardening with his wife, photography, and making toys for children in the neighborhood. He said that in these later years of his life, his biggest joy came from knowing that he still had fans, particularly children, whom he felt were his biggest fans, his best friends, and his best audience.

Bio by: Carrie-Anne

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Added: 31 Dec 2000
  • Find a Grave Memorial 1554
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Joe Besser (12 Aug 1907–1 Mar 1988), Find a Grave Memorial no. 1554, citing Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale), Glendale, Los Angeles County, California, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .