IIJOE E. BROWN aka JOSEPH EVAN BROWN 1891-1973
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Orson Pratt Brown's Unconfirmed Relative
Joseph Evan Brown aka Joe E. Brown
"We Laugh to Win"
It has been generally rumored in the Captain James Brown Family that we are related to the well-know comic actor Joe E. Brown. Since this website's purpose is to dispell myths and find stories of our relatives we have included Joe's biography. Brown Family researcher Erold C. Wiscombe thinks it is a remote chance that the Captain's Brown's are related to Joe E. Brown from the area of Toledo, Ohio, but we are not discounting the relationship entirely until we have researched the possiblility, or lack thereof, more thoroughly.
In his biography, Joe E. Brown remembers that while he was growing up his family was very poor and sometimes hungry. His father was a housepainter, which apparently was not a good thing to be in the Ohio winter. Joe remembers eating lard sandwiches sprinkled with a little salt, or, as a rare treat, sprinkled with a little brown sugar.
"Joe happily claimed that he was the only youngster in show business who ran way from home to join the circus with the blessings of his parents. In 1902, the 10-year-old Brown was first hired by William "Billy" Ashe and joined a circus tumbling act called the Five Marvellous Ashtons, which toured various circuses and vaudeville theaters. Joe remembers he was often abused and beaten by the men he worked for, but he seems to be very forgiving of these men.
In the summer of 1952, Joe was given a birthday cake at a Rotary Club luncheon in Toledo. He knew that Billy Ashe was in a nursing home and not doing well, so Joe decided to take the cake to him. Joe wrote, "I loved Billy despite all the things he did to me and I learned a lot from him. He was a foster father to me during my formative years. And if there is a key to my success it is in the lessons he taught me - stubborn persistence in the face of defeat and enjoyment in a job well done."
Joe would later begin adding comedy bits into his burlesque and vaudeville act and adding physical comedy more as it became popular.
Joe married Kathryn M. Francis (1892-1977) in 1915 and they were married for over fifty-eight years. They had a son, Don Evan Brown (1916-1942) who was killed during pilot training during World War II. Another son, Joe L. Brown became manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1955. The couple adopted another son, Mitchell "Mike" Frankovich
In 1920, Joe debuted on Broadway in an all-star review called "Jim Jam Jems", also in "Captain Jinks", and "Twinkle, Twinkle." As he developed skits and comedy routines throughout the twenties, he built up his confidence and his popularity soared. The same could not be said for his debut in movies. Hired for a non-comedy role in 'The Circus Kid (1928)', he played a lion tamer whose fate is death. He would not register with the public until he signed with Warner Brothers in 1929 to do comedy roles in the film adaptions of Broadway shows such as 'Sally (1929)' and 'Top Speed (1930)'. His athletic prowess was demonstrated in 'Fireman, Save My Child' (1932). Brown alternated between playing naive young men who made good despite impossible odds, or brash braggarts who had to be taken down a peg or two. Joe would be well remembered for his loud drawn-out yell, facial contortions, his infectious grin and his cavernous, satchel mouth.
Since many of his films revolved around sports, Joe's natural athletic ability combined with the physical comedy made them hits. In 'Local Boy Makes Good (1931)', Joe would play a botanist who becomes a track star. As he had briefly played semipro baseball, he was a natural for films like 'Fireman Save My Child' (1932), where he played the pitcher who was also a fireman. Also, 'You Said a Mouthful' (1932). Two of his biggest hits would involve the game of baseball, 'Elmer the Great (1933)' and 'Alibi Ike (1935)'. Personally selected by Max Reinhardt to play Flute in the lavish adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer's Night Dream" (1935) Brown easily stole the show from the formidable competition of James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Victor Jory, and Mickey Rooney
In his contract with Warners, he had written that he would have his own baseball team at the studio to play when he was able. He played semi-professional baseball with the National Vaudeville Artists team and served as part owner of the minor league Kansas City Blues in the 1950's. During his Warner years, Brown and his wife began sponsoring promising college athletes; among Joe's proteges were UCLA football star Mike Frankovich, and Olympic contestant and future politician Ralph Metcalfe.
Joe was one of the Ten Top money-making stars for 1933 and 1936. At the height of his stardom, Joe marketed the Joe E. Brown Bike Club, issued by Quaker Oats in 1934. The club offered premiums, including the Joe E. Brown's Funny Bike Book to youngsters. The book included photos of a smiling, bike-riding Joe in comical outfits. Joe went on to promote several newspaper and radio show clubs and premiums such as Post Cereal's Joe E. Brown Club in 1936 and the Joe E. Brown Show premiums offered by Post Toasties in 1938-1939.
In 1937, Joe left Warners to make films for David Loew, and it would be a disaster. Most of the films would be cheaply and poorly made and only a few were successful. Two of the betters ones were 'Riding on Air' (1937), and 'The Gladiator (1938)'. With Loew, his popularity fell and by the end of the decade, he was working in 'B' material. With the advent of World War II, Joe worked tirelessly to entertain the troops while his film career floundered. Their enthusiastic response enabled Joe to overcome the death of his son, Captain Donald Brown, on a training flight.
In 1947, Joe was back in the biz and back on the stage in a road company of the comedy "Harvey". His first movie in three years would be as a small town minister in the drama 'The Tender Years (1947)'. His good performance on stage in 'Show Boat' as Captain Andy earned him a role in MGM's big screen version of 'Show Boat' (1951), where he played Captain Hawks. When his film career was almost non-existent, Joe worked on radio and in television. He starred, as the clown, in the drama "Buick Circus Hour" from 1952-53 and would make guest appearances on a number of shows in the 50's and early 60's. After a few small movie roles in the fifties he would be discovered by a new generation as the millionaire Osgood Fielding III in the classic Billy Wilder's 'Some Like It Hot (1959)'." As Fielding III, upon discovering that the "woman" he had been dating was actually a man (Jack Lemmon), he uttered the film's classic punchline, "Well, nobody's perfect."
Joe E. Brown was also well-know for his funny quips. He once said, "You can lead a horse to water, but if you can get him to lay down on his back and float in it, then you have something." Zowie!!
Joe E. Brown was loved by children. Perhaps as a result of keeping his comedy clean and physical comedy important. He received a letter from a woman who told him she had taken her six year old child to see one of his movies. After the movie the child asked his mother, "Mommy, when Joe E. Brown dies, will he go to heaven?" His mother replied, "Why, of course, darling." "Golly, Mommy, won't God laugh!"
Joe E. Brown wrote his autobiography, "Laughter is a Wonderful Thing" as told to Ralph Hancock, New York, A.S. Barnes and Co., 1956. 308 pages, many with photographs.
Joe E. Brown died after a long illness in his Brentwood,CA. home. He was interred at the Forest Lawn, Glendale, CA Cemetery on the Sunrise Slope, south of the Great Mausoleum.
PAF - Archer files
www.imdb.com/name/nm0113873/bio - mini-biography by Tony Fontana
http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/`bruceb/Pages 5.html by David Bruce
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