June 23, 2015
At 8:30 PM on Tuesday, September 20, 1955, CBS broadcast the debut episode of You’ll Never Get Rich, a peacetime Army comedy created by veteran radio and television writer NAT HIKEN (1914–68). Soon renamed The Phil Silvers Show and popularly known as “Sergeant Bilko,” the show revealed Hiken a comic genius of the highest order: W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Preston Sturges. Like Sturges, Hiken loved densely woven scripts; riotous, often subversive satire and wondrously eccentric ensemble casting. It’s notable too that Hiken included black soldiers in Bilko’s platoon and, if underused, they’re never ill-used: they’re simply men like other men. Intellectual history highlight: “Bilko and the Beast,” wherein a sadistic drill sergeant is undone by the Freudian Theory of Inner Regret (as argued by Freud and Spinoza in Budapest). After two seasons of brilliance, Hiken, burnt-out, quit and while the program continued for two more years, mostly quite well, there were also moments of very un-Hiken-like gimmickry. At 8:30 PM on Sunday, September 17, 1961, Hiken was back, this time on NBC, with Car 54, Where Are You?, a show that in two seasons would reveal itself, episode-for-episode, as the greatest sitcom ever made. It was both multi-ethnic and also very Jewish: Molly Picon guests in three episodes; Hiken’s younger brother Gerald plays Katz the Butcher in seven; the voice of Al Lewis, Christ! In “See You At The Bar Mitzvah,” goyishe Officers — and Police Athletic League basketball coaches — Toody and Muldoon help one of their players celebrate the day he’ll become a man, despite his father being “Polcrass the landlord, most hated man in the Bronx.”
THE COURT MARTIAL (original airdate March 6, 1956)
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Anna Akhmatova, Joss Whedon, Alan Turing, June Carter Cash, George Russell.
READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Partisan (1904-13) and New God (1914-23) Generations.