Grave Spotlight

Joe E. Brown

(July 28, 1891 - July 6, 1973)

March 4, 2010 -- Wide-mouthed comedian Joe E. Brown’s film career spanned nearly 40 years, but he is probably best remembered for one of his last roles, as Osgood Fielding III, the millionaire who pursues Jack Lemmon in drag in “Some Like It Hot” (1959).

Brown is buried at Forest Lawn Glendale, in the Sunrise Slope Section, his grave marked by a large memorial near the Great Mausoleum featuring a classical statue of a father and mother and their three young children, with the youngest child perched happily on the father’s shoulder.

In 1902, the 10-year-old Brown left home -- with the blessing of his parents -- and joined the circus. Brown became part of a tumbling act called “The Five Marvelous Ashtons,” touring the country and performing with circuses and in vaudeville theaters. Brown added comedy to the act, and he became a popular burlesque and Broadway performer in the early 1920s. Despite his talent as a comedian, Brown’s film debut in “The Circus Kid” (1928) featured him in a serious role as a lion tamer. He also starred in “On With the Show” (1929), the first full-length sound film produced entirely in color.

Brown had more success with his early comedies and musicals, including “Sally” (1929), “Hold Everything” (1930), “Maybe It’s Love” (1930), “Song of the West” (1930), “Top Speed” (1930) and “The Tenderfoot” (1932). A former semi-professional baseball player, Brown was able to show off his athletic talents in “Fireman, Save My Child” (1932), “Elmer the Great” (1933) and “Alibi Ike” (1935), his trio of baseball films. In his contract with Warner Bros. studios, Brown insisted on a clause that would allow him to organize a baseball team at the studio, and he would play whenever he had the chance.

He was also one of the few comedians to play Shakespeare, appearing as "Flute" in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935), which starred Olivia de Havilland, Dick Powell, Ross Alexander, James Cagney and Mickey Rooney, and was the first Shakespeare adaptation to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Picture.

Known for his rubbery face, large mouth, infectious grin and ear-splitting yell, Brown was among the highest-paid actors in the mid-1930s. After Brown left Warner Bros. in 1937, he appeared in a long string of low-budget, relatively unsuccessful comedies. Following the death of his son in the crash of a military training plane in 1942, Brown announced his retirement from films, and focused his energy on entertaining U.S. troops around the world.

Inspired by the response he received from the troops, Brown returned to films with a serious role as a small-town minister in “The Tender Years” (1947). His next film role was as Cap’n Andy Hawks in “Show Boat” (1951). Brown appeared often on radio and television throughout the 1950s, and capped his career with one of his most memorable and popular roles as Osgood Fielding III, the millionaire who pursues Jack Lemmon in “Some Like It Hot” (1959).

In the final scene of the film, Brown and Lemmon -- dressed as “Daphne” -- take off in Brown’s speedboat, with plans to get married. Lemmon tries to explain to Brown why he wouldn’t make a good wife, but Brown won’t be deterred.

Finally, Lemmon pulls off his wig and announces, “I’m a man!”

“Well,” replies the nonplussed Brown, “nobody’s perfect.”

Brown also made a brief appearance in "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (1963), and as the cemetery keeper in "The Comedy of Terrors" (1963), which featured horror film legends Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.

The memorial where Brown is buried was originally built for Brown’s son, Army Capt. Don Evan Brown (1916-1942), a U.S. Army Air Force squadron commander who was killed on Oct. 8, 1942, when his military plane crashed while on a training flight about 10 miles north of Palm Springs, Calif.

Brown is buried with his wife, Kathryn M. Brown (1892-1977), whom he married in 1915. Also buried in the memorial are the Browns’ adopted son, producer and studio executive Mitchell J. “Mike” Frankovich (1909-1992), and his wife, actress Binnie Barnes Frankovich (1903-1998). In the center of the memorial, just below the statue, is a small plaque that appears to be a family crest. In the center of the plaque is the mask of a clown, with “The Joe E. Browns” written across the top, and “We Laugh to Win” written across the bottom.

In his biography, “Laughter is a Wonderful Thing,” Brown wrote that he was born in 1892, and most biographical references for him cite that as his birth date. On the memorial, however, his birth date is listed as 1891.

On his memorial, Brown is remembered as "beloved husband, understanding father and cherished friend. His courage in the face of trouble, his modesty in the rewards of triumph won the love and esteem of people all over the world. His personal integrity and devotion to all people, reflected the love of the saviour into whose hands his life is given."

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