American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 26

Joe E. Brown

1892 – 1973


In the 1930s he was a movie box office champ, pulling in more money than the Marx Brothers, Eddie Cantor, W.C. Fields or Wheeler & Woolsey. Women as well as men enjoyed Joe, which may have accounted for the degree of his success. Over the years Brown made dozens of movies, more than most comedians, but he was a success in vaudeville, burlesque, musical comedy and revues as well a light comedy and drama.

He began as a boy acrobat, living a mean existence in the hard knocks show business of circus, carnivals, saloons and vaudeville, yet finding fame if no fortune as the “only acrobat in the world now doing a double body-twist and back somersault in one leap.”

For Joe, the highlight of his life was his tours to the Pacific front lines in WWII. Over a period of nearly three years, while he neglected his stage and screen career, Joe E. Brown traveled 200,000 miles though jungle swamps and forests to bring a few laughs and cheer to those soldiers hunkered down in the fire zones. This record was unequalled until Martha Raye’s later USO tours. Brown was awarded the Bronze Star, one of only two civilians in WWII so honored. The other was Ernie Pyle.