As a young boy in the depths of the 1890s depression, Joe E. Brown had a job: making faces at the firemen on passing coal-burning trains so they would throw coal at him. As a child he also worked as a circus acrobat and newsboy. His inventiveness and spunk helped his family get through hard times, but also fuelled his fascination with entertainment and prepared him for a stage and screen career. Joe Evan Brown built up a repertoire of rubber-faced expressions and funny antics that would make his stage and screen work memorable. Baseball was a favourite pursuit in his life and thus a recurring theme in his films and skits. In his personal life he was a family man and humanitarian who forever loved to be in front of an audience. The first chapter introduces Joe's cavernous mouth, his signature howl of dismay and other likeable features that commanded attention on the screen. The reader learns of Joe's challenging childhood and how it prepared him for later screen roles, and how his love of baseball translated into screen successes. Subsequent chapters trace his early career in vaudeville, his work as a Broadway comedian in the ""Roaring Twenties"", his road to movie stardom (which the author calls ""a compendium of ironies""), his life as a top box office star, and how he parlayed his love of sports into big hits like 1930's ""Elmer the Great"". The year 1935 gets its own chapter; its films are considered the pinnacle of Brown's career, including ""Alibi Ike"", ""Bright Lights"" and ""A Midsummer Night's Dream"". Those were such tough acts to follow that anything afterward was called a decline, though Brown had many successful roles after 1935. The final chapters reveal what happened after he left Warner Bros., details his busy life with growing children, and chronicles the bittersweet 1940s in which entertained troops around the globe while mourning a son lost to the war. The last chapter, 'The Last Act,"" rounds up his awards and kudos, his final roles, and his family life. The book concludes with a comprehensive filmography of his features from 1928 to 1963. A foreword is by Conrad Lane, a professor emeritus who remains active as a film essayist and movie history instructor.
Wes D. Gehring is a distinguished professor of film at Ball State University and associate media editor for USA Today magazine, for which he also writes the column "Reel World." He is the author of 36 film-related books, including award-winning biographies of James Dean, Carole Lombard, Steve McQueen, Robert Wise, Red Skelton and Charlie Chaplin.