December 8, 2013

Happy Birthday: Flip Wilson (1933-1998)

On this date in 1933, Flip Wilson was born. He was an African American entertainer and the most visible Black comedian of the early 1970s.

He was born in Jersey City, N.J., the tenth of 24 children. Clerow Wilson (his given name) was a troublesome and troubled child in his youth. His family was extremely poor, he ran away from several reform schools, and was ultimately raised in foster homes. His comedic talents first surfaced while he was serving in the Air Force overseas. While in the Pacific, Wilson entertained his buddies with preposterous routines. Upon his return to civilian life he had to settle for a day job as a bellhop along with part-time showmanship.

Opportunity found him in 1959 when a Miami businessman sponsored him for one year for $50 per week, enabling him to concentrate on the work he loved. For the next five years, Flip Wilson appeared regularly at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The Tonight Show was his next stop. in 1965, he began a series of nationwide appearances, followed by long-term contracts and a number of hit records. With "The Flip Wilson Show" in the early 1970s, he became the first African American to have a weekly prime-time television show under his own name.

I remember watching Flip Wilson when I was a kid. The two catch phrases that stick with me are: "What you see is what you get!" and "The devil made me do it!" Could Tyler Perry have been successful with Madea without Flip Wilson's portrayal of Geraldine?

Wilson died November 25, 1998 at the age of 64. Rest in peace Mr. Wilson!


clnmike said...

Funny timing, I just rented his show on DVD, great stuff.

Villager said...

Mike - Flip Wilson was a very funny man. I remember enjoying his show quite abit back in the day. In retrospect he also had ability to bring in some great guests. I hope you enjoy the DVD...

Ned Hamson said...

When writing articles, as well as blog posts, I sometimes quote the great philosopher F. Wilson and then put his stage name in the footnotes. "What you see is what you get" and the Church of What's Happening Now always made me laugh and forget the problems we all struggle with even if just for a while. As long as we remember him, he is with us p right, Mr Wilson?