‘The Phil Silvers Show’: Why Sergeant Bilko Was Named After a Chicago Cub

by Matthew Wilson

For four seasons, Sergeant Bilko entertained audiences on the “The Phil Silvers Show.” But the character is actually a nod to a famous athlete. The conniving sergeant was actually named after a Chicago Cub.

Played by Phil Silvers, Bilko was one of the 1950s premiere conmen. He often used his position at Fort Baxter as part of his schemes. With the help of his fellow soldiers, Bilko dreamed of getting rich. Money definitely was the object of his obsession. But his cons often never worked out the way that Bilko anticipated. So, he would develop another get-rich scheme next week.

Besides the name, the real Bilko was nothing alike. Steve Bilko started his career in the minor leagues playing for the Pacific Coast League. He eventually moved up to the MLB playing for the Chicago Cubs. A double play earned the phrase “Bingo to Bango to Bilko” which became popular at the time.

According to Baseball-Reference, Bilko spent a decade playing in the Major League. The player didn’t stay with the Cubs. He moved around from team to team, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angeles, and Cincinnati Reds.

When it came time to name the character on “The Phil Silvers Show,” Bilko stuck out among the producers. So they made the moniker apart of TV history.

Phil Silvers Laments The Loss of His Show

Unfortunately, Sergeant Bilko and his schemes were only around for a short time relatively. The program quickly became a victim of its own success after four years. Widely popular, the show was cancelled by CBS so it could enter syndication to air on repeat.

“The cancellation of the Bilko show came as a complete surprise to me,” Phil Silvers said. “After five big years on the air it was killed without anyone consulting me. It destroyed my pride. I was startled and hurt by the action, but there was nothing I could do about it. I was always beefing about how tired I was from all the work, but I wanted to retire from the show myself, not have it done for me.

“Still, I can’t complain too much, I owned half the show and gave it up for a considerable sum of money in my children’s names.”

But the adventures of Bilko continue to live on in people’s memories.