Frank Billerbeck was born on September 28, 1926 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a kid he loved nothing more than drawing, and drawing clowns was one of his specialties. Like millions, he was drawn to the poetic pathos epitomized in Emmett Kelly’s sad clown character – this great comic paradox, a funny man forever frowning – and he used to spend a lot of time drawing, cartooning and painting that character. He also loved the famous sad clowns of the silent movies, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton especially, both of whom he got to know. He enjoyed acting onstage and clowning off – and was a serious painter. During World War II, he was stationed in France, and whenever he had the opportunity, would go to Paris to see Buster Keaton and other legends and who performed at the Cirque Medrano. It was while he was still in the army that he fashioned his own Emmett Kelly-inspired tramp costume and make-up, and when the war was over in 1945 he stayed in Paris. Asked why, he said, “The city is beautiful, the language is beautiful, the women are beautiful – why would I leave?” As Billy Beck, he started as a street performer and also a street artist in Paris, doing sketches and painted portraits. Soon he was performing on the stage of the famed Cirque Medrano, which led him to perform at venues and celebrations throughout Paris for the next 15 years. But his love of cinema created in him a yearning to go to Hollywood and act in movies. In Hollywood, though he never intended to be a TV actor, he was steadily employed as an actor, appearing in every kind of show TV created, as well as soon landing his first big film role, that of Office DuPont in Irma La Douce (1963), which starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. He appeared in films and on TV for over five decades. Among them he appeared in one Euro-western as the petrified man in 1993’s “Silent Tongue” starring the late River Phoenix.
BECK, Billy (aka Bill Beck) (Frank Billerbeck) [9/28/1926, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. - 6/29/2011, Silver Lake, California, U.S.A.] – clown, painter.
Silent Tongue - 1993 (petrified man)