Billy Gilbert was an American comedian and actor known for his comic sneeze routines.
Born William Gilbert Barron in Louisville, Kentucky, the child of singers with the Metropolitan Opera, he began working in vaudeville at the age of 12.
Gilbert was spotted by Stan Laurel who was in the audience of Gilbert’s show Sensations of 1929. Laurel went back stage to meet Gilbert and was so impressed by him he introduced him to comedy producer Hal Roach. Gilbert was employed as a gag writer, actor and director, and at the age of 35 he appeared in his first film for the Fox Film Corporation in 1929.
Gilbert broke into comedy short subjects with the Vitaphone studio in 1930. Gilbert’s burly frame and gruff voice made him a good comic villain, and within the year he was working for producer Hal Roach. He appeared in support of Roach’s comedy stars Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, and Our Gang. One of his Laurel and Hardy appearances was the 1932 Academy Award-winning featurette The Music Box. Gilbert generally played blustery tough guys in the Roach comedies, but could play other comic characters, from fey couturiers to pompous radio announcers to roaring drunks. Gilbert’s skill at dialects prompted Roach to give him his own series: big Billy Gilbert teamed with little Billy Bletcher as the Dutch-comic “Schmaltz Brothers.'” in offbeat musical shorts like Rhapsody in Brew. Gilbert also directed these.