|Born||Francis Vaselle Aiello
June 6, 1915
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 7, 1983
Chapman, Kansas, U.S.
Born in Brooklyn with the name Francis Vaselle Aiello, Frankie Burke changed his name to sound more Anglo. He went to P.S. 25 on Lafayette and Throop streets before going on to Alexander Hamilton (vocation) High School, now known as Paul Robeson HS, at 150 Albany Avenue. He grew up watching James Cagney on film in local theaters and, having been told many times how much he resembled him, figured if Cagney could become famous, so could he. Frankie sold newspapers on the street corners before deciding to hitchhike to Hollywood in 1937 to meet Cagney, but when the first attempt failed, he went back to Brooklyn.
This is where he was discovered by a Warner Brothers talent scout, out searching for young men who resembled Cagney for a role in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938). Apparently, the resemblance was so astounding that Frankie was hired on the spot. Frankie went on to do an estimated sixteen more films (a lot of his roles were uncredited) before disappearing altogether after his last role in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941).
After a divorce in the 1940s, Burke returned to Nevada to work and then on to the east coast to stay with family. In the early 1960s, he opted to become a hobo and travel across the United States in freight trains.
Burke died of lung cancer in 1983. He is survived by one son.
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