Petras Biržys (1896-1970), a popular musician, singer, literary artist, amateur actor and storyteller also known as Pupų Dėdė (Uncle Bean), was a direct opposite to Daniel Dolski’s sophisticated art representing traditions of Slavic and Western European little stage. Biržys was born in Liudiškiai, Anykščiai district. During the WWI he lived in Russia, attended the Lithuanian secondary school in Voronezh. After earning diploma from the School of Commerce in Moscow in 1917, he returned to Lithuania. In 1918, he was a volunteer with the Lithuanian Armed Forces. In 1919, he graduated from the Military School in Kaunas and was appointed senior lieutenant of the infantry in Ukmergė. After stepping back to the military reserve in 1921, he taught at the elementary school in Alovė, led the course of Lithuanian language in Pagėgiai, and taught Lithuanian language and literature at the secondary school in Radviliškis. In 1924-1927, he studied literature and theology at the Lithuanian University. He published his poetry collections Sielos sparnai (Wings of the Soul, 1919) and Karo metu (During the War, 1923), books on Lithuanian regions, a monograph Karininkas Antanas Juozapavičius (The Officer Antanas Juozapavičius, 1923), contributed for various newspapers and magazines.
In 1926, Biržys spent six month travelling in South America, visiting Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. In 1927, he was called back to Lithuanian Armed Forces and served in Kaunas Military Headquarters.
Since the early age, Biržys was a skilful accordion player. He was an exceptionally enthusiastic and artistic personality, thus it is not surprising that his later life was associated with stage. He would give concerts throughout Lithuania earning high esteem before long. In 1927, Biržys was invited to play accordion in Kaunas Radiophone’s live broadcasts. Later he wrote in his memoirs: “I remember, I had to climb Vytautas hill lugging my accordion, and all that without remuneration…The Radiophone was quite small, had only few dozens of listeners and no funds. But we would hasten to climb the hill in order to release the Lithuanian word, song or music into the world via radio waves.”
In 1928-1937, Biržys recorded 26 LPs featuring his playing, singing and storytelling (in Riga, New York, Berlin and London). In 1929, he spent half-a-year in the USA, where he performed in Lithuanian communities together with Antanas Vanagaitis and Juozas Olšauskas. After returning to Lithuania, since 1930 he has organised regular radio programmes. The whole village would assemble to some affluent farmer or neighbour to listen to his programmes Kaimo vestuvės (Village Wedding), Radijo bangos iš Pupų Dėdės pastogės (Radio Waves from the Attic of Uncle Bean) and Pupų Dėdės pastogėje (In the Attic of Uncle Bean). The programmes consisted of humorous conversations and songs, reflecting the naïve but reasonable peasants’ outlook on the mundane issues, the local and international events, wittily scoffing at Philistines and political figures of the day. In 1942, he established an entertainment theatre Pupų Dėdės pastogė (Uncle Bean’s Attic) in the old town of Kaunas.
Uncle Bean’s aphorisms, couplets and adages, mocking the vices of state officials and local loungers and their way of life, have been popular to this day. When the Soviets came, he was the first to sing: “Vilnius belongs to us, and we belong to Russians.” During the years of Nazi occupation, Biržys was jailed because his caustic comments pleased neither government.
After the war, in Soviet period, Biržys lived in Vilnius, revived his radio programmes, acted in movies, and toured Lithuania giving concerts. His company involved singer Antanas Šabaniauskas and guitarist Antanas Zabulionis.