He was educated in the public schools of Cortland and Syracuse, New York, and at a business college.
He began active life with his father in business in Syracuse, but his interest in the theatre led him to New York, where he secured work with the Morning Telegraph, a racing and theatrical daily.
When he lost his job in 1905 because of some adverse criticism he wrote of a variety performance, he immediately borrowed enough money from his father-in-law to start his own paper, a weekly which he named Variety. It started humbly with sixteen pages and a total staff of three, Silverman and two assistants. Incidentally, it was written in correct English.
When its founder died nearly thirty years later it was often issued with 100 pages, had 225 employees, and was almost entirely written in the worst, as well as often the most entertaining and lively English to be found anywhere in print. From 1905 until his death Silverman's story was entirely the story of his paper. He gave his entire time and life to it.
Its success was due to his labors and to the qualities he put into it. It was honest, it kept well abreast of the times, and it was remarkably vivid. Unlike theatrical trade papers which had gone before, Variety never changed an opinion out of consideration for its advertisers or the influence of those whom it criticized, and the editor supported his staff against every outside pressure so well that there was general respect for the paper's opinions and reliance on its statement of facts.
It was first, largely because of Silverman's foresight, in what turned out to be the highly remunerative fields of motion picture and radio reviewing, and made other innovations that were highly successful. Its style, furthermore, came to be one that reflected with curious fidelity the argot of Broadway - its slang, its verbal short cuts, and its "hard-boiled" humor.
Though Silverman meant only to make his paper more effective with his professional readers, more and more people in the outside world bought it, and read and studied it to try the flavor of its odd language, which was often astonishingly effective in its brevity and vividness.
In Variety verbs became nouns and nouns verbs; an actor "vowed" or "panicked" an audience. Its headline on its story of the great financial debacle of 1929 was "Wall St. Lays an Egg"; "Went for a Grand on Dust" meant that the producer had lost $1000 on a play called "Watch my Dust. " Variety became, and remained, a place where philologists could study the popular language in evolution.
In 1922 Silverman bought the old New York Clipper; he published it separately until 1924, when some features were absorbed by Variety, and then sold the name to the Billboard (Cincinnati).
In 1923 he attempted to issue a daily paper of Broadway news, the Times Square Daily, but this soon failed. He did succeed, however, with a daily issue of Variety in Hollywood, California, begun September 6, 1933.
He died in Los Angeles a few weeks later. After his death it was found that he had left fifty-one percent of Variety to his wife and son, and forty-nine percent to his employees, a gift of great value. The act was characteristic.
He tolerated no reporters he did not like, but those he kept found him raising their pay unasked, looking after their investments, and backing them up in all critical controversies. His staff, consequently, had for him unlimited devotion, which they expressed in the same Broadway lingo that he used; the old man was a "swell egg" to them. Though his paper so vividly reflected Broadway, he was not a Broadway playboy. He found his recreation in work and in convivial meetings with his staff late at night after work. He lived simply and left a large estate, with his son well trained for the editorial chair he vacated.
Tall, spare, with white hair in later years, modest to a degree, even shy of any public appearance, but blunt and slangy and "hard-boiled" of speech, he yet possessed a strong strain of sentiment for his paper, for the world of Broadway, and for the men who worked with him.
On March 1, 1898, he married Hattie Freeman, daughter of George Freeman of Syracuse. They had a son.