VICTOR BORGE Biography - Musicians


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Name: Victor Borge                                                                         
Born: 3 January 1909                                                                       
Died: 23 December 2000                                                                     
Victor Borge (January 3, 1909 - December 23, 2000) was a Danish-American                   
humorist, entertainer and pianist, affectionately known as the Clown Prince of             
Denmark and the Great Dane.                                                               
Born Borge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark, into a Jewish family. His parents,           
Bernhard and Frederikke Rosenbaum, were both musicians (his father was a                   
violinist in the Royal Danish Chapel, and his mother played piano), Borge took             
up piano like his mother at the age of 3, and it was soon apparent that he was a           
prodigy. He gave his first piano recital when he was 8 years old, and in 1918             
was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, studying             
under Olivo Krause. Later on, he was taught by Victor Schieler, Liszt's student           
Frederic Lamond, and Busoni's pupil Egon Petri.                                           
Borge played his first major concert in 1926 at the Danish concert-hall Odd               
Fellow Paliet (The Odd Fellow Mansion). After a few years as a classical concert           
pianist, he started his now famous "stand up" act, with the signature blend of             
piano music and jokes. He married American Elsie Chilton in 1933, the same year           
he debuted with his revue acts. Borge started touring extensively in Europe,               
where he began telling anti-Nazi jokes. This led to Adolf Hitler placing the               
outspoken Jew on his list of enemies to the Fatherland.                                   
When the Nazis occupied Denmark during World War II, Borge was playing a concert           
in Sweden, and managed to escape to Finland. He traveled to America on the USS             
American Legion, the last passenger ship that made it out of Europe prior to the           
war, and arrived August 28, 1940 with only 20 dollars, three of which went to             
the customs fee. Disguised as a sailor, Borge returned to Denmark once during             
the occupation to visit his dying mother.                                                 
Even though Borge didn't speak a word of English upon arrival, he quickly                 
managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience, learning English by                   
watching movies. He took the name of Victor Borge, and, in 1941, he started on             
Rudy Vallee's radio show, but was hired soon after by Bing Crosby for his Kraft           
Music Hall.                                                                               
From then on, it went quickly for Borge, who won Best New Radio Performer of the           
Year in 1942. Soon after the award, he was offered film roles with stars such as           
Frank Sinatra (in Higher and Higher). While hosting The Victor Borge Show on NBC           
from 1946, he developed many of his trademarks, including repeatedly announcing           
his intent to play a piece but getting "distracted" by something or other,                 
making comments about the audience, or discussing the usefulness of Chopin's               
Minute Waltz as an eggtimer. Or he would start out with some well-known                   
classical piece like Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" op. 27 and suddenly drift             
into a harmonically suitable pop or jazz tune like "Night and Day" (Cole Porter).         
Among Borge's other famous routines is the "Phonetic Punctuation" routine, in             
which he recites a story, with full punctuation (comma, period, exclamation mark,         
etc.) as onomatopoetic sounds. Another is his "Inflationary Language", where he           
incremented numbers embedded in words, whether they are visible or not ("once             
upon a time" becomes "twice upon a time", "marinated" becomes "marinineded", "forehead"   
becomes "fivehead", etc).                                                                 
Borge used physical and visual elements in his live and televised performances.           
He would play a strange-sounding piano tune from sheet music, looking                     
increasingly confused; turning the sheet upside down, he would then play the               
actual tune, flashing a joyful smile of accomplishment to the audience (he had,           
at first, been literally playing the actual tune upside down). When his                   
energetic playing of another song would cause him to fall off the piano bench,             
he would open the seat lid, take out the two ends of an automotive seatbelt, and           
buckle himself onto the bench, "for safety". His musical sidekick in the 1950s,           
Leonid Hambro, was a well-known concert pianist.                                           
He also enjoyed interacting with the audience. Seeing an interested person in             
the front row, he would ask the person, "Do you like piano music?" After an               
affirmative answer, Borge would take the sheet music from his piano and say "Here,"       
and hand it over. Waiting for the laughter to die down, he would say, "That'll             
be $1.95" (Or whatever the current price might be), before bumping up the asked           
price if the audience member could indeed read music.                                     
The footstone of Victor Borge                                                             
Borge appeared on Toast of the Town hosted by Ed Sullivan several times during             
1948, and became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America the same           
year. He started the Comedy in Music show on The Golden Theatre in New York City           
on October 2, 1953. Comedy in Music became the longest running one-man show with           
849 performances when it closed on January 21, 1956, which feat placed it in the           
Guinness Book of World Records.                                                           
After divorcing his wife Elsie, he married Sarabel Sanna Scraper in 1953.                 
Continuing his success with several tours and shows, Borge played with some of             
the world's most renowned orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic and                 
London Philharmonic. Always modest, he felt very honored when he was invited to           
conduct the Danish Royal Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Danish Theatre in                 
Copenhagen, Denmark in 1992.                                                               
Borge helped start several trust funds, including the Thanks to Scandinavia Fund,         
which was started in dedication to those who helped the Jews escape the German             
persecution during the war. Borge received Kennedy Center Honors in 1999.                 
The grave of Victor Borge                                                                 
Aside from his musical work, Borge wrote two books, My Favorite Intermissions             
and My Favorite Comedies in Music (with Robert Sherman), and the autobiography             
Smilet er den korteste afstand ("The Smile is the Shortest Distance") with Niels-Jorgen   
Kaiser. Victor Borge continued to tour until his last days, performing up to 60           
times per year when he was 90 years old.                                                   
Borge died in Greenwich, Connecticut, after more than 75 years of entertaining.           
He died peacefully, in his sleep, the day after returning from a concert in               
Denmark and was interred at Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich. A replica of the                 
Danish icon The Little Mermaid sits on a large rock at the gravesite. "It was             
just his time to go," Frederikke Borge said. "He's been missing my mother                 
Victor Borge Hall, located in Scandinavia House in New York City, was named in             
Borge's honor in 2000, as was Victor Borges Plads ("Victor Borge Square") in               
Copenhagen in 2002.                                                                       
He fathered 5 children (who occasionally performed with him) : Sanna, Victor Jr.,         
and Frederikke with Sarabel; Ronald and Janet with Elsie.