MILTON BERLE Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Name: Milton Berlinger                                                                   
Born: 12 July 1908 Manhattan, New York, United States                                     
Died: 27 March 2002 Los Angeles, California                                               
Milton Berlinger (July 12, 1908 - March 27, 2002) was an Emmy-winning American           
comedian and actor. As the manic host of NBC's Texaco Star Theater from (1948-1955),     
he was the first major star of television and as such became known as Uncle               
Miltie or Mr. Television to millions during TV's golden age.                             
Born in a five story walkup at 68 West 118th Street in the Morningside Heights           
neighborhood of Manhattan, he chose Milton Berle as his professional name when           
he was 16. His father was Moses Berlinger, a paint and varnish salesman. His             
mother, Sarah (Sadie) Glantz Berlinger, eventually became stagestruck and                 
changed her name to Sandra Berle when Milton became famous.                               
Berle appeared as a child actor in silent films, beginning with The Perils of             
Pauline (1914), filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, with Pearl White. The                     
director told Berle that he would portray a little boy who would be thrown from           
a moving train. In Milton Berle: An Autobiography (1975), he explained, "I was           
scared shitless, even when he went on to tell me that Pauline would save my life.         
Which is exactly what happened, except that at the crucial moment they threw a           
bundle of rags instead of me from the train. I bet there are a lot of comedians           
around today who are sorry about that."                                                   
By Berle's account, he continued to play child roles in other films: Bunny's             
Little Brother (1914) with John Bunny; Tess of the Storm Country (1914) with             
Mary Pickford; Birthright (1920) with Flora Finch; Love's Penalty (1921) with             
Hope Hampton; Divorce Coupons (1922) with Corinne Griffith and the serial Ruth           
of the Range (1923) with Ruth Roland. Berle recalled, "There were even trips out         
to Hollywood--the studios paid--where I got parts in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,         
with Mary Pickford; The Mark of Zorro, with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and Tillie's         
Punctured Romance, with Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Marie Dressler."               
However, Berle's claims to have appeared in many of these films, particularly             
the 1914 Chaplin Keystone comedy Tillie's Punctured Romance, are hotly disputed           
by some, who cite the lack of supporting evidence that Berle even visited the             
West Coast until much later. The newsboy role often claimed by Berle in "Tillie"         
was unquestionably played by resident Keystone child actor Gordon Griffith.               
In 1916, Berle enrolled in the Professional Children's School, and at age 12 he           
made his stage debut in Florodora. After four weeks in Atlantic City, New Jersey,         
the show moved to Broadway. It catapulted him into a comedic career that spanned         
eight decades in nightclubs, Broadway shows, vaudeville, Las Vegas, films,               
television and radio.                                                                     
By the early 1930s, Berle had become a successful stand-up comedian. In 1933 he           
was hired by producer Jack White to star in the theatrical featurette Poppin'             
the Cork, a topical musical comedy concerning the repeal of Prohibition. Berle           
also co-wrote the score for this film, which was released by Educational                 
Berle continued to dabble in songwriting. With Ben Oakland and Milton Drake,             
Berle wrote the title song for the RKO Radio Pictures release Li'l Abner (1940),         
an adaptation of Al Capp's comic strip, featuring Buster Keaton as Lonesome               
Polecat. Berle wrote a Spike Jones B-side, "Leave the Dishes in the Sink, Ma."           
In 1934-36, Berle was heard regularly on The Rudy Vallee Hour, and he got much           
publicity as a regular on The Gillette Original Community Sing, a Sunday night           
comedy-variety program broadcast on CBS from September 6, 1936 to August 29,             
1937. In 1939, he was the host of Stop Me If You've Heard This One with                   
panelists spontaneously finishing jokes sent in by listeners.                             
Three Ring Time, a comedy-variety show sponsored by Ballantine Ale, was followed         
by a 1943 program sponsored by Campbell's Soups. The audience participation show         
Let Yourself Go (1944-45) could best be described as slapstick radio with studio         
audience members acting out long suppressed urges (often directed at host Berle).         
Kiss and Make Up, on CBS in 1946, featured the problems of contestants decided           
by a jury from the studio audience with Berle as the judge. He also made guest           
appearances on many comedy-variety radio programs during the 1930s and 1940s.             
Scripted by Hal Block and Martin Ragaway, The Milton Berle Show brought Berle             
together with Arnold Stang, later a familiar face as Berle's TV sidekick. Others         
in the cast were Pert Kelton, Mary Schipp, Jack Albertson, Arthur Q. Bryan, Ed           
Begley, and announcer Frank Gallop. Sponsored by Philip Morris, it aired on NBC           
from March 11, 1947, until April 13, 1948.                                               
His last radio series was The Texaco Star Theater, which began September 22,             
1948 on ABC and continued until June 15, 1949, with Berle heading the cast of             
Stang, Kelton and Gallop, along with Charles Irving, Kay Armen, and double-talk           
specialist Al Kelly. It employed top comedy writers (Nat Hiken, brothers Danny           
and Neil Simon, Aaron Ruben), and Berle later recalled this series as "the best           
radio show I ever did... a hell of a funny variety show." It served as a                 
springboard for Berle's rise as television's first major star.                           
In 1948, NBC decided to bring Texaco Star Theater from radio to television, with         
Berle as one of the show's four rotating hosts. For the fall season, NBC named           
Berle the permanent host. His highly visual, sometimes outrageous vaudeville             
style proved ideal for the burgeoning new medium. Berle and Texaco owned Tuesday         
nights for the next several years, reaching the number one slot in the Nielsen           
ratings and keeping it, with as much as an 80% share of the recorded viewing             
audience. Berle and the show each won Emmy Awards after the first season. Fewer           
movie tickets were sold on Tuesdays. Some theaters, restaurants and other                 
businesses shut down for the hour or closed for the evening so their customers           
wouldn't miss Berle's antics. Berle's autobiography notes that in Detroit, "an           
investigation took place when the water levels took a drastic drop in the                 
reservoirs on Tuesday nights between 9 and 9:05. It turned out that everyone             
waited until the end of the Texaco Star Theater before going to the bathroom."           
Berle is credited for the huge spike in the sale of TV sets. (Other comedians             
turned this into a punchline: "I sold mine, my uncle sold his...") After Berle's         
show began, set sales more than doubled, reaching two million in 1949. His               
stature as the medium's first superstar earned Berle the sobriquet "Mr.                   
Television." He also earned a slightly more familiar nickname after ending a             
1949 broadcast with a brief ad-libbed remark to children watching the show: "Listen       
to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed."                                                     
Berle asked NBC to switch from live broadcasts to filmed shows, to make possible         
future reruns and residuals, and he was not happy when NBC showed little                 
interest. NBC did consent to make a kinescope of each show -- a reference copy           
filmed directly off of a TV screen.                                                       
He also risked his newfound TV stardom at its zenith to challenge Texaco when             
the sponsor tried to prevent black performers from appearing. In his                     
autobiography, Berle recalled the incident:                                               
Another thing that was a constant anger to me was that I didn't have approval on         
the acts and performers I wanted on the show. I remember clashing with the               
sponsor and the advertising agency and the sponsor over my signing the Four Step         
Brothers for an appearance on the show. The only thing I could figure out was             
that there was an objection to black performers on the show, but I couldn't even         
find out who was objecting. "We just don't like them," I was told, but who the           
hell was "we"? Because I was riding high in 1950, I sent out the word: "If they           
don't go on, I don't go on." At ten minutes of eight--ten minutes before show             
time--I got permission for the Step Brothers to appear. If I broke the color-line         
policy or not, I don't know, but later on I had no trouble booking Bill Robinson         
or Lena Horne."                                                                           
NBC signed him to an exclusive, unprecedented 30-year television contract in             
1951. The problem with Berle's 30-year deal was that NBC could not have realized         
the relatively short lifespan of a comedian on television, compared to radio,             
where some careers had thrived for two decades. In part, this was due to the             
more ephemeral nature of visual comedy (those who don't adapt quickly don't               
survive), and a single television appearance could equal years of exposure on             
the nightclub circuit. It has also been said that Berle had less appeal with             
audiences outside the Borscht Belt as television expanded from big East Coast             
markets to smaller cities. In any event, Berle wore out his welcome on                   
television almost as quickly as he had built it.                                         
Texaco pulled out of sponsorship of the show in 1953. Buick picked it up,                 
prompting a renaming to The Buick-Berle Show, the program's format retooled to           
show the backstage preparations to put on a variety show. Critics generally               
approved the changes, but Berle's ratings continued to fall and Buick pulled out         
after two seasons. By the time the again-renamed Milton Berle Show finished its           
only full season, Berle was already becoming history – though his final season         
was host to two of Elvis Presley's earliest television appearances, April 3,             
1956, & June 5, 1956.                                                                     
NBC finally cancelled the Berle show in June 1956, after the controversy caused           
by Elvis Presley's uninhibited performance of "Hound Dog." Berle later appeared           
in the Kraft Music Hall series, but NBC was finding increasingly fewer showcases         
for its one-time superstar. By 1960, he was reduced to hosting a game show,               
Jackpot Bowling, delivering his quips between the efforts of bowling contestants.         
In Las Vegas, Berle played to packed showrooms at Caesar's Palace, the Sands,             
the Desert Inn and other casino hotels. Berle had appeared at the El Rancho, one         
of the first Vegas hotels, in the late 1940s. In addition to constant club               
appearances, Berle performed on Broadway in Herb Gardner's The Goodbye People in         
He appeared in numerous films, including Always Leave Them Laughing (1949) with           
Virginia Mayo and Bert Lahr; Let's Make Love, with Marilyn Monroe and Yves               
Montand (1960); It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); The Loved One (1965);             
The Oscar (1966); Lepke (1975); Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and             
Driving Me Crazy (1991).                                                                 
Freed in part from the obligations of his NBC contract, Berle was signed in 1966         
to a new, weekly variety series on ABC. The show failed to capture a large               
audience and was cancelled after one season. He later appeared as guest villain           
Louie the Lilac on ABC's Batman series. His other TV guest appearances included           
The Jack Benny Show, Make Room for Daddy, The Lucy Show Here's Lucy, The Big             
Valley, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Muppet Show, What's My Line?, Get Smart, I           
Dream of Jeannie, I've Got a Secret, The Mod Squad, Ironside, Mannix, McCloud,           
The Love Boat, CHiPs, Fame, Fantasy Island, Gimme a Break, Diff'rent Strokes,             
Matlock, Murder, She Wrote, Beverly Hills 90210, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,             
The Nanny, Roseanne and Sister, Sister.                                                   
Like his contemporary Jackie Gleason, Berle proved a solid dramatic actor and             
was acclaimed for several such performances, most notably his lead role in "Doyle         
Against The House" on The Dick Powell Show in 1961, a role for which he later             
received an Emmy nomination. He also played the part of a blind survivor of an           
airplane crash in Seven in Darkness, the first in ABC's popular Movie of the             
Week series, and was often seen on The Hollywood Palace variety show on ABC.             
During this period, Berle was named to the Guinness Book of World Records for             
the greatest number of charity performances made by a show-business performer.           
Unlike the high-profile shows done by Bob Hope to entertain the troops, Berle             
did more shows, over a period of 50 years, on a lower-profile basis. Berle               
received an award for entertaining at stateside military bases in World War I as         
a child performer, in addition to traveling to foreign bases in World War II and         
Vietnam. The first charity telethon (for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund) was               
hosted by Berle in 1949. A permanent fixture at charity benefits in the                   
Hollywood area, he was instrumental in raising millions for charitable causes.           
On April 14, 1979, Berle guest-hosted Saturday Night Live. Perhaps the comedian           
saw this as a chance to revisit his live-TV "Texaco Star Theater" glories of             
three decades before. Whatever his intention, he seemed to spend as much time             
trying to upstage the show's youthful cast members as he did trying to work with         
or complement them. Berle's long reputation for taking control of an entire               
television production—whether invited to do so or not—was a cause of stress on       
the set. One of the show's writers, Rosie Shuster, described the rehearsals for           
the Berle SNL show and the telecast as "watching a comedy train accident in slow         
motion on a loop." Upstaging, camera mugging, inserting old comedy bits, and             
climaxing the show with a maudlin performance of "September Song." complete with         
pre-arranged standing ovation (something producer Lorne Michaels had never               
sanctioned), resulted in Berle being banned from the show. In the weeks that             
followed, Berle's household in Beverly Hills received rambling, stoned phone             
calls from John Belushi, loudly proclaiming that Berle was the greatest comedian         
in history.                                                                               
Another well-known incident of upstaging occurred during the 1982 Emmy Awards,           
when Berle and Martha Raye were the presenters of the Emmy for Outstanding               
Writing. Berle was reluctant to give up the microphone to the award's recipients,         
from Second City Television, and interrupted actor Joe Flaherty's acceptance             
speech several times. After Flaherty would make a joke, Berle would reply                 
sarcastically "Oh, that's funny." However the kindly, smiling Flaherty's                 
response "Go to sleep, Uncle Miltie" flustered Berle who could only reply with a         
stunned "What...?" SCTV later created a parody sketch of the incident, in which           
Flaherty beats up a Berle look-alike, shouting, "You'll never ruin another               
acceptance speech, Uncle Miltie!"                                                         
One of his most popular performances in his later years was guest starring in             
1993 in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as a womanizing, wise-cracking patient. Most         
of his dialogue was improvised and he shocked the studio audience by mistakenly           
blurting out a curse word.                                                               
Berle appeared in drag in the video for "Round and Round" by the 1980s metal             
band Ratt (his nephew Marshall Berle was then their manager).                             
Berle was again on the receiving end of an onstage jibe at the 1993 MTV Video             
Music Awards where RuPaul notoriously responded to Berle's reference of having           
once worn dresses himself (during his old television days) with the quip that             
Berle now wore diapers. A surprised Berle replied, "Oh, we're going to ad lib? I'll       
check my brain and we'll start even."