A Tribute to Milton Berle
Although Milton Berle, who died in March, 2002 at the age of 93, was known as “Mr. Television” for his pioneering work in TV comedy and variety, he also appeared in over 70 films during his long career, beginning as a baby in the famed silent serial, The Perils of Pauline (1914). He certainly deserves a mention on any classic film site.
Mendel Berlinger was born in New York on July 12, 1908. When he was five years old, he won a vaudeville contest for his imitation of Charlie Chaplin, which led to child roles with silent stars like Mary Pickford, Mabel Normand, Marie Dressler, and Chaplin himself. He first appeared on Broadway in 1920 in The Floradora Girl and toured as a comic on the vaudeville circuit. He headlined with the Ziegfeld Follies in 1936, and had a few film roles in the 30s and 40s. His debut as an adult performer was in New Faces of 1937. He was a frequent guest on various radio shows. However, it wasn’t until he had a chance to be one of the revolving hosts of the Texaco Star Theatre in 1948 that he found his true niche in the entertainment business.
“Uncle Miltie” soon became the most popular star on television. At one point, four out of five TV-owning homes in America were tuned to his show, and he single-handedly proved that a weekly variety show with a single star could be successful. (In fact, in 1928 Berle was actually the first person ever to appear on television, in an experimental broadcast in New York City!) He would pretty much do anything for a laugh, including appearing in full drag on several occasions – not as common an act as it is today. People used to tune in, even purchase TV sets, just to see what outrageous costume he would be wearing at the beginning of the show. In one metropolitan area it was discovered that water levels in the reservoirs took a drastic drop between 9:00 pm and 9:05 pm. That was when the show ended and people finally got a chance to use the bathroom!
The original Texaco Star Theatre, later renamed The Milton Berle Show, ran until 1956. It came back in 1958, and Berle also hosted Phillies Jackpot Bowling until 1961 and guest-hosted The Hollywood Palace from 1964-1970. His most notable film roles included It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) and The Loved One (1965). In past years he has been performing his comedy act in clubs and other smaller venues.
Berle made numerous guest appearances on TV from the 1960s onward, including a few notable dramatic roles that showed a side of him that rarely appeared. He was nominated for an Emmy for a guest appearance on Beverly Hills, 90210 in 1990. He received a lifetime achievement award on the American Comedy Awards in 1996, an Emmy Award as “Outstanding Kinescope Personality” in 1950 (his show was #1 in 1950-51), and a special Emmy in 1979. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, and the illness progressed faster than had been expected. He died on March 27, 2002.
Milton Berle strongly influenced many comedians and comedy shows that came after him. He was an entertainment pioneer, and will be missed by those who remember him in his prime.
Milton Berle Tributes/Pages
Where To Find Or See Milton Berle Films
Milton Berle Photos/Art On The Web