Every Tuesday night from 1948 to 1956, you could find Bone Daddy and his entire family (Pops, Granny, Lil Wally, Runt and BD) sitting in front of their black and white television set with “rabbit ears antenna” watching NBC’s Texaco Star Theatre” with Uncle Miltie, Milton Berle….for an hour of comedy and laughs….for thess were top shelf family times that are still fondly remembered by Bone Daddy. The Texaco Star Theatre was one of the most popular shows in the history of television. In the first year, Milton Berle was not the permanent emcee, but once he replaced the rotation, the show soared to ratings dominance…..while being # 1 in 1950, 1951 and 1952….as NBC dominated Tuesday nights…..when Berle became the first great star of the new medium….and hence was given the moniker of “Mr. Television”. The basic format of the show was modeled after a vaudeville variety hour….while spotlighting Berle’s jokes, sight gags and costumes.
Comedy & Entertainment – 1981 – NBC Special – A Tribute To “Mr. Television” Milton Berle
Milton Berle (born Mendel Berlinger; July 12, 1908 – March 27, 2002) was an American comedian and actor….whose career as an entertainer spanned over 80 years…..when first in silent films and on stage as a child actor….then in radio, movies and television. As the host of NBC’s Texaco Star Theatre from 1948 to 1955……as he was the first major American television star….who was known to millions of viewers as “Uncle Miltie” and “Mr. Television” during the first Golden Age of Television. He was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in both radio and TV.
Comedy – 1978 – NBC Special – George Carlin Honors “Mr. Television” Milton Berle
Milton Berle was born into a Jewish family in a five-story walkup at 68 W. 118th Street in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan…..whose given name was Mendel Berlinger…..but he chose Milton Berle as his professional name when he was 16. His father, Moses Berlinger (1873–1938), was a paint and varnish salesman….but his mother, Sarah (Sadie) Glantz Berlinger (1877–1954) changed her name to Sandra Berle when Milton became famous. He had three older brothers Phil, Frank and Jack Berle. For many years, the latter two worked as Berle’s TV production staff members….while Phil Berle was a program executive at NBC.
Comedy – 1966 – The Milton Berle Show – With Henny Youngman Heckling Uncle Miltie
Berle entered show business in 1913 at the age of five….when he won a children’s Charlie Chaplin contest….after which he appeared as a child actor in silent films….when he claimed The Perils of Pauline as his 1st film appearance….while playing the character of a young boy….albeit this has never been independently verified. In Milton Berle: An Autobiography, he explained that the director told him that he would portray a little boy who would be thrown from a moving train….to which he said, “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.”
Comedy – 1990 – Special – Bob Hope + Milton Berle + Danny Thomas Reminisce About The Early Days Of Television
By Berle’s account, he continued to play child roles in other films such as Bunny’s Little Brother, Tess of the Storm Country, Birthright, Love’s Penalty, Divorce Coupons and Ruth of the Range….as Berle recalled, “There were even trips out to Hollywood….which the studios paid for….where I got parts in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm with Mary Pickford….he Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr…..and Tillie’s Punctured Romance with Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Marie Dressler.” However, Berle’s claim to have appeared in Tillie’s Punctured Romance has been disputed by film historians, among them Glenn Mitchell, who in his book, The Chaplin Encyclopedia, writes that Berle’s alleged role was most likely played by child actor Gordon Griffith. Then in 1916, Berle enrolled in the Professional Children’s School.
Comedy – 1996 – Foundation Interviews Of Emmy TV Legends – With Milton Berle Telling An Elvis Presley Story
Around 1920, at age 12, Berle made his stage debut in a revival of the musical comedy Florodora in Atlantic City, New Jersey….which later moved to Broadway….and by the time he was 16, he was working as a Master of Ceremonies in Vaudeville. In 1932, he starred in Earl Carrol’s “Vanities” …..which was a Broadway Musical. By the early 1930’s he was a successful stand-up comedian, patterning himself after one of Vaudeville’s top comics, Ted Healy.
Comedy – 1952 – Texaco Star Theatre With Milton Berle Comedy Skit – Featuring Basil Rathbone
In 1933, he was hired by producer Jack White to star in the theatrical featurette Poppin’ the Cork…..which was a topical musical comedy concerning the repealing of Prohibition….as Berle also co-wrote the score for this film….which was released by Educational Pictures. Berle continued to dabble in songwriting….then with Ben Oakland and Milton Drake, Berle wrote the title song for the RKO Radio Pictures release Li’l Abner in 1940…. which was an adaptation of Al Capp’s comic strip, featuring Buster Keaton as Lonesome Polecat….plus Berle wrote a Spike Jones B-side, “Leave the Dishes in the Sink, Ma.”
Comedy – 1965 – The Muppet Show – With Milton Berle And Fozzy Bear Performing “Top Banana”
From 1934 to 1936, Berle appeared regularly on The Rudy Vallee Hour….plus he attracted publicity as a regular on The Gillette Original Community Sing….which was 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.
Comedy – 1959 – The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour – “Uncle Miltie Is Auntie Mildred”
In the late 1940’s, he canceled well-paying nightclub appearances to expand his radio career. Three Ring Time….which was a comedy-variety show sponsored by Ballantine Ale….and was followed by a 1943 program sponsored by Campbell’s Soups. The audience participation show Let Yourself Go from 1944 to 1945 could best be described as “slapstick radio” ….with studio audience members acting out long suppressed urges…..as 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. Berle also made guest appearances on many comedy-variety radio programs during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Scripted by Hal Block and Martin Ragaway, The Milton Berle Show brought Berle together with Arnold Stang….who was later a familiar face as Berle’s TV sidekick…..with others in the cast being Pert Kelton, Mary Schipp, Jack Albertson, Arthur Q. Bryan, Ed Begley, Brazilian singer Dick Farney and announcer Frank Gallop. Sponsored by Philip Morris, it aired on NBC from March 11, 1947 until April 13, 1948….which Berle later described as “the best radio show I ever did … a hell of a funny variety show”…..as it served as a springboard for Berle’s emergence as television’s first major star.
Comedy & Music – 1956 – The Milton Berle Show With Elvis Presley Singing “Hound Dog”
Berle first appeared on television in 1929 in an experimental broadcast in Chicago which he hosted in front of 129 people. He would return to television 20 years later, becoming the first major American television star…. when he would revive the structure and routines of his vaudeville act for his debut on commercial TV….while hosting The Texaco Star Theatre on June 8, 1948 over the NBC Television Network….who did not settle on Berle as the permanent host right away….as he was originally part of a rotation of hosts ….as Berle had only a four-week contract. Comedian Jack Carter was host for August. Berle was named the permanent host that fall….when Berle’s highly visual style, characterized by vaudeville slapstick and outlandish costumes, proved ideal for the new medium. Berle modeled the show’s structure and skits directly from his vaudeville shows….while hiring writer Hal Collins to revive his old routines.
Comedy & Entertainment – 1971 – The Dick Cavett Show – With Guests Milton Berle + Dinah Shore + Tuesday Wells
Milton Berle dominated Tuesday night television for the next several years ….while reaching the # 1 slot in the Nielsen ratings with as much as a 97% share of the viewing audience…..as Berle and the show each won Emmy Awards after the first season…..while the fact was that fewer movie tickets were sold on Tuesdays do to the popularity of his show. Some theaters, restaurants, and other businesses shut down for the hour or closed for the evening so their customers would not 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 Theatre before going to the bathroom.” Television set sales more than doubled after Texaco Star Theatre‘s debut….while reaching two million in 1949…..as Berle’s stature as the medium’s first superstar earned him the sobriquet “Mr. Television”. He also earned another 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.” Francis Craig and Kermit Goell’s Near You became the theme song that closed Berle’s TV shows.
Comedy – 1948 To 1956 – The Milton Berle Show Special – “The 2nd Time Around” – Highlights Of The Show’s Tenure On Television
Berle risked his newfound TV stardom at its zenith to challenge Texaco when the sponsor tried to prevent black performers from appearing on his show admitting “I remember clashing with 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, just before showtime, 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.”
Music – 1962 – NBC Milton Berle Special – With Lena Horne Singing “Ouch, You’re Steppin’ On My Pouch” + “Some People”
Berle’s mother Sadie was often in the audience for his broadcasts….for she had long served as a “plant” to encourage laughter from his stage show audiences….with her unique, “piercing, roof-shaking laugh”….which would stand out, especially when Berle made an entrance in an outrageous costume….when after feigning surprise he would “ad lib” a response along the lines of “Lady, you’ve got all night to make a fool of yourself. I’ve only got an hour!”
Comedy & Entertainment – 1956 – Milton Berle: This Is Your Life – With Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis + Phil Silvers + Lilian Roth
Berle asked NBC to switch from live broadcasts to film….which would have made possible reruns….and residual income from them….as he was angered when the network refused…..however, NBC did consent to make a kinescope of each show. Later, Berle was offered 25% ownership of the TelePrompTer Corporation by its inventor, Irving Berlin Kahn, if he would replace cue cards with the eponymous new device on his program….but he turned the offer down. A frequent user of tranquilizers, Berle frequently endorsed the product Miltown on his show…..and became one of the main figureheads promoting the drug in 1950’s in America. Due to his promotion of the drug, Berle was dubbed “Uncle Miltown” by Time magazine.
Comedy – 1974 – The Johnny Carson Show – With Guest Milton Berle
At one million dollars a year, NBC signed him to an exclusive, unprecedented 30-year television contract in 1951….then in 1953, Texaco pulled out of sponsorship of the show….and Buick picked it up….thus prompting a renaming to The Buick-Berle Show….and the program’s format was changed to show the backstage preparations to put on a variety show…..as critics generally approved of the changes….but Berle’s ratings continued to fall…. and Buick pulled out after two seasons. In addition, Berle’s persona had shifted from the impetuous and aggressive style of the Texaco Star Theater days to a more cultivated, but less distinctive personality….thus leaving many fans somehow unsatisfied…..and by the time the again renamed Milton Berle Show finished its only full season in 1955–56…..Mr. Television was already becoming history….albeit his final season was host to two of Elvis Presley’s earliest television appearances on April 3 and June 5, 1956. The final straw during that last season may have come from CBS scheduling The Phil Silvers Show opposite Berle…..as Silvers was one of Berle’s best friends in show business….which had come to CBS’s attention in an appearance on Berle’s program….plus Bilko’s creator-producer, Nat Hiken, had been one of Berle’s radio writers.
Comedy & Mime – 1959 – Kraft Music Hall Special – With Milton Berle & Harpo Marx
Berle knew that NBC had already decided to cancel his show before Presley appeared. Berle later appeared in the Kraft Music Hall series from 1958 to 1959, but NBC was finding increasingly fewer showcases for its one-time superstar. By 1960, he was reduced to hosting a bowling program, Jackpot Bowling, delivering his quips and interviewing celebrities between the efforts of that week’s bowling contestants.
Comedy & Bowling – 1961 – Jackpot Bowling – Milton Berle With Diana Dors
In Las Vegas, Berle played to packed showrooms at Caesars 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 1940’s. In addition to constant club appearances, Berle performed on Broadway in Herb Gardner’s The Goodbye People in 1968. He also became a commercial spokesman for the thriving Lum’s restaurant chain.
TV Ads – 1976 – Milton Berle For Lum’s Restaurants
TV Ads – 1975 – Milton Berle For Lum’s Restaurant Hamburgers
He appeared in numerous films, including Always Leave Them Laughing with Virginia Mayo and Bert Lahr…..Let’s Make Love with Marilyn Monroe and Yves Montand….It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World….The Loved One….The Oscar….Who’s Minding the Mint?….Lepke….Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose….and Driving Me Crazy.
Comedy – 1948 To 1956 – Timeless Television Special – The Best Of The Milton Berle Show – Part 1
Freed in part from the obligations of his NBC contract….that’s when Berle was signed in 1966 to a new, weekly variety series on ABC…..but 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. Other guest appearances included stints on The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Lucy Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Get Smart, Laugh-In, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Hollywood Palace, Ironside, F Troop, Fantasy Island, I Dream of Jeannie, CHiPs, The Muppet Show and The Jack Benny Program.
Comedy – 1966 – The Milton Berle Show – With Guest Bob Hope
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….which was a role for which he received an Emmy nomination. He also played the part of a blind survivor of an airplane crash in Seven in Darkness….which was the first in ABC’s Movie of the Week series. He also played a dramatic role as a talent agent in The Oscar in 1966…..and was one of the few actors in that movie to get good notices from critics.
Comedy – 1988 – The Johnny Carson Show – With Guest Milton Berle
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….as he received an award for entertaining at stateside military bases in World War I as a child performer….in addition to traveling to foreign bases during World War II and the Vietnam War. The first charity telethon for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation 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.
Comedy – 1956 – The Milton Berle Show – Live From The Flight Deck Of The Aircraft Carrier The USS Hancock
On April 14, 1979, Berle guest-hosted NBC’s Saturday Night Live….as 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, doing spit-takes, inserting old comedy bits….and climaxing the show with a maudlin performance of “September Song” complete with a pre-arranged standing ovation….which was something producer Lorne Michaels had never sanctioned….resulted in Berle being banned from hosting the show again…..as the episode was also barred from being rerun until surfacing in 2003, because Michaels thought it brought down the show’s reputation.
Music – 1955 – Texaco Star Theatre With Milton Berle & Bill Haley + The Comets – “Rock Around The Clock“
As a guest star on The Muppet Show, Berle was memorably upstaged by the heckling theatre critics Statler and Waldorf….when the Statler and Waldorf puppets were inspired by a character named Sidney Spritzer, played by comedian Irving Benson, who regularly heckled Berle from a box seat during episodes of the 1960’s ABC series. Milton Berle also made a cameo appearance in The Muppet Movie as a used car dealer….while taking Fozzie Bear’s 1951 Studebaker in trade for a station wagon.
Comedy – 1963 – The Muppet Show – With Guest Milton Berle And Statler & Waldorf
In 1974, Berle had a minor altercation with younger actor/comedian Richard Pryor when both appeared as guests on The Mike Douglas Show. At the time, Berle was discussing the emotional fallout from an experience he had with impregnating a woman he was not married to….while having to decide whether or not they would keep the child….and during his talk, Pryor let out a laugh, to which Berle took exception and confronted him, stating, “I wish, I wish, Richard, that I could have laughed at that time at your age, when I was your age, the way you just laughed now, but I just couldn’t … I told you this nine years ago, and now I’ll tell you on the air in front of millions of people: Pick your spots, baby.” This prompted Pryor to mockingly quip back, “All right, sweetheart” in a Humphrey Bogart voice.
Comedy – 1974 – The Mike Douglas Show – Featuring The Altercation Between Milton Berle & Richard Pryor
In 1984, Berle appeared in drag in the video for “Round and Round” by the 1980’s metal band Ratt ….as his nephew Marshall Berle was then their manager…..plus, he also made a brief appearance in the band’s “Back For More” video as a motorcyclist.
Comedy & Music – 1956 – The Milton Berle Show – With Elvis Presley Singing “Shake Rattle And Roll” + “Heartbreak Hotel” + “Blue Swede Shoes”
In 1985, he appeared on NBC’s Amazing Stories (created by Steven Spielberg) in an episode called “Fine Tuning”…..in which friendly aliens from space receive TV signals from the Earth of the 1950’s…..and travel to Hollywood in search of their idols, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, The Three Stooges, Burns and Allen and Milton Berle….and when he realizes the aliens are doing his old material, Uncle Miltie is thunderstruck…..“Stealing from Berle? Is that even possible?”….while speaking gibberish, Berle is the only person able to communicate directly with the aliens.
Comedy & Entertainment – The Hollywood Palace Presents Presents Milton Berle – With Guests Liberace + Cezar Romero + Joey Heatherton + The MacGuire Sisters Et Al
One of his most popular performances in his later years was guest starring in 1992 in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as womanizing, wise-cracking patient Max Jakey…..when most of his dialogue was improvised and he shocked the studio audience by mistakenly blurting out a curse word. He also appeared in an acclaimed and Emmy-nominated turn on Beverly Hills, 90210….as an aging comedian befriended by Steve Sanders….who idolizes him, but is troubled by his bouts of senility due to Alzheimer’s disease. He also voiced the Prince of Darkness, the main antagonist in the Canadian animated television anthology special The Real Story of Au Clair De La Lune…..plus he appeared in 1995 as a guest star in an episode of The Nanny in the part of her lawyer and great uncle.
Comedy & Entertainment – 1948 To 1956 – Special – The Best Of The Milton Berle Show – Part 2
Berle was again on the receiving end of an onstage gibe at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards where RuPaul responded to Berle’s reference of having once worn dresses himself (during his old television days) with the quip that Berle now wore diapers…..when a surprised Berle replied by recycling a line he had delivered to Henny Youngman on his Hollywood Palace show in 1966, “Oh, we’re going to ad lib? I’ll check my brain and we’ll start even.”
Comedy -1993 – MTV Awards Ceremony – With RuPaul + Milton Berle – “Infamous Coupling”
In 1947, Milton Berle founded the Friars Club of Beverly Hills at the old Savoy Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. Other founding members included Jimmy Durante, George Jessel, Robert Taylor and Bing Crosby….when in 1961, the club moved to Beverly Hills. The Friars is a private show business club famous for its celebrity members and roasts….where a member is mocked by his club friends in good fun.
Comedy – 1969 – The Kraft Music Hall Presents – “The Friars Club Roast Milton Berle” – With Jack Benny + Henny Youngman + Alan King Et Al
Unlike many of his peers, Berle’s offstage lifestyle did not include drugs or drinking….but did include cigars, a “who’s who” list of beautiful women and a lifelong addiction to gambling, primarily horse racing. Some felt his obsession for betting on “the ponies” was responsible for Berle never amassing the wealth or business success of many of his contemporaries.
Comedy – 1948 – Texaco Star Theatre Comedy Skit – With Milton Berle + Arnold Stang
Berle was famous within show business for the rumored size of his penis. Phil Silvers once told a story about standing next to Berle at a urinal, glancing down, and quipping, “You’d better feed that thing, or it’s liable to turn on you!” In the short story ‘A Beautiful Child’, Truman Capote wrote Marilyn Monroe as saying….“Christ! Everybody says Milton Berle has the biggest schlong in Hollywood.” At a memorial service for Berle at the New York Friars’ Club, Freddie Roman solemnly announced, “On May 1st and May 2nd, his penis will be buried.” Radio shock jock Howard Stern barraged Berle with an endless array of penis questions during his appearances on Stern’s morning talk show in 1988 and 1996….when in Berle’s 1988 appearance, when fielding phone calls, Stern purposely asked his producer to only air callers whose questions dealt with Berle’s penis. In his autobiography, Berle tells of a man who accosted him in a steam bath and challenged him to compare sizes, leading a bystander to remark, “go ahead, Milton, just take out enough to win”…..as Berle attributed this line to comedian Jackie Gleason and said: “It was maybe the funniest spontaneous line I ever heard”. Though he “worked clean” for his entire onstage and onscreen career, except for the infamous Friars Club private celebrity roasts, Berle was known offstage to have a colorful vocabulary and few limits on when it was used.
Comedy – 1997 – CNN’s Larry King Live – “Remembering Marilyn Monroe” – With Milton Berle + Mickey Rooney + Hope Lange + Robert Wagner
After twice marrying and divorcing showgirl Joyce Mathews, Berle married publicist Ruth Cosgrove in 1953; she died of cancer in 1989. In 1989, Berle stated that his mother was behind the breakup of his marriages to Mathews. He also said that she managed to damage his previous relationships: “My mother never resented me going out with a girl, but if I had more than three dates with one girl, Mama found some way to break it up.” He married a 4th time in 1992 to Lorna Adams, a fashion designer 30 years his junior.
Comedy – 1991 – Milton Berle Live In Montreal – Stand Up Comedy Routine
Berle’s autobiography contains many tales of his sexual exploits…..as he claimed relationships with numerous famous women….which included actresses Marilyn Monroe and Betty Hutton, columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, and evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. The veracity of some of these claims has been questioned. The McPherson story, in particular, has been challenged by McPherson’s biographer and her daughter, among others.
Comedy – 1960 – The Sands Summit – With John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr And Milton Berle
Berle guest-starred as Uncle Leo in the Kenan & Kel special “Two Heads Are Better than None”….which premiered in 2000…..and would be his last acting role. In April 2001 Berle announced that a malignant tumor had been found in his colon, but he had declined surgery. Berle’s wife said the tumor was growing so slowly that it would take 10 to 12 years to affect him in any significant or life-threatening way. One year after the announcement, on March 27, 2002, Berle died in Los Angeles from colon cancer. He died on the same day as Dudley Moore and Billy Wilder.
Comedy – 2002 – Special Video – Don Rickles Eulogy At Milton Berle’s Funeral
As I come to a conclusion of this story….I must admit that Uncle Miltie was never one of Bone Daddy’s favorite comedians….as I have often heard him comment that the funniest part of Milton Berle was his looks….which he likened to little bunny rabbit in a man’s suit….I mean, just look at those teeth and those ears….but he has always given Milton Berle credit for his part in establishing television as an integral part of American society…..cuz in the beginning of comedy on TV….he held a firm spot with the best of the best….but unlike other comedians of that era like Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, et al….his comedic routines grew stagnant with his refusal to change….but any way you cut the pie….Milton Berle was an extremely talented entertainer…. who deserves his place in history here at ImaSportsphile.
Comedy – 1998 – Milton Berle’s 90th Birthday Celebration From Radio City Music Hall – With Billy Crystal + Whoopie Goldberg + Robin Williams