career is one of the longest and most varied in show business, spanning
silent film, vaudeville, radio, motion pictures, and television.
He started in show business at the age of five, appearing as a child
in The Perils of Pauline and Tillie's Punctured Romance.
Through the 1920s, Berle moved up through the vaudeville circuit,
finding his niche in the role of a brash comic known for stealing
the material of fellow comedians. He also became a popular master
of ceremonies in vaudeville, achieving top billing in the largest
cities and theaters. During the 1930s, Berle appeared in a variety
of Hollywood films and further polished his comedy routines in night
clubs and on radio.
Berle is best
known for his role as host of Texaco Star Theater, television's
most popular program during its early years. The show had begun
on the ABC radio network in the spring of 1948, and Berle took part
in a televi-sion test version for Texaco and NBC in June of that
year. He was selected as host, and the first East Coast broadcast
of the TV series began in Septem-ber. Within two months, Berle became
television's first super-star, with the highest ratings ever attained
and was soon referred to as "Mr. Televi-sion," "Mr. Tuesday Night,"
and "Uncle Miltie." Restau-rants, theaters, and nightclubs adjusted
their schedules so patrons would not miss Berle's program at 8:00
P.M. on Tuesday nights. Berle is said to have stimu-lated television
sales and audience size in the same way Amos 'n' Andy had
sparked the growth of radio.
budget for each program was a modest $15,000, many well-known entertainers
were eager to appear for the public exposure Texaco Star Theater
afforded, providing further viewer appeal and popularity for the
program. The one-hour live shows typi-cally included visual vaude-ville
routines, music, comedy and sketch-es. Other regular features included
the singing Texaco station attendants and the pitchman commercials
by Sid Stone. Berle was noted for interj-ecting himself into the
acts of his guests, which, along with his opening appear-ance in
out-landish costumes, became a regular feature. His use of sight
gags, props, and visual style seemed well-suited for the TV medium.
In 1951, Berle signed a contract With NBC granting him $200,000
a year for 30 years providing he appear on NBC exclusively.
His was one
of the first television shows to be promoted through merchandising,
including Unc-le Miltie tee-shirts, comic books and chewing gum.
When other programs evolved to compete with Berle's popularity,
his domi-nance of the television audience began to wane, and Texaco
ended its sponsorship. In the 1953-54 season, the Buick-Berle
Show was set into the 8:00 P.M. Tuesday time slot. Facing greater
competition and sensing the need for more determined effort to compensate
for the dwin-dling novelty of both the program and the medium, Berle's
staff and writers changed focus from the zany qualities of the show's
early days to a more structured format. Berle continued to attract
a substantial audience, but he was dropped by Buick at the end of
the season in 1955. Hour long variety shows had become more difficult
to orchestrate due to higher costs, in-creasing salary demands,
and union complications. Also, Berle's persona had shifted from
the impetuous and aggres-sive style of the Texaco Star Theater
days to a more cultivated, but less distinc-tive personality, leaving
many fans somehow unsatisfied. The next year, a new Milton Berle
Show was produced in California for the 1955-56 season, but it failed
to capture either the spirit or the audience of Uncle Miltie in
his prime. Berle was featu-red on Kraft Music Hall in the
late 1950s and Jackpot Bowling, a 1960s game show. In 1965,
Berle renego-tiated his 30-year contract with NBC, allowing him
to appear on any network. He later made gu-est appearances in dramas
as well as comedy programs. In addition to televi-sion, Berle's
career in the later years includ-ed film, night clubs, and benefit
shows. He has been the subject of nearly every show business tribute
and award, including an Emmy and TV specials devoted to his contribu-tions
and legacy in broadcasting.
BERLE. (Mendel Berlinger). Born in New York City, New York,
U.S., 12 July 1908. Attended Professional Children's School. Married
1) Joyce Mathews (twice) (divorced, twice); two children; 2) Ruth
Gosgrove Rosenthal, 1953; children: Vicki and Billy. Began career
by winning contest for Charlie Chaplin imitators, 1913; childrens'
roles in Biograph silent film productions; cast member of E.W. Wolf's
vaudeville children's acts; in theater since Floradora, Atlantic
City, New Jersey, 1920; debuted in New York City with Floradora,
1920; in radio, 1930s; toured with Ziegfeld Follies, 1936; television
series and specials from 1948; lyricist of more than 300 songs;
contributor to Variety magazine. Honorary H.H.D., McKendree College,
Lebanon, Illinois, 1984. Member: ASCAP; American Guild of Authors
and Composers; Grand Street Boys; Friar's (re-elected honorary abbot
emeritus, 1968; president [Los Angeles] from 1978). Recipient: Yiddish
Theatrical Alliance Humanitarian Award, 1951; Look magazine TV Award,
1951; National Academy of Arts and Sciences Award, Man of the Year,
1959; Emmy Award Nominee, 1961; AGVA Golden Award, 1977; Special
Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement, 1978/79. Address: c/o Sagebrush
Enterprises, 151 El Camino Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; also
c/o Aaron Cohen, William Morris Agency, 151 S. El Camino Drive,
Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2775.
Texaco Star Theater
1958-59 Milton Berle Starring in the Kraft Music Hall 1960-61
1966-67 The Milton Berle Show
Seven In Darkness
1972 Evil Roy Slade
1975 The Legend of Valentino
1988 Side By Side
Uncle Miltie's Christmas Party
1950 Show of the Year (host)
1951 Uncle Miltie's Easter Party
1955 The Big Time (co-host)
1959 The Milton Berle Special
1959 The Milton Berle Special
1961 The Chrysler Television Special
1962 The Milton Berle Special
1972 Opening Night: U.S.A.
1973 A Show Business Salute to Milton Berle
1975 Milton Berle's Mad Mad Mad World of Comedy
1976 The First 50 Years (co-host)
1978 A Tribute to "Mr. Television" Milton Berle
1986 NBC's 60th Anniversary Celebration (co-host)
Biograph silent productions; New Faces of 1937; Radio City Revels,
1938; Tall, Dark, and Handsome, 1941; Sun Valley Serenade,
1941; Rise and Shine, 1941; A Gentleman at Heart,
1942; Over My Dead Body, 1942; Whispering Ghosts,
1942; Margin for Error, 1943; Always Leave Them Laughing,
1949; Let's Make Love, 1960; It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad
World, 1963; The Loved One, 1965; The Oscar, 1966;
The Happening, 1967; Who's Minding the Mint?, 1967;
Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows, 1968; For Singles Only,
1968; Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and
Find True Happiness?, 1969; Lepke, 1975; The Muppet
Movie, 1979; Broadway Danny Rose, 1984; Driving Me
Crazy, 1992; Storybook, 1995.
Star Theater, 1939-1948; The Milton Berle Show, 1939;
Stop Me if You've Heard This One (co-host); Let Yourself
Go, 1944; Kiss and Make Up, 1946.
1920; Earl Carroll Vanities, 1932; Saluta, 1934; Life
Begins at 8:40, 1935; See My Lawyer, 1939; I'll Take
the High Road, 1943; Spring in Brazil, 1945; Seventeen,
1951; Top Banana, 1963; The Goodbye People, 1968;
Two by Two, 1971; The Milton Berle Show, 1971;
Last of the Red Hot Lovers, 1970-71; Norman, Is That You?,
1973-75; The Best of Everybody, 1975; The Sunshine Boys,
Yours. New York, Los Angeles: Samuel French, 1939.
Out of My Trunk. Garden City, New York: Blue Ribbon Books,
Earthquake. New York: Random House, 1959.
Milton Berle: An Autobiography with Haskel Frankel. New
York: Delacourte, 1974.
B.S. I Love You. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987.
Milton Berle's Private Joke File. New York: Crown, 1989.
More of the Best of Milton Berle's Private Joke File. New
York: William Morrow, 1993.
Steve. The Funny Men. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956.
Alfred. "The Good Old Days of Mr. Television." Holiday
(New York), February 1958.
Child Wonder." Time (New York), 16 May 1949.
Donald F., and Jim Harmon. The Great Television Heroes. New
York: Doubleday, 1975.
Berle: Television's Whirling Dervish." Newsweek (New
York), 16 May 1949.
Roert. "The Strange Career of Milton Berle." The Saturday
Evening Post (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 19 March 1949.
Berle Show, Variety