Berle, Milton 1908-2002
BERLE, Milton 1908-2002
OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born Milton Berlinger, July 12, 1908, in New York, NY; died of colon cancer March 27, 2002, in Los Angeles, CA. Comedian, actor, and author. Berle was a renowned comedian who was known to many as "Mr. Television" for his role in making television programming popular when the medium was in its infancy. He spent his entire life in show business, beginning at the age of five by entering Charlie Chaplin look-alike contests and becoming a child performer in vaudeville before moving on to silent movies. In addition to this early experience, Berle gained some formal training at New York's Professional Children's School and took dance lessons in Harlem. His debut film was 1914's The Perils of Pauline, and he also appeared with such stars as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in The Mark of Zorro. Berle first took to the stage in New York City in 1920 before returning to vaudeville, where in 1931 he became the youngest master of ceremonies at the Palace Theater on Broadway. During the 1930s he continued work on the stage in such productions as Ziegfeld Follies, made his radio debut in 1934, and starred in more movies, including Margin for Error, Over My Dead Body, and Tall, Dark, and Handsome. In the 1940s Berle turned to the night-club circuit and continued to appear on radio programs before becoming the host of the early television comedy-variety program Texaco Star Theatre in 1948. It was here that Berle became an instant smash and gained his claim to fame. The show, which aired at eight o'clock on Tuesday nights, was so popular that businesses would shut down across the country just so people could watch the cigar-smoking comic with the wide, toothy grin. Berle was consequently given the nickname "Mr. Tuesday Night," and he also became known to many Americans as "Uncle Miltie" after the comic used the name while advising children it was time to go to bed.
From the time Texaco Star Theatre aired in 1948 through the 1951-52 season, television ownership in the United States increased from about 400,000 sets to over ten million, and many believe that much of the credit for this expansion belongs to Berle. By the end of the third season, however, the comic cut back his hectic schedule, hosting the program only three weeks out of every four. Ratings consequently declined and the NBC network canceled the program in 1953. However, NBC had given Berle an unprecedented lifetime contract that secured his career. After Texaco Star Theatre was over he hosted The Milton Berle Show for one season in 1955, and starred in such television shows as The Kraft Music Hall, Jackpot Bowling Starring Milton Berle, and 1966's The Milton Berle Show. The 1960s and 1970s saw Berle appearing as a guest star in various television shows and in nightclubs in Las Vegas, Chicago, and Miami Beach. He also starred in more films, including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Who's Minding the Mint, The Muppet Movie, Broadway Danny Rose, Driving Me Crazy, and Storybook. During his lifetime Berle penned several books, including the autobiographies Out of My Trunk and Milton Berle: An Autobiography, the joke books Milton Berle's Private Joke File and More of the Best of Milton Berle's Private Joke File, and the novel Earthquake. For his work, Berle was awarded many honors, including a 1979 Emmy Award.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
International Motion Picture Almanac, Quigley Publishing (New York, NY), 1996.
Slide, Anthony, Encyclopedia of Vaudeville, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1994.
Who's Who in America, 54th edition, Marquis (Providence, NJ), 2000.
Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2002, pp. A1, A24.
New York Times, March 28, 2002, pp. A1, C13.
Times (London, England), March 29, 2002, p. 39.
Washington Post, March 28, 2002, pp. A1, A10.