Well, you probably remember him as Milton Berle, Uncle Miltie, or even Mr. Television. During the early 1950's, he owned Tuesday nights.
Berle was the first bona fide television star, and his career spanned 8 decades . . . from silent films . . .to vaudeville . . . to radio . . . to television and even into movies.
And while most people don't remember this, he was more than just a clown. He was capable of turning out a decent dramatic performance, could sing (well, a little), and dance.
July 12, 1908(1908-07-12)
Manhattan, New York
Berle began playing child roles in early silent films, and while some of his credits are disputed today, he reportedly made his debut in The Perils of Pauline (1914). He would have been about 6 years old.
According to Berle's autobiography, some of his earliest credits included:
Bunny's Little Brother (1914)
Tess of the Storm Country (1914)
Love's Penalty (1921)
Divorce Coupons (1922)
Ruth of the Range (1923)
Berle worked in Vaudeville during the 1920's, wrote some mostly-forgotten songs and movie scripts, and continued to appear in the occasional silent film.
In the mid-1930's Berle became a regular on the Rudy Vallee Hour radio show, which led to a series of radio shows such as Stop Me If You Heard This One and Three Ring Time. Berle was also a guest on many comedy-variety radio shows during the 1930s and 1940's.
It was in 1947 that Berle really hit it big with The Milton Berle Show, sponsored by Philip Morris on the NBC network.
This show paired Berle with Arnold Stang, who would go on to be a regular on his TV shows, along with Pert Kelton (The original Alice Kramden when the Honeymooners were on the Dumont Network). Other cast members included Mary Schipp, Jack Albertson, Arthur Q. Bryan, Ed Begley and announcer Frank Gallop.
We have at our disposal a nice selection of these shows that aired between 1947 and 1948, each show was a loosely themed `salute' to some subject. I've only listed the first dozen, there are a lot more here.
Salute To The Great Outdoors
Salute To Relaxation
Salute To The Railways Of America
Salute To Our South American Neighbors
Salute To The American Farmers
Salute To Radio
Salute To The Automobile Industry
Salute To Brooklyn
Salute To The Old West
Salute To The New York Theatre Season Opening
Salute To Good Health
In 1948, Berle would move on to the ABC radio network and do the Texaco Star Theatre, taking Pert Kelton and Arnold Stang with him. While the show would only run for less than a year, it was a stepping stone to the Texaco Star Theatre on television.
Texaco Star Theater : May 29th, 1951 - Milton Berle
"The Milton Berle Show" Also Known As : Texaco Star Theater Original Air Date: 29 May 1951 Milton Berle ... Host Vivienne Della Chiesa ... Herself - Opera Singer Frank Gallop ... Himself - Actor Beatrice Kraft ... Herself - Dancer Michael Rabin ... Himself - Violinist Carlos Ramírez ... Himself - Singer Allen Roth ... Orchestra Leader Danny Thomas ... Himself - Singer / Comedian Fran Warren ... Herself - Singer
In 1951, Berle was so hot, NBC signed him to an unprecedented 30-year exclusive contract. Little did they know that Berle's popularity would start to wane in only a few years.
In 1953, Texaco would drop the sponsorship of the show, and it would be picked up by Buick. While critics still liked the show, its ratings were beginning to slip.
Milton Berle 09-21-54
The Buick Berle Show from Sept 21 1954 with Mickey Rooney as Guest
The last incarnation of the Milton Berle show was launched in 1956, although it lasted only a year.
Berle went on to play Vegas, and appeared on the Kraft Music Hall, but as far as TV was concerned, he was relegated to guest appearances on other people's shows, and hosting a game show called Jackpot Bowling.
In 1966, freed from his NBC contract, Berle tried again with a variety show on the ABC network, but it was canceled after one season.
Berle appeared in a number of movies, and received good notices for his dramatic performances. He is also credited with having made more charity performances than any other show business personality.
One last remembrance of Berle comes from This Is Your Life, where Milton Berle's life and career are reviewed by Ralph Edwards in 1956.
This Is Your Life Milton Berle
This Is Your Life Uncle Miltie