His father, Moses Berlinger — , was a paint and varnish salesman. He had three older brothers from oldest to youngest : Phil, Frank and Jack Berle. Berle entered show business in at the age of five when he won a children's Charlie Chaplin contest. He claimed The Perils of Pauline as his first film appearance, playing the character of a young boy, though this has never been independently verified.
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. In , Berle enrolled in the Professional Children's School. Around , 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.
By the time he was 16, he was working as a Master of Ceremonies in Vaudeville. By the early s he was a successful stand-up comedian, patterning himself after one of Vaudeville's top comics, Ted Healy.
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In , he was hired by producer Jack White to star in the theatrical featurette Poppin' the Cork a topical musical comedy concerning the repealing of Prohibition. Berle also co-wrote the score for this film, which was released by Educational Pictures. Berle continued to dabble in songwriting. In the late s, he canceled well-paying nightclub appearances to expand his radio career. The audience participation show Let Yourself Go — could best be described as " slapstick radio" [ citation needed ] with studio audience members acting out long suppressed urges—often directed at host Berle.
Kiss and Make Up , on CBS in , 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 s and s. Berle later described this series as "the best radio show I ever did It served as a springboard for Berle's emergence as television's first major star. Berle first appeared on television in in an experimental broadcast in Chicago which he hosted in front of people. Comedian Jack Carter was host for August. Berle was named the permanent host that fall.
Berle's highly visual style, characterized by vaudeville slapstick and outlandish costumes, proved ideal for the new medium. Fewer movie tickets were sold on Tuesdays. 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. 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, reaching two million in Berle's stature as the medium's first superstar earned him the sobriquet "Mr.
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:. 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.
Because I was riding high in , I sent out the word: "If they don't go on, I don't go on. Berle's mother Sadie was often in the audience for his broadcasts; she had long served as a "plant" to encourage laughter from his stage show audiences. After feigning surprise he would "ad lib" a response; for example: "Lady, you've got all night to make a fool of yourself.
I've only got an hour! Berle asked NBC to switch from live broadcasts to film, which would have made possible reruns and residual income from them ; he was angered when the network refused. However, NBC did consent to make a kinescope of each show. He turned the offer down.
A frequent user of tranquilizers, Berle frequently endorsed Miltown on his show, and became one of the main figureheads promoting the drug in s America. Due to his promotion of the drug, Berle was dubbed 'Uncle Miltown' by Time magazine. For Berle's contribution to television, he was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in At one million dollars a year, NBC signed him to an exclusive, unprecedented year television contract in Texaco pulled out of sponsorship of the show in Buick picked it up, 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.
Critics generally approved of the changes, but Berle's ratings continued to fall, and Buick pulled out after two seasons. By the time the again-renamed Milton Berle Show finished its only full season —56 , Berle was already becoming history—though his final season was host to two of Elvis Presley 's earliest television appearances, April 3 and June 5, Silvers was one of Berle's best friends in show business and had come to CBS's attention in an appearance on Berle's program. Bilko's creator-producer, Nat Hiken, had been one of Berle's radio writers.
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Berle knew that NBC had already decided to cancel his show before Presley appeared. By , 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.
Berle had appeared at the El Rancho , one of the first Vegas hotels, in the late s. He also became a commercial spokesman for the thriving Lum's restaurant chain. The show failed to capture a large audience and was cancelled after one season. 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 , a role for which he received an Emmy nomination.
He also played a dramatic role as a talent agent in The Oscar and was one of the few actors in that movie to get good notices from critics. 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. Berle 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.
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. The episode was also barred from being rerun until surfacing in , because Michaels thought it brought down the show's reputation.
As a guest star on The Muppet Show ,  Berle was memorably upstaged by the heckling theatre critics Statler and Waldorf. Milton Berle also made a cameo appearance in The Muppet Movie as a used car dealer, taking Fozzie Bear's Studebaker in trade for a station wagon. At the time, Berle was discussing the emotional fallout from an experience he had with impregnating a woman he was not married to, and having to decide whether or not they would keep the child.
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.
Another well-known incident of upstaging occurred during the Emmy Awards , when Berle and Martha Raye were the presenters of the Emmy for Outstanding Writing. After Flaherty made a joke, Berle replied sarcastically "That's funny! In , Berle appeared in drag in the video for "Round and Round" by the s metal band Ratt his nephew Marshall Berle was then their manager.
He also made a brief appearance in Ratt's "Back For More" video as a motorcyclist. When he realizes the aliens are doing his old material, Uncle Miltie is thunderstruck: "Stealing from Berle? Is that even possible? One of his most popular performances in his later years was guest starring in in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as womanizing, wise-cracking patient Max Jakey.
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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, 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 appeared in as a guest star in an episode of The Nanny in the part of her lawyer and great uncle.
Berle was again on the receiving end of an onstage gibe at the 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. A surprised Berle replied by recycling a line he had delivered to Henny Youngman on his Hollywood Palace show in "Oh, we're going to ad lib? I'll check my brain and we'll start even. In , 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.