Milton Berle became famous during the Golden Age of Television and was the first star to be come out of American television. He was often referred to as Mr. Television and Uncle Miltie.
He was born on July 12, 1908 in New York. When Milton was only five years old he won an amateur talent contest. His mother helped him to pursue his career in the entertainment business. He soon began appearing in silent films and the first one was called The Perils Of Pauline. He was to be thrown from a speeding train. He even had small parts in other films such as the Mark of Zorro, which featured Douglas Fairbanks Sr. And Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which starred Mary Pickford, as well as many other films.
When he was 12 years old, he joined the cast of the stage production of Florodora, which soon moved to Broadway. This started his career in comedy which lasted for the next 80 years. He teamed up with Elizabeth Kennedy in 1921 and they put together a Broadway act called Broadway Bound and it was during this period that he changed his last name to Berle.
He became the Master of Ceremonies in vaudeville when he was 16 years old and this is where he honed his trademark style. He started learning everything he could about comedy and started collecting jokes, sketches, and joke books. In 1924, he opened at the Loew’s State Theater on Broadway, performing a standup comedy routine.
His first attempt at television was in 1929 when he was asked to appear on a television station in Chicago that was experimenting with the new medium. During the production, the station used fluorescent lighting and put black lipstick on Milton. The attempt was not very successful at that early date, but later on television would make Milton Berle, television’s first full-fledged star.
By the 1930s, he was a very successful standup comedian. It was at the same time that he started being heard regularly on the radio. He first appeared regularly on The Rudy Vallee Hour from 1934 through 1936 and then, The Gillette Original Community Sing, which was a comedy/variety show from 1936 to 1937. In 1939, he became the host of the old-time radio show, Stop Me If You Heard This One, which was a show where the panelists finished the jokes that were sent in by the listeners.
He also starred in Three Ring Time, which was a comedy variety show, Let Yourself Go, which had audience members acting out on any of their suppressed urges, Kiss and Make Up, which had contestants sharing their problems, with the studio audience and Milton Berle deciding how to solve the problem. He was all over the radio throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, guest starring on other radio shows, as well as his own.
In 1947, The Milton Berle Show debuted and ran until 1948. He then headed the cast of The Texaco Star Theater in 1948 and that same year, NBC moved the show from radio to television. When the show first began on television, Milton Berle was one of four hosts. But it wasn’t long before Milton became the permanent host and the show became the number one show on television for several years.
Texaco Star Theater was so popular on Tuesday nights, that some restaurants and theaters closed during this hour. Because of the popularity of the show, the sale of television sets doubled at this time. Because of his popularity during this golden age, NBC signed him to a thirty-year contract. By the mid-1950’s, however, Milton Berle’s popularity was starting to decline. He appeared in fewer shows and was released from his contract in early 1960.
Milton Berle started appearing in Las Vegas in the 1960’s, playing to packed audiences. He made guest appearances on many television series, keeping him in the mainstream’s eyes. He was a great philanthropist and was actually named in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most charity performances given by a performer.
He continued appearing on television, all the way up until 2000. From the 1960’s until 2000, he guest starred on many televisions shows, took parts in films and TV movies and even, appeared in the video, Round and Round, by the 1980’s big hair group, Ratt.
In April of 2001, Milton Berle was diagnosed with having colon cancer and died the following year on March 27, 2002. He will forever be know as Mr. Television and he had a key role in making Television’s Golden Age, golden.