I'm Mary Tillotson.
And I'm Doug Johnson with the VOA Special English program PEOPLEIN AMERICA. Today, we tell the story of Milton Berle. He was famousfor his funny programs in the early years of American television. Tomany Americans, he was known simply as Mister Television.
Milton Berle performed in theaters, on radio and in movies. Yethe is best known as a television performer. He began working intelevision in Nineteen-Forty-Eight. At the time, television was sonew that few people could receive it.
Milton Berle's weekly program wasso popular that it may have influenced many Americans to buy theirfirst television. Years ago, Americans who did not own a televisionoften went to the home of someone who did to watch his shows. Manyothers watched it in stores that sold televisions.
Milton Berle became so famous that some Americans considered himas part of their family. He was often called Uncle Milty. Like afamily member, he was loved when his jokes were funny and even whenthey were not.
He was born in New York City on July twelfth, Nineteen-Oh-Eight.His parents, Moses Berlinger and the former Sarah Glantz, were Jews.They named him Mendel Berlinger. He was one of five children.
One day, Mendel put on some of his parents' old clothes. All theadults who saw him said he looked like a small version of the filmactor Charlie Chaplin. So, at the age of five years, he entered --and won -- a local Chaplin look-alike competition.
He became a child actor a short time later. In Nineteen-Fourteen,he appeared in his first film, "The Perils of Pauline." He was justsix years old. The same year, he appeared with Charlie Chaplin inanother movie.
Mendel was given a chance to join a vaudeville act. Vaudevillewas the most popular form of show business in the United States inthe early Nineteen-Hundreds. Vaudeville shows presented short plays,singers, comedians who told jokes, and other acts.
Sarah Berlinger supervised her boy's rise in show business. Shepushed him to be a success. Missus Berlinger attended all of herson's performances.
((From "The Age of Television - Mr. Television: Uncle Miltie"))
"I reached millions of people, who fortunately couldn't reach me.There was one laugh that projected out of the top of them all. Thatwas my mother. And, if people didn't laugh that sat next to her, sheused to shove them with the arm and say, 'Laugh it up. That's myson.'"
In Nineteen-Twenty -- at the age of twelve 鈥?Mendel firstappeared in a show on Broadway in New York City. He formed avaudeville act with a girl named Elizabeth Kennedy. Later, he formedhis own group. As the years passed, his act improved and he workedas a single performer.
By the age of sixteen, he was forced to make changes. He hadgrown too tall to be a child actor.
Mendel Berlinger changed his name to Milton Berle. He beganperforming at New York's famous Palace Theater inNineteen-Thirty-One. He was twenty-three years old. Later, heappeared in several Broadway shows, including "Ziegfeld Follies."
Early in his adult life, Milton Berle was moderately successfulin movies and on radio. He was better known as a comedian who toldjokes in nightclub shows for adults. He was reported to be one ofthe best-paid performers in the country.
Yet, Berle did not become truly famous until he appeared on the"Texaco Star Theater" television program in June,Nineteen-Forty-Eight. Three months later, the Texaco Company offeredhim a permanent position with the program.
The "Texaco Star Theater" opened with four men who looked likegasoline station employees. They sang a song that the company usedto sell its oil and gasoline products.
MUSIC: "Oh, we're the men of Texaco. We work from Maine toMexico. There's nothing like this Texaco of ours. Our show tonightis powerful. We'll show you wow with an hour-full of howls from ashowerful of stars. We're the merry men of Texaco. Tonight we may beshowmen. Tomorrow, we'll be servicing your cars."
Milton Berle was a performer who won the love of a crowd by notbeing lovable. He developed a show business personality that wasfunny, yet not always pleasant. He acted aggressive, and oftenappeared to be selfish or uncivilized. Sometimes, he greeted peoplewith the saying, "Good evening, ladies and germs."
One thing that made Berle's television shows popular was the wayhe appeared. He knew how to use funny movements and clothing to makepeople laugh. He would do anything for a laugh. He sometimes worewomen's clothing and beauty products. In one show, he explained thathe just paid his taxes. He wore only an empty wooden container,which suggested that the government had taken everything includinghis clothes.
Other comedians accused Berle of stealing their jokes. Yet manyof the best-known performers in the United States appeared on the"Texaco Star Theater." Like any vaudeville show, his program alsooffered a mix of singers, dancers and animal acts.
One Tuesday night, trained elephants appeared on the program. Theanimals left large droppings on the floor. This was a big surpriseto the next act -- a group of dancers.
Berle's programs were filled with lots of energy, as we hear inthis example.
TEXACO MEN: "And now ladies and gentlemen, introducing America'snumber one television star, who gets his nose into everybody's act,your Cyrano de Bergerac, Milton Berle 鈥? [music/cheering]
BERLE: "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. [laughter] Don'tlaugh, lady. You and I go to the same plastic surgeon. [laughter]That's your own nose. I like it. It's my basketball nose. I just hadit fixed 鈥?
Milton Berle had a weekly television series from the lateNineteen-Forties into the middle of the Nineteen-Fifties. More thanone-hundred shows competed on other networks against his program.They all failed. During one period, four of five Americans whowatched television on Tuesday nights watched the program.
In Nineteen-Fifty-One, Berle signed a long-term agreement withN-B-C, the network that provided his program to television stationsacross the country. Under the agreement, N-B-C agreed to pay himtwo-hundred-thousand dollars a year for thirty years, even if he didnot work.
Berle was tired from performing countless shows. So he demandedthe right to take a rest from the program one week in every month.He later said that decision proved to be a mistake. The programbegan to lose its popularity.
The taste of the American public was changing, and new funny actswere developing. The program also lost popularity when an opposingnetwork added a series of religious talks.
Berle left weekly television in Nineteen-Fifty-Six. In the lateNineteen-Fifties, he appeared in a few N-B-C shows, but then thework seemed to stop.
Berle returned to his roots as a comedian who told jokes, mainlyat nightclub shows. He appeared in plays and movies. They included,"Let's Make Love," "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," and "BroadwayDanny Rose." He also made appearances on television.
Milton Berle was known for his work with non-profit groups. Heperformed for soldiers during World War Two. He appeared inthousands of shows that helped to raise money for different kinds oforganizations. In Nineteen-Forty-Nine, he helped to organize atelevision show for the Damon Runyon Memorial Cancer Fund. It mayhave been the first time that television was used to raise money fora non-profit group.
Berle was married two times to a showgirl named Joyce Matthews.Each time, they agreed to end their marriage. Later, he was marriedmore than thirty-five years to another woman, Joyce Cosgrove. Aftershe died in Nineteen-Eighty-Nine, he married Lorna Adams.
For many years, Milton Berle remained a funnyman loved byAmericans. He produced projects for several media, and collectedawards for his work in television. The Television Academy Hall ofFame added him as one of its members. The story of his life led tothe Nineteen-Ninety-Two film, "Mister Saturday Night." He also wrotebooks of jokes and his memories.
Milton Berle had colon cancer. He died at his Los Angeles home onMarch twenty-seventh, Two-Thousand-Two. He was ninety-three yearsold. He had spent more than eighty-five years making people laugh.
This Special English program was written and produced by GeorgeGrow. I'm Doug Johnson.
And I'm Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week for anotherPEOPLE IN AMERICA program on the Voice of America.