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A Year: Day to Day Men: 12th of July, Solar Year 2018

The Magic Act

July 12, 1908 was the birthdate of American comedian Milton Berle.

Milton Berle, born Mendel Berlinger, appeared as a child actor in his first silent film “The Perils of Pauline, filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and released in 1914. He continued to play child roles in many other films: “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” with Mary Pickford; “The Mark of Zorro” with Douglas Fairbanks Sr.: and “Tillie’s Punctured Romance” with Charlie Chaplin and Marie Dressler.

By the early 1930s, Milton Berle was a successful stand-up comedian. Berle was hired in 1933 by producer Jack White to star in the short musical theatrical film, “Poppin’ the Cork”, about the repeal of Prohibition. Berle co-wrote the musical score for that film and also the title song for the RKO 1940 “Lil Abner”, starring Buster Keaton. The Philip Morris company sponsored “The Milton Berle Show” which aired on NBC starting March 11, 1947. It teamed up Berle with comedian Arnold Stang, later a familiar face as Berle’s sidekick. This show, which lasted until April 13, 1948, became a major stepping stone for Berle’s television career.

His first television series was “The Texaco Star Theater” on ABC, showcasing Berle’s highly visual style, characterized by vaudeville slapstick and outlandish costumes. After the show moved to NBC, it dominated Tuesday night television for years and won two Emmy Awards the first year. Berle’s autobiography notes that in Detroit, “an investigation took place when the water levels took a drastic drop in the reservoirs on Tuesday nights between 9 and 9:05. It turned out that everyone waited until the end of the Texaco Star Theatre before going to the bathroom.” Television set sales doubled after Texaco Star Theater’s debut.

Like his contemporary Jackie Gleason, Milton 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 1961, a role for which he received an Emmy nomination. He also played the part of a blind survivor of an airplane crash in “Seven in Darkness”, the first in ABC’s popular Movie of the Week series.

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.  The first charity telethon was hosted by Berle in 1949.  A permanent fixture at charity benefits in the Hollywood area, he was instrumental in raising millions for charitable causes.

In 1979, Milton Berle was awarded a special Emmy Award, titled “Mr. Television” He was in the first group of inductees into the Television Hall of Fame in 1984. Milton Berle has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, placed on February 8, 1960, for his work in television and radio.

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