For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.
In an earlier “Showplace” blog entry, we focused on the success of the Milton Berle Television Show.
Today we focus on the man, the myth and the legend.
Milton Berle‘s career is one of the longest and most varied in show business, spanning silent film, vaudeville, radio, motion pictures, and television.
Mendel Berlinger was born on July 12, 1908 in Harlem, New York.
Berle entered show business in 1913 at the age of five when he won a children’s Charlie Chaplin contest. He also worked as a child model and was the first “Buster Brown” for “Buster Brown” shoes and as a child actor in many silent films. According to his own autobiography, his first pictures were in The Perils of Pauline, The Mask of Zorro (starring Douglas Fairbacks, Sr.) and Tillie’s Punctured Romance (starring Charlie Chaplin and Mabel Normand), although there is no formal record of him actually being a part of those pictures.
At the age of 16 he changed his name to Milton Berle (when he became famous, his mother, who was frequently in the audience and would help “inspire” the audience with her laughter, also changed her last name to “Berle.”)
Through the 1920s, Berle moved up through the vaudeville circuit, finding his niche in the role of a brash comic known for stealing the material of fellow comedians. He also became a popular master of ceremonies in vaudeville, achieving top billing in the largest cities and theaters. During the 1930s, Berle appeared in a variety of Hollywood films and stage musicals, wrote and performed comedic records and further polished his comedy routines in night clubs.
In radio, he never had the success that he would later achieve in television. His longest running gig was as a regular joke teller on The Rudy Vallee Show from 1934 to 1936. He attempted a number of different programs with himself in the lead–all with different formats and utilizing various different types of comedy, but none was renewed after its initial seasons.
In 1940, in an attempt to gain more popularity on radio, he cancelled all his personal appearances and scheduled entertainment shows in order to spend more time working on his radio program. While his last attempt as his own radio show did prove to be extremely successful in building the skills necessary to sustain a physical audience, The Milton Berle Show on radio never caught on with audiences and was cancelled after just a little over a year on the air.
The lack of radio success and the decline of movie offers left Berle questioning if his career and popularity as an entertainer was burning out in 1947.
But in reality, it was just getting started.
Join us next week to find out what historic event took place in 1948 and took Berle to heights he had never seen before courtesy of a brand new medium…one that would be linked to Berle for the rest of his life.
In the meantime, check out The Milton Berle Show every Sunday afternoon this fall at 2pm on RCN-TV.
To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.