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Forever Young

Milton Berle was television's first superstar and remains one of America's top comedians.
Arthur Marx
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95

(continued from page 9)

To give you an idea of just how well-known Berle was becoming, when Al Jolson asked my then five-year-old daughter, Linda, to name the days of the week, she shot back, without meaning to be funny or precocious: "Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday Milton Berle."

But fame isn't everything. He missed Joyce and, more than that, he missed Vicki, their four-year-old adopted daughter. On June 16, 1949, in New York City, he married Joyce again.

When Walter Winchell heard of Berle's plans to remarry Joyce, he asked, "Why?" Stuck for a reasonable answer, Berle stammeringly retorted: "Because...uh...she reminds me of my first wife."

Apparently that wasn't enough to sustain the marriage. The union broke up again in December for the same reasons as before--this time for good.

The pair was divorced in March 1950, with the court awarding Joyce $30,000 a year in combined alimony and child support. The two agreed to share custody of Vicki.

Within two years, Mr. Television's salary had shot from $1,500 a week to $11,500. Between "Star Theater," guest shots and assorted nightclub engagements during the summer hiatus, Berle was making so much money that the 30 grand he had to pay Joyce was a mere drop in the bucket--not even a drop by 1951. In May of that year, he signed an exclusive contract with NBC guaranteeing him $200,000 a year for 30 years. He could now afford to smoke the most expensive cigars at the Round Table.

Berle remained single until December 9, 1953, when he wed Ruth Cosgrove, a former publicist for Sam Goldwyn. Though attractive, Ruth didn't have the flashy showgirl looks of Joyce. But she was better suited temperamentally to being married to a high-powered comic. She had a good sense of humor and understood the demands on his time that the profession called for, could help make business decisions and, though she was a cigarette smoker herself, she liked the smell of her bridegroom's Havanas.

When they were in Paris on their honeymoon the following summer, Ruth took Milton on a shopping expedition to help select an evening bag. When she saw one that appealed to her in the window of a little shop, she went inside and asked the clerk to show it to her. "Ruth opened it up," said Berle, "and tried to fit one of my cigars into it. It didn't fit, so she kept trying larger and larger bags until she finally found one that was the right size. I bought it for her. But I didn't know what she was up to until that night. When we were getting dressed to go out, Ruth took four of my cigars from my dinner-jacket pocket and put them in her purse. 'Now you won't look so lumpy when we go out,' she told me. After that I started calling her my 'humidorable.' "

On the same trip they decided to visit Italy. Because Berle can't go anywhere without a healthy supply of cigars, he stuffed about 500 pure Havanas into one of his suitcases. But customs at the Rome airport would allow a visitor to bring only 100 cigars into the country at a time. The inspector said he'd have to confiscate the rest.

The quick-thinking Ruth saved the day. "Like a shot," recalled Berle, "she took one of my cigars from her purse, stripped off the cellophane and asked me for a light. She nearly choked to death smoking it, but it enabled us to bring another hundred cigars in."


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