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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 6)

Unable to stand the odor any longer, Berle turned to Burns. "You must be smoking one of those Lawrence Welk cigars."

"What's a Lawrence Welk cigar?" asked Burns, reverting to his days as Gracie Allen's straight man.

"A piece of shit with a band around it!" quipped Uncle Miltie.

It was the bane of Berle's life at the Round Table that he could not get Burns to smoke an expensive cigar. One afternoon Berle said, "George, I can't stand it any longer. I want you to try a good cigar for a change." And he pulled an Upmann Amatista from his pocket and handed it to Burns. "Here, smoke this."

Burns looked at the Upmann suspiciously and put it to his nostril to get a whiff. "How much does this one cost?"

"Two dollars and fifty cents," replied Berle.

"Two dollars and fifty cents!" repeated Burns incredulously. "Why, before I'd smoke this I'd first have to fuck it."

After the Ballantine Radio Show was canceled in the spring of 1942, Berle accepted an offer to star in the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. Consequently, he and Joyce moved back to New York into an apartment at 875 Fifth Avenue. Mama, never far away, could wave to her son from the window of her apartment in the Essex House on Central Park South.

To illustrate what a major box-office attraction Berle had become, the producers of the Ziegfeld Follies agreed to put his name above the title of the show. This was a huge concession, and Berle says it's the only time in the history of the Follies that a performer saw his name above the title--and that includes some fairly respectable talent: Will Rogers, Fanny Brice and Bob Hope, to mention but a few.

The Ziegfeld Follies opened on April 1, 1943, at the Winter Garden, the night after a little thing called Oklahoma! by Rodgers and Hammerstein, which turned out to be the smash hit of the decade, if not the twentieth century.


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