Milton Berle was television's first superstar and remains one of America's top comedians.
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95
(continued from page 13)
After Ruth died, Milton Berle was a fairly lonely man. Many of his friends from the Round Table gang were gone, including Groucho and Jack Benny, and so were all of his brothers, except Phil, who is 94 and lives in Hollywood.
As a result, Berle found himself spending more and more of his afternoons in a booth reserved especially for him in a corner of the dining room at the Beverly Hills Friars Club.
He eats lunch there when he's in town, smokes cigars and exchanges jokes and show-business talk with his cronies, such as singer Tony Martin, comedy writer Buddy Arnold (who wrote the Texaco song) and some younger members, such as Frank Ferrante--who portrayed Groucho in Groucho: A Life in Review, off-Broadway--and Joe Vitrelli, a character actor who has played Mafia types in films like Goodfellas and Bullets Over Broadway.
Within reach of Berle's well-manicured right hand is a telephone on which he constantly fields business calls and offers to perform.
And when he gets the opportunity, he tries to convert friends who are hooked on cigarettes to cigars. One such friend is Vitrelli.
Berle likes Vitrelli and hated to see him killing himself with cigarettes. So every time they met, Berle would walk up to him and yank the cigarette out of his mouth. One day Berle handed him a Churchill-sized Romeo y Julieta cigar and told him to try it.
"Hey, dis smells good," he told Berle, who showed him how to cut the end and light it.
A few days later, Vitrelli walked into the Friars and over to Berle's table with a cigar in his mouth. Berle congratulated him on making the switch and asked him what kind it was.
"It's the same as the one you gave me," said Vitrelli. "It's a Romeo and...uh...a Romeo and...uh..." Unable to recall the rest of it, he looked at Berle with a helpless expression and asked, "a Romeo and...uh...what's that fuckin' broad's name?"
Even after Ruth's demise, Berle maintained an active evening social life. As one of the last of the legendary comedians, he was a much-sought-after guest on the Bel Air party circuit at the tony homes of people like Aaron Spelling, Marvin Davis and David Geffen. Which is how he met Lorna Adams, his third wife--or fourth, depending on how many times you want to count his marriages to Joyce Mathews.
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