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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 4)

Their romance heated up during the Broadway run of Hold Onto Your Hats. Berle became a regular stage-door Johnny, waiting in the alley behind the Shubert Theatre every night so he could take his blond bombshell out on the town, to her apartment or wherever else they could go to elude Mama Berle, which wasn't easy. Mama wasn't about to lose her pride and joy to the shiksa without putting up a fight.

As time went on, waiting for Joyce in Shubert Alley became more and more tiresome to Berle. Jolson, who was still a huge singing star--not to mention a bigger ham than any you could find at the Hormel meatpacking plant--had fallen into the annoying habit of stopping the show every night halfway through the second act and saying to the audience: "Now you nice folks out dere know how dis show is gonna end. Johnny gets da girls, da comedy lead gets da homely broad and da ingenue's father forgives her for falling in love wit a cowpoke and gives him a job on Wall Street. Now dat you know all dis, just settle back in your seats while Jolie entertains you wit a few songs."

Whereupon Jolson would do 40 minutes of his famous numbers, from "Sonny Boy" to "Swanee" to "April Showers" to a lot more, while the rest of the cast just stood there. The curtain was supposed to come down at 11, but on many nights they were lucky if the show let out by midnight.

One night Berle became so angry about being kept waiting that he entered the theater while Jolson was doing his star turn, walked down the center aisle, put two fingers to his lips, let out a loud whistle and yelled, "hold it, Jolie!" Then he walked up on the stage, took Joyce by the hand and led her to the center aisle. There he turned back to Jolson, threw a set of keys at him and said, "we're going home, Jolie. You lock up."

Since Berle was a big star by then and easily recognizable, the audience roared, thinking it was part of the show.

Jolson was livid. He couldn't let on to the audience that he was angry, but the following night he took Joyce aside and said, "if I ever get my hands on that fucking Jew comic, I'll kill him."

"Jolson was so mad he was anti-Semitic--which is pretty mad when you consider he was the son of a rabbi," Berle told me with a grin.

Mama didn't dislike Joyce so much as she just didn't want to share her son with another woman. In spite of her resistance, her son and his shiksa tied the knot in a civil ceremony in Beverly Hills on December 4, 1941--three days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The newlyweds settled down in a house on Roxbury Drive, while Mama remained in the smaller bungalow on Palm Drive, where she and Milton had lived before the nuptials.

At 33, Berle was too old to be drafted. He accepted an offer to star in a half-hour weekly radio show sponsored by Ballantine Beer over the NBC network. The show originated from NBC's new radio-broadcasting studios on the corner of Sunset and Vine.


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