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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 8)

Oh, we're the men of Texaco,

We work from Maine to Mexico,

Our show tonight is powerful,

We'll wow you with an hour-ful.

The ditty went on for several choruses, with Berle, also in uniform, joining in, and segued into an hour of comedy sketches and musical productions featuring leggy chorus girls, guest comedians and singers.

"Texaco Star Theater" was so popular that it was the only television program not preempted on Tuesday night, November 2, 1948, for the Truman-Dewey presidential-election returns.

Of course the competition on television wasn't as stiff then. Actually Berle was the first of the big-name comedians to get his feet wet in the new medium. His peers, namely Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Red Skelton, Eddie Cantor and Fred Allen, were all scared to leave the security of radio to risk flopping on the tube, where they would have to work with sets, wear costumes and makeup, devise stronger scripts and memorize lines.

But Berle didn't have to worry about leaving the airwaves because he'd never been that big on radio in the first place. As one wag cracked, "the trouble with Milton Berle on radio is that his personality comes across."

But television was a different story. Because it was a visual medium, it allowed him to do the kind of shtick he did best--physical comedy. He could mug, drop his pants, take a pie in the kisser, dress in drag, ogle bosomy showgirls; in fact, he could be as outrageous as he liked as long as he didn't violate the censorship code.

In his first four seasons on the air, Berle reigned throughout the country as "Mr. Television." In April 1949 he hosted the "Damon Runyon Memorial Fund," the first charity telethon, and in May became the first comedian to appear simultaneously on the covers of Time and Newsweek, with accompanying profile stories. At the second Emmy Awards presentation in January 1950, Berle won for "Most Outstanding Kinescoped Personality," and "Texaco Star Theater" won for "Best Kinescope Show."

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