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'Mr. Television,' Milton Berle Dies - 2002-03-28


Milton Berle, the entertainer known as "Mr. Television," has died in Los Angeles at the age of 93. The one-time vaudeville comic helped to shaped the new medium of television in the 1940s and '50s.

In 1948, when he took over the show called Texaco Star Theater, Milton Berle was watched by four out of five television owners in the United States. He spurred the popularity of the medium and dominated Tuesday night programming through the mid-1950s.

Milton Berle combined fast-paced jokes with visual humor and would do anything for a laugh, including wearing women's dresses. He dressed a cave man, explaining he was offering jokes from the Stone Age, and appeared on screen wearing only a barrel, saying he had just paid his taxes.

The man who helped shape television was already a star on stage. Born in New York in 1908 as Mendel Berlinger, the aspiring entertainer won a talent contest at the age of five, impersonating silent film star Charlie Chaplin. He became a child actor, appearing in films with Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

Berle made his Broadway debut in 1920, and as a teenager toured on the vaudeville circuit. He later became a headliner in New York's famous Ziegfeld Follies.

Milton Berle once called his humor flippant and aggressive, but audiences who loved him called him "Uncle Miltie." "We're trying to make show business bloom right inside your living room," he said.

One friend remembers him as full of energy. Entertainer Johnny Grant is known as the honorary mayor of Hollywood. He knew Milton Berle for more than 50 years. "You know, he wore a whistle when he directed his shows, and if you didn't do something right, you heard the sound of the whistle," said Mr. Grant. "But that's what made him great. What do they say about genius? It borders on insanity."

Milton Berle starred in more than a dozen television series and two dozen movies over his long career.

Last year, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died at home in Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon, with his wife and family members by his side.

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