Who was Milton Berle?
The late American actor and comedian Milton Berle was born as Mendel Berlinger in New York City, USA, on 12 July 1908, meaning that Cancer was his zodiac sign. He appeared in 111 movies and TV series, and is perhaps remembered best for playing the lead character J. Russell Finch in the 1963 action adventure comedy movie “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”, which also starred Ethel Merman and Spencer Tracy, and which Stanley Kramer directed. It follows several motorists who’ve witnessed a car crash in the California desert, while the driver’s dying words were the location of a hidden treasure; the movie won three of its 13 award nominations, including an Oscar win for Best Effects, Sound Effects.
Milton died from colon cancer on 27 March 2002, aged 93; famous British actor and musician Dudley Moore and Austrian-born American moviemaker Billy Wilder died on the same day.
Early life and education
Milton was raised alongside his sister Rosalind and three older brothers Jack, Frank and Phil in New York City, by their Jewish parents Sarah ‘Sadie’ Glantz and Moses Berlinger; Sarah was a housewife, while Moses was a varnish and paint salesman.
Milton was five when he launched his acting career, playing Boy in the 1914 action adventure movie “The Perils of Pauline”, and the same year saw him star in the short comedy film “Bunny’s Little Brother”; he then also launched his career as a child model.
Milton was eight when he enrolled at Professional Children’s School, from which he matriculated in 1924, two years before his peers; he didn’t attend college.
He was 16 when he changed his name.
Roles in movies
Milton portrayed a supporting character in the 1917 comedy “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm”, and the year 1920 saw him play Boy in the popular romantic western adventure “The Mark of Zorro”, which starred Marguerite De La Motte and Douglas Fairbanks, and was directed by Fred Niblo. It follows the adventures of courageous vigilante Zorro.
Milton appeared in three more movies in the 1920s: the 1921 drama “Little Lord Fauntleroy”, the 1922 romantic drama “Tess of the Storm Country” and the 1923 action adventure “Ruth of the Range”.
He also had only three film roles in the 1930s, while the most popular amongst these was perhaps the 1937 romantic musical comedy “New Faces of 1937”, in which Milton starred alongside Harry Einstein and Joe Penner. It follows a film producer who’s taken the money for a new project and has disappeared, while the cast are still nevertheless trying to complete the film.
Some of Milton’s notable performances in the ‘40s were in the 1942 romantic drama “Over My Dead Body”, the 1943 romantic comedy “Margin for Error” and the 1949 comedy “Always Leave Them Laughing”.
His only two roles in the ’50s were both in 1960 – the comedy “The Bellboy” and the romantic musical comedy “Let’s Make Love”.
What marked the ‘60s for Milton was perhaps starring as Mr. Kenton in the 1965 comedy “The Loved One”, which also starred Jonathan Winters and Robert Morse, and was directed by Tony Richardson. It follows a young British poet who’s begun working at a cemetery in Hollywood, and the film won one of its two award nominations.
Milton appeared in a couple of movies in the ‘70s, including the 1972 western comedy “Evil Roy Slade”, the 1973 “The TV Comedy Years” and the 1979 adventure family comedy “The Muppet Movie”.
What marked the ‘80s for Milton, in a rather negative way, was appearing in the 1989 comedy “Going Overboard”, which starred Billy Bob Thornton and Adam Sandler, and was written and directed by Valerie Breiman; it follows a struggling comedian who’s begun working on a cruise ship, and the film received consistently negative reviews.
Milton’s final three film roles were in the 1994 family adventure “Storybook”, the 1995 animated family comedy “Jingle Bell Rock” and the 2000 family fantasy comedy “Kenan & Kel: Two Heads Are Better Than None”.
TV series roles
Milton’s debut TV series appearance was playing Joe Hillyer in the 1958 episode “Material Witness” of the drama “Kraft Theatre”, and the following year saw him appear in an episode of both the biographical comedy “Sunday Showcase” and the family comedy “The Danny Thomas Show”.
He appeared in many series in the ‘60s, and from 1966 through 1968 played Louie, the Lilac in the action adventure comedy “Batman”, which Lorenzo Semple Jr. created, and which starred Adam West and Burt Ward; it follows the adventures of Batman and Robin, and the series won six of the 13 awards for which it was nominated. The remainder of the decade saw Milton appear in an episode of the comedy talk-show “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson”, the action adventure comedy “Get Smart”, and the crime mystery “Ironside”.
What marked the ‘70s for him was perhaps playing himself in the 1974 episode “Milton Berle Is the Life of the Party” of the comedy “Here’s Lucy”, which starred Gale Gordon and Lucille Ball, and was created by Ray Singer and Milt Josefsberg. It follows widow Lucy Carter as she’s raising her two teenage children, the series aired from 1968 through 1974 and was nominated for four awards.
Milton appeared in an episode of many series in the ‘80s, with some of the most popular amongst these having been the comedy “Gimme a Break!”, the crime mystery “Murder, She Wrote”, and the musical “Fame”.
His final three TV series roles were in the 1995 episode “December Bride” of the comedy “Roseanne”, and in 1996 the episode “The Volunteers” of the family comedy “Sister, Sister” and the episode “Body Language” of the crime adventure comedy “Due South”.
Comedian Milton Berle (Uncle Miltie) on the left, inside the Grand Court of Wanamaker's department store in Downtown Philadelphia. Circa 1970sPhoto credit: Temple University Archives.
Milton produced and directed the hit family comedy “The Milton Berle Show”, which aired from 1948 through 1956, the 1988 comedy film “Milton Berle, the Second Time Around: The Funny Fifties”, and the 1989 comedy movie “Milton Berle, the Second Time Around: Carnival of Comedy”.
He received special thanks for the 1981 biographical musical documentary movie “This Is Elvis” and the 1993 documentary comedy film “The Unknown Marx Brothers”.
Some of Milton’s final talk-show appearances were in “E! True Hollywood Story”, “E! Mysteries & Scandals” and “Biography”.
Awards and accolades
Milton won six of his 10 award nominations. Some of his wins included a 1950 Primetime Emmy for Most Outstanding Kinescope Personality, a 1979 Primetime Emmy for Special Presentation and a 1996 American Comedy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Milton was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, for radio and television, and was inducted into the Online Film & Television Association Hall of Fame in 1998.
Love life and marriages
Milton was married four times, twice to a same woman. He and American actress Joyce Matthew married on 4 December 1941; she had roles in 44 movies and TV series, and died aged 79 in 1999. The two divorced on 22 October 1947, re-married again on 16 June 1949, but then divorced again on 30 March 1950; Milton and Joyce had an adoptive daughter Victoria. Following his second divorce, Milton revealed that it was his mother who led to both of his and Joyce’s divorces, and that she had also previously found ways to separate him and his long-term girlfriends.
Milton and his second wife, the late American actress and publicist Ruth Cosgrove, married on 9 December 1953, and the marriage ended when she passed away aged 67 on 18 April 1989; they had an adoptive son William.
From 26 November 1991 until his death, Milton was married to his third wife Lorna Adams, an American showgirl.
He dated many other women, including actresses Linda Darnell, Mary Beth Hughes and Ann Miller, and also had a biological son Bob Williams with former girlfriend Junior Standish (nee Jean Dunne Arthur).
Milton was married to his third wife Lorna Adams at the time of his passing, he had two adoptive children with his former wives and a biological son with former girlfriend Junior Standish.
After Milton was diagnosed with colon cancer in April 2001, his wife stated that the cancer was so slow in growing that he had over 10 more years to live, however, he died only a year later. His remains were cremated and have since been kept at Hillside Memorial Park.
He was the co-founder of the private show business Friars Club of Beverly Hills, together with Robert Taylor, Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante.
Milton and American drag queen RuPaul were hosts of the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards, at which Milton was acting rudely towards RuPaul and even wanted to touch his fake breasts; this lead RuPaul to end his professional relationship with MTV.
Milton suffered a mild stroke on 5 December 1999.
Appearance and wealth
Milton’s hair was brown and eyes were blue; he was 5ft 10ins (1.78m) tall and weighed around 165lbs (75kgs).
His net worth was estimated at over $2 million, at the time of his passing.