Milton Berle, the performer who straddled vaudeville, Broadway, radio, nightclubs and movies before becoming the first star of the post-war industry known as television, died in his sleep at home in Los Angeles March 27.
Mr. Berle, 93, was known as "Uncle Miltie," the sometimes crossdressing star of TV's "Texaco Star Theatre" in 1948. Born Milton (sometime reported as Mendel) Berlinger in New York City in 1908, Mr. Berle attended the Professional Children's School in 1916. He made his professional stage debut in Floradora in 1920, but had appeared as a child actor in silent films ("The Perils of Pauline," 1914, among others). Decades later, he made a memorable turn in the dark film comedy, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and showed up in Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose."
He spent a dozen years in vaudeville, and played the ultimate showplace of the genre, The Palace Theatre, as part of the comedy team of Kennedy and Berle. He was also a single act and toured with his own vaudeville company. Walter Winchell famously called Mr. Berle "The Thief of Bad Gags," according to Variety.
On Broadway, he appeared in Earl Carroll's Vanities (1932) and as Windy Walker in Saluta! (1934), See My Lawyer (1939), Ziegfeld Follies (1936 & 1943), and produced Broadway's I'll Take the High Road and Seventeen. He appeared in Top Banana on a summer stock tour in 1963. He also appeared on Broadway in Herb Gardner's The Goodbye People.
Mr. Berle was also a published songwriter, though he will always be most remembered for his TV antics, including comic crossdressing. His mannish Carmen Miranda shtick made the cover of Newsweek magazine. He is survived by wife Lorna, daughter Victoria and son Billy, according to Variety.
— By Kenneth Jones