- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP) Milton Berle, the acerbic, cigar-smoking vaudevillian who eagerly embraced a new medium and became "Mr. Television" in the dawn of the video age, died yesterday, a spokesman said. He was 93.
Mr. Berle died at 2:45 p.m. at his home after a lengthy illness, with his wife Lorna and several family members at his side, publicist Warren Cowan said. Mr. Berle had been under hospice care for the past few weeks. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer last year.
"What a remarkable man, what a remarkable career," Bob Hope and his wife, Dolores, said in a written statement. "Eighty-eight years in show business, a brilliant comedian, an accomplished actor, a lifelong friend."
Mr. Hope, 98, and his wife, 93, joked: "We are among the select few who could call him 'kid.'"
"Uncle Miltie" was the king of Tuesday nights, and store owners put up signs: "Closed tonight to watch Milton Berle." His program's popularity spurred sales of television sets and helped make the technology a medium for the masses.
At 8 p.m., four Texaco service attendants sang the "Texaco Star Theater" theme, and then came Mr. Berle, dressed for laughs: a caveman introduced as "the man with jokes from the Stone Age"; a man in a barrel "who had just paid his taxes."
If the audience thought he looked funny in a dress, Mr. Berle was happy to oblige. Skits in drag became a trademark.
He was called the "Thief of Bad Gags" and joked about stealing quips "I laughed so hard I nearly dropped my pencil," he said of a rival comedian. He stopped at nothing for a laugh.
"Good evening, ladies and germs," Mr. Berle would say to his audience. "I mean ladies and gentlemen. I call you ladies and gentlemen, but you know what you really are."
He admitted his humor wasn't gentle: "I guess you'd call my style flippancy, aggressiveness … a put-downer."
In its debut season in 1948, Mr. Berle's show was watched on four of every five sets in the nation, and he was the medium's highest-paid funnyman.
But the magic faded later in the '50s, and in recent years Mr. Berle and his outsized cigars played fairs, nightclubs, college campuses and the private Friars clubs in Beverly Hills and New York.
In 1983, he was among the first seven inductees into the TV Hall of Fame of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Flowers were left on his star yesterday on the Walk of Fame along Hollywood Boulevard.
"From the first days of my career, he was one of my comedic heroes," Don Rickles said. "He was always a great mentor. His style of comedy will never be replaced."
Born Mendel Berlinger in New York's Harlem on July 12, 1908, Mr. Berle remembered his mother bouncing him on her knee and telling him, "Make me laugh."
His mother, Sandra, was a thwarted entertainer. His father, Moses, Mr. Berle recalled, was a "charming, rather helpless man who suffered from rheumatism and could never keep a job. … He always dreamed of the big chance around the corner, but it never came."


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