Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Milton Berle- An Autobiography with Haskel Frankel

I remember Milton Berle from TV. He was hipper than Sullivan and was a part of the act, not just the emcee. His career began at age 5 and spanned 7 decades!

This book takes you on a ride that begins with his Mom entering Milton in a contest for a silver colored cup- and leads you through the Golden Age of Vaudeville to the early days of Radio and Screen. The book is fast paced and informative. You learn all kinds of things about how it was done in a world void of modern gimmicks.

The Berles were Germans and actually the name is Berlinger- he never changed it legally- as a matter of fact the whole family used Berle after Milton became famous. But officially it always remained Berlinger.

His father was a seemingly ineffectual person, but Miltons kindness comes from him. His tenacity and stick to it qualities come from his Mom, a woman known affectionatley as "Queenie." She was an imperious woman and is largely responsible for Milton Berles sucess.

The train trips across America in the 1920's, his first encounter with sex via a burlesque dancer and his increasing pre-occupation with sex make this an enjoyable read.His encounters with Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor and a host of others will keep you reading.

His affair with an actress he will not identify will fascinate you. He gets her pregnant- offers to marry her out of real love- only to be turned down. She is engaged to a prominent Hollywood producer and marries him instead. Though the Producer is impotent she convinces him that this is thier child and they marry.The marraige launches her career. This event is so traumatic that he opens the book with an account of it- over 40 years later.

The cast of characters is colorful. That they are all real people you know of- is a big plus and gives you that "peek behind the curtain" feeling.

His early days on TV will fascinate you with the differences in the Industry today. Doing live TV was a demanding and exacting task. You either sank or swam. Milton Berle swam with the best of them.

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