According to widespread reports, Milton Berle, the pioneering TV comedian, vaudevillian and film and radio comic who M*A*S*H creator Larry Gelbart once called TV's "George Washington in drag," died at his home Wednesday at the age of 93.
Berle had been diagnosed with colon cancer and had been under hospice care.
Berle made numerous radio appearances, but he became TV's first superstar, earning the title "Mr. Television" and the affectionate nickname "Uncle Miltie"
when his Texaco Star Theater made Tuesday nights a must-see NBC night beginning
June 8, 1948.
That was not his first TV appearance, however. The comedian -- a meticulous
archivist with hundreds of kinescopes -- once told Broadcasting & Cable he still had a
clip of his performance in an experimental TV broadcast made in 1929.
Berle, who took over as full-time host of the NBC show in September 1948
after rotating the hosting duties, was so popular that some theaters and
businesses are said to have closed on Tuesday nights due to lack of
He was also credited with almost singlehandedly boosting TV sales as people
moved from watching the show in store windows to the comfort of their own
At one time, his rating hit an 80.7 and averaged a 69.4 in 1949. Berle also
hosted the first telethon, when he raised $1.1 million for the Damon Runyon
Memorial Cancer fund in May 1949.
Berle hosted his own show, in some form, on NBC from 1948 through 1956.
He had signed a 30-year, six-figure-per-year deal with the network, but when
his star began to fade, he renegotiated a lower fee in exchange for the right to
work for other networks.
His honors include being the first inductee into the TV Hall of Fame in 1984 and
receiving the first Emmy Award to an individual for "Most Outstanding Kinescope Personality of
Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
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