By Tom Morrow
Of all the many celebrities I have interviewed during my 40-plus years of writing, three comedians stand out: Jack Carter, Henny Youngman, and Milton Berle
Jack Carter, born June 24, 1922, was a comedian, actor and television personality. Brooklyn-born Carter had a long-running comedy act similar to fellow rapid-paced contemporary Milton Berle.
In 1984, I’m sitting in the Pacific Southwest Airlines waiting area to catch a flight from San Diego to Los Angeles when I realized a very familiar face was sitting alongside. He was frantically searching his pockets for something.
“Buddy, can ya spare a dime?” he asked me. It was famed stand-up comedian Jack Carter. Luckily I did have a dime. He took the coin over to a pay telephone and made a call. When he returned it was time for the flight to board.
“C’mon kid, you’re my valet,” he quickly told me as he faked a “limp” toward the gate. He went up to the agent and informed her I was needed to help him board the plane. I went along with it. We were boarded along with the women and children and had our pick of seats. It was small talk over the next hour, but big in my memory.
Carter hosted an early television variety program called “Cavalcade of Stars” on the old DuMont Network. He was lured to NBC to host his own program titled The Jack Carter Show. He made dozens of appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Carter died on June 28, 2015.
Henry “Henny” Youngman was born March 16, 1906. He was a comedian and violinist famous for his mastery of the “one-liner”. He was best-known for the one-liner: “Take my wife … please.”
In a time when many comedians told elaborate anecdotes, Youngman’s routine consisted of telling simple one-liners, occasionally with interludes of violin playing. These depicted simple, cartoon-like situations. A couple of examples:
“My wife said I should take her somewhere she’s never been, and I said, ‘Try the kitchen.’” “My wife is crazy about furs and said she wanted something different. So, she went to a furrier who does his own breeding. He crossed a mink with a gorilla. She got a beautiful coat, only the sleeves are too long.” (tah dump bump)
Youngman’s inoffensive, friendly style of comedy kept his audiences laughing for decades. During my interview with him, I asked how many jokes he had amassed over the years? “Millions,” he replied. I then asked if he was afraid other comedians would steal them? “Only as long as Berle’s alive,” he quipped. (They were close friends).
Youngman died Feb. 24, 1998. He bequeathed a collection of 6 million jokes to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Milton Berle, born on July 12, 1908, was a vaudeville-style comedian and actor. As the host of NBC’s “Texaco Star Theater” (1948-55), he was the first major American television star and was known to millions of viewers as “Mr. Television.” Because of his huge popularity, he sold more TV sets than anyone else. His show caused TV set sales nationally to double to more than 2 million.
In Detroit, an investigation took place when the water levels took a drastic drop in the city’s reservoirs on Tuesday nights between 9 and 9:05. It turned out that everyone waited until the end of Berle’s “Texaco Star Theatre” before going to the bathroom.”
He earned another nickname after ending a 1949 broadcast with a brief ad-libbed remark to children watching the show: “Listen to your Uncle Miltie and go to bed.”
Berle risked his newfound TV stardom at its zenith to challenge Texaco when the sponsor tried to prevent black performers from appearing on his show, such as the famed “Step Brothers” dance quartet. Berle refused and broke the so-called color barrier.
I interviewed Berle in 1979 for a front-page feature in the old Escondido Times-Advocate. Later, at a cigar dinner in 1994, I chatted with him briefly, reminding him of our interview 15 years earlier, adding “you probably don’t remember me.” He quickly quipped, “Of course I do … now, what was your name?”
A notable note: When he was at the height of his popularity at NBC, the network gave Berle a “lifetime” contract for $1 million a year. Ironically, shortly thereafter, his star began to fade, but he got his money every year until his death, which was March 27, 2002.
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