1 9 4 8 – 1 9 5 6 (USA)
On 8 June 1948, four singing Texaco service men introduced Milton Berle to the small screen as the first tv host of Texaco Star Theater, a variety show which dated all the way back to the pre-television days of 1932 radio (when Fred Allen hosted) and became television’s first hit show.
The show dominated all TV competition in the late 40s and early 50s with an estimated 90% of America’s sets tuned to Uncle Miltie and guests such as Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis, Danny Thomas, Walter Huston, Tallulah Bankhead and Basil Rathbone, to name just a very few.
Texaco Star Theater was allegedly responsible for selling more TV sets than any other. Every Tuesday night when the show went to air, movie theatres across the US would go dark and shop owners would put up signs announcing; “Closed tonight to watch Milton Berle”.
Tuesday night was Berle Night, and in those early days, owners of television sets could usually expect half the neighbourhood to drop in for a Tuesday-night visit. Another typical scene of that era was the crowd gathered outside an appliance store, watching Uncle Miltie through the plate-glass window.
Berle was originally supposed to alternate with several other hosts, including Henny Youngman, but he drew so much fan mail that NBC soon gave him the spot exclusively. Before it went off the air in 1956 it had been renamed The Milton Berle Show and Berle had won an Emmy for a programme that was truly his own.
The show was so successful that in 1951, NBC signed him to an unprecedented contract calling for $200,000 a year for 30 years – whether Berle worked or not. The network agreed in 1965 to let him work elsewhere, and Berle accepted a pay cut to $60,000 a year.
Milton Berle died in March 2002 at the age of 93, having been diagnosed with colon cancer the year before.