Milton Berle's "anything for a laugh" ethos propelled him through a career that began in vaudeville, continued on radio, exploded on television and didn't end until his doctors told him, finally, that he had to quit it with the jokes.
It was as a vaudeville star that Berle, in the 1920s and early 1930s, began to develop the jokes, songs and comedy routines that were to serve him so well 20 years later on television.
In 1948, Berle signed to do a radio show—"Texaco Star Theater." It quickly spawned a television offshoot—and the first big hit for a medium that, thanks to Berle, would never be looked at the same. Indeed, "Texaco" would earn Berle the nickname "Mr. Television."
The first "Texaco Star Theater" television broadcast went out live from New York City—on Sept. 21, 1948—from Studio 6B in the RCA Building in Rockefeller Center. Less than two months later, the show was so popular that it was the only program not preempted on election night for the returns of the Truman-Dewey presidential race.
Berle became an institution. The comic mania that made him an electric stage presence translated well to live TV. Restaurant business fell off sharply at 8 p.m. Tuesdays when the show went on. A graph of water usage in Detroit showed a peak from 9 to 9:05 p.m., when, after Berle's hour was up, viewers dashed to the bathroom.
In the years after his television series, Berle remained busy—playing nightclubs and Las Vegas, doing both serious and comedic character roles in movies and on television.