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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Stand-Up > TV > Milton Berle Collection Boxed Set

The Milton Berle Collection


Picture: C     Sound: C-     Extras: D     Episodes: B



When he first arrived on TV, Milton Berle was an insane success and still holds ratings records to this day.  It is no wonder he will always be known as “Mr. Television” and those first shows were produced The Texaco Star Theater.  It was Berle’s show too, also named that, then General Motors’ Buick division picked up the tab on later seasons and the ten shows in this Milton Berle Collection are from those years.


Nancy Walker was a regular who was launched by this show in a way that kept her working into the 1980s!  Herbert Ross, later a major film director, served as the show’s choreographer.  The other regulars included Ruth Gilbert as Max (as in Maxine) and Arnold Stang as Francis, Berle’s fictitious assistants.  The episodes offered here are as follows:


1)     How To Put On A Show – A Dragnet send-up offers Vic Damone, Jackie Cooper, and Herbert Ross on camera.  Berle had a thing for Jack Webb’s classic.

2)     7th Season First Show – I am not a fan of Mickey Rooney, but this is one of the funniest things he has ever done and Nancy Walker shows up dressed as another M.B.: Marlon Brando!

3)     What’s My Racket? – Berle strikes again, sending up the great gameshow What’s My Line?  Peter Lawford and Carol Channing are on board this one, as well as Maria Riva, the daughter of Marlene Dietrich.

4)     Party Date – Martha Raye joins Berle, one of his best match-ups.  Raye was later maligned and even blacklisted for support of the troops during the Vietnam era, before her comeback.  The Big Mouth, as she was known, was one of the great comic talents of the 20th Century and this show demonstrates why.  By the way, the Mr. Weaver she is getting a call from is Pat “Sylvester” Weaver.  He not only ran the network and created the Today and Tonight shows, he is the father of Sigourney Weaver.  John Payne also stars.

5)     Music Man – Dame Judith Anderson (before the Dame title), hit singer Georgia Gibbs and Broadway director Cyril Ritchard join Uncle Miltie for high art.  Anderson is hilarious and with Ritchard, sends up high culture and the British.  This is one of the box’s best episodes.

6)     Champ – Steve Allen shows up to send up his own show, joined by Janet Blair, Jerome Cowan and heavyweight boxing champion Ezzard Charles.

7)     Dragnet – Berle goes even farther in sending up Dragnet, this time bringing in Jack Webb himself, as well as Sid Caesar, making this a very key episode of the show.  Berle’s mother even shows up.

8)     Fired – Kay Thompson shows up in a show where Berle goes crazy and gets rid of all his cast and crew.  This is not explained well enough, but Thompson is a stage legend, a dancer’s dancer and choreographer’s choreographer.  She would get more exposure a few years later, making a very impressive showing in Stanley Donen’s Funny Face.  She is underutilized here, though.

9)     Art & Culture – The great character actor Paul Douglas tries to bring Berle into the world of high art with tickets to a Broadway show as a prelude to more art, but can Berle hold a straight face?  The results of this one are mixed.

10)  Broadway – In this case, Berle wants to be a Broadway star and he even gets help from guests Frank Sinatra and Tallulah Bankhead.  Sinatra had his comeback in From Here To Eternity going for him, which is heavily sent-up here.  This is the right episodes to end this set with.


Each show is about an hour and does not have actual TV ads, though Buick placements are in the beginning, ending, and in the occasional joke.  After looking at the boxed sets Passport has issued of Martin & Lewis and Burns and Allen, I like those, but this is the best one.  It has the most episodes and they have aged the best in content.  It is beyond who was or was not a guest star, but just that Berle’s format was the most consistent and tends to have the most dense material of the three series.  This is the first version of Berle’s TV series.  There were later revivals, but this is the groundbreaker that ran until 1956.  Berle went on to many classic TV appearances and feature films, always with his brilliant comic timing and supreme wit.


The full screen, monochrome image shows its age, averaging out throughout the box.  The live images are off of old kinescopes, which always have that “worn down coin” look.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono would be the same, but it does not fare as well due to sound drop-outs the DVDs warn of due to the condition of some of the material.  The box warns about the “vintage” condition of both.  There are not extras.


Berle passed away in 2002, leaving a huge legacy behind.  He made fun of Rock and Soul music, but never mixed well with it.  He appeared oddly in Ratt’s “Round N Round” Music Video clip because a relative directed it and one of his very last appearances was its own kind of classic.  This was with the transvestite RuPaul on an MTV Awards Show, where things always seem to go wrong.  In this case, the newer talent took Berle off guard after Berle threatened to have some audience member thrown out.  In presenting the award, Berle commented what a nice dress the cross-dresser was wearing.  To his surprise, RuPaul said something to the effect that it was one of his “bitch”, to which Berle exclaimed that was not in the script.  Berle snapped into wit mode and announced that he would like to start over and leave his brain at the door so they could start out even.  The award was given and RuPaul was vanquished from the media altogether.


Even in the end, Berle really was Mr. Television and was formidable no matter when you caught him.  This boxed set does not have any unfortunate moments like that, but the man at the center is of the same timeless intensity and that is why his work will always endure.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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