July 12, 1908 – March 27, 2002
“Experience is what you have after you’ve forgotten her name.”
Updated November 2008:
Scott, I’m Bill Berle, Milton’s adopted son. Your website article on him mentions me. I’d like to correct something inaccurate about this piece, on the chance you are concerned with authenticity or correct information.
I’m the kind of guy that believes that just because someone is dead, it doesn’t automatically eradicate his or her sins in life. I think that a person’s actions are a testament to their lives, not their deaths. With that in mind, here is a story about a very unpleasant man (at least publicly), Uncle Miltie. If you are easily offended, do not read this. If descriptions of a sexual nature bother you, DO NOT READ THIS.
I’ve been clipping stories about this guy for years. The first was in a book by (whatever happened to?) gossip columnist Shirley Eder. She knew Milton, and she was attending a private birthday party in which Milton was the special guest entertainer. Someone in Shirley’s party heckled Berle, and he didn’t take to it very kindly. The woman was a friend of Shirley’s, and Milton held Shirley personally responsible. After the show, according to Eder, “I went into the dressing room holding my husband’s hand, dragging him along for protection.
Then Milton let me have it! He called not only me, but even the party hosts who had brought and paid for all fifty of their guests to see them, every four-letter word any of us had ever heard, plus one five letter word none of us had ever heard. He called the “lady” that bugged him a “cooze.” It took me a year and a half to get the definition of the word “cooze.” Somehow from his tone, we figured it meant exactly what I learned it did.” In fairness, they patched things up eventually, but that’s example number one.
Findadeath.com friend Jim sends me this: “Groucho Marx had many stories about Berle. “You’re not funny,” he once told Berle. Berle’s reply, “Everything I know, I stole from you, Grouch.” Groucho, unplacated, shot back, “Then you didn’t listen.”
In January of 1992, when Milton was 83, a 24 year old woman claimed she saw Milton in a restaurant. He signaled her to come to his table, and greeted her with, “You have such beautiful breasts! I’d love to put my head between them. She (unbelievably) stammered a thank you, and he continued, “I have something big and beautiful, too. Here, have a feel,” and proceeded to force her hand to his crotch.
After this display supposedly disgusted the chick that sold her story to the tabloids, she gave him her phone number. He calls her two days later, and arranges a stretch limo to pick her up. Inside is a bottle of champagne, to get her going. I’ll quote directly from the story. “I barely go through the front door before he attacked me. He pulled me to him and we kissed. Then he stepped back, and took his pants off and I got the shock of my life.
“Here was a man in his 80’s standing stark naked before me and he was huge! It must’ve been over a foot long and sent shivers of fear up my spine. And to my horror, he forced me to give him oral sex. But Milton didn’t get excited. Then he joined me down on the floor and we tried to make love, but it was just a total bust.” It gets worse, but we get the picture, don’t we?
Sometime in 1992, Berle married Lorna Adams, who was a good 30 years younger. I wonder what it was that first attracted her to millionaire Milton Berle.
Milton had two children from a former showgirl Joyce Matthews, whom he married and divorced twice. He also had a son named Bill, from his third marriage to Ruth Cosgrove. Bill wrote a book. From what I gather, the book was pretty dull, only dishing odd things like the fact that Milton liked to keep a bedpan so he didn’t have to get up at night. The maid would have to clean it in the morning, and he rarely had good aim. Ringading ding. However, the son did say that Milton allegedly had affairs with Marilyn Monroe (she must have been bored), Lucille Ball (they shared their passion for smoking?), Veronica Lake (she could only see half of him), Lana Turner (she was famous for liking 12 inches the hard way), and Hedy Lamarr (hope he locked up the silver). Oh, and Nancy Reagan too. According to Peter Lawford, Nancy gave the best head in Hollywood.
The book I wrote was referred to by your article as likely being “dull”. I beg to differ; it was a fairly honest and somewhat even handed look at the last third of Milton’s life, focusing on how someone could fall from being the biggest celebrity in the world to a “couldn’t get arrested” has been. I wasn’t there to see that 14 inch thing of his used on Marilyn Monroe or Nancy Reagan or Rita Hayworth or (insert long list of names here), so the book didn’t have the gory details of it.
Findadeath.com friend Linda the webbie sent me an article from the Akron Beacon Journal which stated that: When (Berle) hosted “Saturday Night Live” in the late 70’s, he was so beastly that producer Lorne Michaels vowed never to repeat the telecast. It also names other situations where Milton was less than pleasant to be around.
For the record, the stories about Milton being difficult, temperamental and often a pain in the ass are all completely true. Few people have the insight to look past those admitted problems and ask how or why they came into being. The story about his turning “Saturday Night Live” upside down to the point of making a lifelong enemy out of Lorne Michaels is also true. We got 3AM phone calls from a beyond-stoned John Belushi for weeks afterward, cartoonishly fawning over Milton as being the most brilliant comedian that ever lived, with giggling party animals
in the background.
It began with a stroke in December of 1998, which left him with severe eye problems. His son Bill said, “I haven’t spoken to him in years. And now that I know he had a stroke, I don’t intend to call him.”
The reference to my hearing about Milton having a stroke and saying I would not speak to him because of it is completely untrue. My father and I had indeed become estranged for the last few years of his life, but this was unrelated to a stroke or illness on his part.
We were estranged because of his behavior in the months and years following the death of my mother Ruth, in addition to the “normal” difficulties between a father and a son, in further addition to the “not normal” difficulties of being part of a show business family… and an old guard showbiz family at that, and finally (and mostly) because of the actions of a quintessential Hollywood gold-digger who swooped in amidst the chaos after Ruth’s death to destroy Milton’s old family and replace it with a new one under her control. This was (and is), unfortunately, not even an uncommon or newsworthy thing in the old-guard entertainment business.
My father and I had been estranged before any stroke, and the presence of said gold-digger precluded any chance of fixing it. But I never said or thought anything so inappropriate as what had been quoted in your website article. A story had also been circulated (by the gold-digger’s
publicist) that at one point I had threatened Milton’s life, which did not happen at all.
The stories about his losing his fortune at the horse race track are true, save for the rape and pillage of the last little pieces of it that his last wife did during her reign..
In July of 1999, he celebrated his 91st birthday. He quipped, “I feel like a 20 year old, but they’re never around.” Charming. Old letch.
Berle and his third wife Lorna dressed as Sonny and Cher for Halloween that year.
In July of 2000, Milton sued Century 21 Real Estate, and the gay OUT magazine for $6 million. They used a picture of Milton in Carmen Miranda drag in one of their advertisements, with the caption “Our team of friendly professionals know how to cater to royalty, after all, every queen deserves a castle.” Milton claimed the ad was a violation of privacy and defamation. According to the suit, “The depiction of Berle would convey to a reasonable person that he was a homosexual.”
On April 3 of 2001, Milton disclosed that after tests taken at Cedars Sinai, it was discovered that he was suffering from colon cancer. Doctors decided not to operate, for some reason. His wife Lorna stated, “It’s a small tumor in his colon. He isn’t scheduled for any surgery, but that could always change. He is in no pain.” He was also using a wheelchair at that point, and again his wife comments, “He gets a kick out of sailing into restaurants in it.” Yeah, a real laugh. I’m clutching my sides just thinking about it.
He turned 93 in July last year.
In January of 2002, Milton discussed how he had planned to beat the colon cancer.
A report in the April 4, 2002 issue of some rag says that Milton can barely walk, but still he hangs out at his favorite restaurant, Matteo’s. One of his last meals there, he shared with Phyllis Diller.
Milton died in his sleep at 2:45 pm, on Wednesday March 27, 2002 in his home. The colon cancer finally got to him. I’ve been past that house a thousand times, and never snapped a picture, but we’ll get one up there soon. HOWEVER, Findadeath had some friends on the scene!
Thanks to our friend and creator of beneathlosangeles.com Steve Goldstein, we have FAB pictures of Milton’s funeral at Hillside Cemetery. He’s been cremated.
There were indeed 100 or 150 people at his funeral service. The service was at Hillside only because the gold-digger had managed to convince an ailing Milton to undo the long standing arrangements he had made to be buried next to Ruth at Mt. Sinai cemetery.
Steve Goldstein recalls: Fyvush Finkel
is an actor I first noticed. He’s on the show Picket Fences. He’s on Boston Public now. What I remember from the service was the funny eulogies delivered by Don Rickles, Jan Murray, Red Buttons,
Larry Gelbart, and Buddy Hackett.
Jan Murray went on forever, and everyone gave him shit for it for the rest of the day. It became the running gag. One of the funniest lines: Milton remarried his first wife a second time. When asked why, he said “She reminds me so much of my first wife.”
Other guests included Jayne Meadows,
and Joe Viterelli.
Interment was private.
Steve also sends us this terrific shot of the sign outside the chapel (temple?).
But by far, the coolest shot is of ol’ Milton’s box.
A new friend of Findadeath.com, Mark Masek, sends us this in depth report:
What if they gave a memorial service, and nobody came?
From the looks of the set-up at Milton Berle’s memorial service at Hillside Memorial Park, they were expecting a good-sized mob of adoring fans. There were about 150 chairs set up on the lawn outside of the chapel, and speakers so the gathered multitude could hear the eulogies. The cemetery also had a bunch of security people on hand, to keep the mob under control.
The only problem was, by the time the memorial service started, there were only four people sitting in the chairs. Maybe in honor of “Mr. Television,” all his fans stayed home to watch the reports of the memorial service on TV.
When the service started, the cemetery security people invited the few fans and the assembled press to sit in an area behind the chapel, where we could get a better look at the service.
The eulogies were delivered by Norm Crosby, Red Buttons, Connie Stevens,
Don Rickles, Jan Murray,
Larry Gelbart and Richard Moll (best known as “Bull” from “Night Court,” and Berle’s son-in-law). Now, be honest. When you read those names, how many times did you think, “Him? I thought he was already dead.”
Rickles, Murray and Buttons were pretty funny in their comments. Most made fun of Berle’s reputation for stealing jokes, and his fear of being caught in a draft and catching a cold. In fact, his coffin was draped with the overcoat he always wore. There were, however, no comments about Berle’s legendary appendage. Here is a shot of the coffin, sans the coat.
Rickles also joked about the “cheap yarmulkes” that were given to friends and family at the service.
They had little white stickers inside that said, “In Memoriam, Milton Berle, July 12, 1908 – March 27, 2002.”
Milton’s widow Lorna was there,
and other mourners included – and please hold the shouts of “I thought they were already dead” until the end – Sid Caesar, Rose Marie, Jayne Meadows, Ruta Lee, Buddy Hackett,
Martin Landau, Fyvush Finkel, Army Archerd, Tom Poston, Tom Dressen, Ed Begley Jr., Larry Miller and Jackie Cooper. I guess they were following the old show-biz adage – “If you don’t show up for someone’s funeral, don’t expect them to show up for yours.”
A few highlights:
Ed Begley Jr. got there late, and ended up sitting in the “common folk” section, outside the chapel.
Larry Miller got there even later, wearing brown wingtip shoes, tan pants, a brown plaid sport coat, and a dark green velvet yarmulke. And, no, he wasn’t trying to be funny. I don’t think he was, anyway.
Sid Caesar looked pretty old and frail, but actually better than he should look, considering how old he really is and how much he’s been through. Sid spoke to the press before the service.
While some of the other celebs arrived in limos, Caesar was helped into the front seat of a red Toyota Camry after the services were over.
The service ended with the family and friends escorted out of the chapel to their waiting cars, past a small group of press photographers, fans and assorted gawkers. My favorites were a typically touristy couple who could have been part of a comedy sketch on Berle’s Texaco Star Theater. Apparently, they had never seen celebrities in person before, and they apparently didn’t realize they were seeing them in person now. When anyone famous walked past them, they talked about them like they were watching them on television – “James, look. Who’s that?” “Oh, I think that’s Red Buttons.” “Red Buttons? Are you sure?” “Yeah, I’m pretty sure.” “He doesn’t look very good, does he?” At this point, Red Buttons was standing about 10 feet away from them, and couldn’t help but hear their comments. I wanted to walk over and say, “You’re not watching them on television. They can hear you.” Later, an AP photographer took a picture of James kissing Berle’s coffin. (You can find the photo on the Yahoo news site.)
Thanks so much, Mark. Stop by Mark’s website and get his great book! cemeteryguide.com
Trivia: Dudley Moore died the same day.
More Trivia, Jim also sends this one: “You know the old story about Milton and Forrest Tucker having big peckers, right? I guess Berle and Tuck both had ones in the 12″ to 16″ neighborhood. The show biz guys all had a steam room they went to in New York. Jackie Gleason was horsing around one afternoon, and decided he wanted to measure them to see who’s was bigger. Berle allegedly had the advantage by about 2”. Gleason said, “Come on Milt, just take enough out to win the bet for me.” Do you remember Dick Shawn the comic? He described being in the steam room with Berle this way, “I didn’t have my glasses on. I thought he had a small child standing next to him, until I realized it was his schlong.”
Thanks for the picture, Mary!
Findadeath.com friend MC adds this: When asked how big it got when hard he answered: ” I don’t know – I pass out”.
Hi, it’s “NuttyNutBuster” here!
I just got done reading your Milton Berle “piece” and as usual had a good laugh, but now I have a serious question: Who is Milton Berle’s lovechild?
Back in 1974, Milton wrote one of the first of the so-called “Celebrity Tell-All” books (Milton Berle: An Autobiography – by Milton Berle, Haskel Frankel). In it he discusses his many wives (he married not 1 but 2 of them twice) and he revealed a BOMBSHELL, that he had a child out of wedlock with an already married vaudeville performer.
When this book came out I would see Milton on a number of talk shows discussing this lovechild of his, and he really seemed torn about the whole situation. He said one night while on the road he was feeling a little lonely, and this married woman was feeling the same; so, he and this female performer got together and had sex. He said the woman later told him she was pregnant. She had a son, and according to Milton this man is VERY famous. He said he would see him at dinner parties in Hollywood, but just didn’t have the nerve to tell him that the man he believes to be is father really is not. Milton claimed to have told only his wife (whichever one that was in 1974). Now I have my suspicions who this VERY famous son might be:
1. Jack Coogan – now directory (child actor in “The Kid” w/Charlie Chaplin and he played Uncle Fester on The Addams Family),
2. Jack Cooper – very much alive (child actor in the 1931 version of “The Champ” w/Wallace Beery and he was in the Our Gang Comedies and he played Perry White in “Superman: The Movie”).
I’m not sure who this child of his really is, but you would think that now with DNA testing and all that, everyone involved would come forward for some DNA testing. Even a sample from Milton’s dead body would be enough for testing.
May 2002: Findadeath.com friend LIZ was the first of many to come up with this conclusion: Jackie Coogan couldn’t have been Milton Berle’s love child. Jackie Coogan was born in 1914 when Milton was only 5. Jackie Cooper couldn’t be his Lchild either because he was born in 1922 when Milton was 13 unless he started having sex really early. Back to the research Scott ;^) Jackie Coogan does look a lot like him however.
Milton’s secret offspring? It wasn’t Jackie Coogan or Jackie Cooper. Bob Williams is not the “secret” one, although his identity was not public. If I knew who it was I’d spill it, but I don’t. The people who knew what the big reveal was are all gone to the best of my knowledge.
And yet more from Kenny: Milton Berle shared the same birthday as Bill Cosby. Supposedly, they used to smoke a cigar together every year on their birthday.
This just in, January 2003, from Findadeath friend William French:
According to Berle in one of his books, he did start having sex at an early age, and his mother would even help find him girls to sleep with. It is in his book about the Friars Club.
December 2002, from Findadeath friend Carmen: I am a native Texan, but lived in LA from 87-91 and knew quite a few entertainment people and some stars.
Regarding Uncle Miltie, I can tell you that in 1979, I worked at the only 24 hour drug store at I-75 and Meadow Rd. At that time, there was an entertainment place for washed up stars called the Dallas Country Play House, and they always arranged for their stay in the upscale Jewish community by the store, where I worked the 10PM – 7AM shift.
One night, when only me and the pharmacist were there, Milton Berle walked in with his cigar blowing, and he glared at me like this huge Sasquatch, barking, “I NEED SOME LAXATIVE! WHERE IN THE HELL IS IT?” I knew who the asshole was, and replied “So, aren’t you Uncle Miltie? Is this one of your jokes?” (I was 19 then, and a VERY fun person and had no desire to take that old POS crap). He bellowed like a maniac, “DAMN IT, NO, THIS IS NOT A JOKE! I SAID I NEED SOME F***ING LAXATIVE! MY STOMACH HURTS! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?”
Well, I died laughing, and called the pharmacist up to the front, and old Milton went ballistic when the pharmacist raced to embrace him, saying “Oh my gosh! I saw you in 1964 at the blah…blah…blah…!” Berle then flicked his 2 inch long ashes on the floor, and looked at the pharmacist like a gangster and yelled “I HATED THAT SHOW! DAMN IT! I WANT SOME F***ING LAXATIVE, AND THIS IS NOT A F***ING JOKE!” Needless to say, the pharmacist showed him the way to that aisle, and so Uncle Miltie and I shot looks that could kill to one another as he walked away.
When he came to check out, I hid behind the opposing perfume counter to see if he’d steal the laxative, and he did! He was an ass, I saw nothing funny in that man and loved reading your piece on his passing away.
Findadeath’s “friend” Carmen from Texas saw an old man who was suffering from some kind of physical pain and could not get over the idea that someone famous could be rude because of that pain. What about if you were sick and someone wanted to talk about some boring old crap instead of help you find your medicine? News flash: celebrities have the same right to laxative as anyone else. Milton was a huge pain in the ass a lot of the time, but if he was hurting from something…
New goss, June 2002: Milton Berle, once the biggest name in television (he’s also the biggest in another way, but that belongs in Greta Garbage’s “Who’s Hung in Hollywood” chapter), Berle was accused a few years ago of ruining a thirty-three year old bellman’s sex life, by grabbing him in the crotch and squeezing. The bellman at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Atlantic City says that he told Uncle Miltie, “You look terrific for your age,” which may have irritated him because of the mention of his age. He said Berle then “lunged for his crotch and squeezed,” necessitating later hospital visits.
Berle fought the suit, saying: “I’m nearly eighty-eight years old. I have better things to do in my life than go around grabbing some guy’s crotch. Hell, at my age, I’m lucky if I can find my own crotch.”
More, October 2002: Milton Berle has an illegitimate son named “Bob Williams” who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Bob owns a cigar store. Bob’s mom was a Vegas show girl. Milton acknowledged Bob only to his closest friends, but had Bob visit him in LA, and came to Phoenix to visit a couple of times. Bob is the spitting image of his father. It’s uncanny how much they resemble each other.
The story goes that Milton left Bob nothing in his will, but did give him a few bucks to open his store. It is really sad that Milton didn’t do more for his son, or recognize him as an offspring to more people. Truly sad.
Milton Berle was an over-achiever and an under-achiever, he was the greatest in the world at some things and the worst at others. What too few people understand is that like other historical figures, he gave up almost everything else in life to be the greatest at one thing. His should be both an inspirational tale and a cautionary tale, a great tragedy as much as a success story. By all rights you should live him and hate him, as I did.
Use as much or as little of this as you see fit, however please leave whatever you use intact.
Thank you, Bill.