25 May 2008
Texaco Star - Uncle Miltie
The Texaco Star Theater began on radio in in the late 30s with Ed Wynn and Fred Allen, moving to television in 1948 starring Milton Berle. remaining the sole sponsor of this classic variety show until 1953. Each show on TV opened and closed and had commercial segments featuring the dancing Texaco men in their uniforms with the star logo. Yes Virginia, there was a time when gas station attendants wore uniforms.
Milton Berle was the best known host of Texaco Star Theater. Berle took part in a television test version in 1948. In June of that year he was selected as host, and the first East Coast broadcast of the TV series began in September. Within two months, Berle became television's first super-star, with the highest ratings ever attained and was soon referred to as "Mr. Television," "Mr. Tuesday Night," and "Uncle Miltie." Restaurants, theaters, and nightclubs adjusted their schedules so patrons would not miss Berle's program at 8:00 P.M. on Tuesday nights. The show was so popular that even though the pay scale was minimal, virtually every well-known entertainer of the time was eager to appear just for the public exposure.
The one-hour live shows typically included visual vaudeville routines, music, comedy and sketches. Other regular features included the singing Texaco station attendants and the pitchman commercials by Sid Stone. Berle was noted for interjecting himself into the acts of his guests, which, along with his opening appearance in out-landish costumes, became a regular feature.
Milton Berle's only real later competition in the early variety was Sid Caesar. A movie from the 1980s, My Favorite Year captures some of the madness that could occur in doing live TV on a weekly schedule.
There is a great eight part interview with Milton Berle done in 1996 when he was 88 that starts Here and covers virtually the whole history of television, but the interviewer doesn't get around to asking about his most "rumored" claim to fame that made him a "Star" with the ladies until the very END which is somehow very appropriate.