In 1948, NBC brought Texaco Star Theater to TV. The show began with Milton Berle rotating hosting duties with three other comedians, but in October he became the permanent host. Berle’s highly visual style, characterized by vaudeville slapstick and outlandish costumes, proved ideal for the new medium. Berle modeled the show’s structure and skits directly from his vaudeville shows but,
Berle risked his new found TV stardom at its zenith to challenge Texaco when the sponsor tried to prevent black performers from appearing on his show.
“I remember clashing with the advertising agency and the sponsor over my signing the Four Step Brothers for an appearance on the show. The only thing I could figure out was that there was an objection to black performers on the show, but I couldn’t even find out who was objecting. “We just don’t like them,” I was told, but who the hell was “we”? Because I was riding high in 1950, I sent out the word: “If they don’t go on, I don’t go on.” At ten minutes of eight—ten minutes before showtime—I got permission for the Step Brothers to appear. If I broke the color-line policy or not, I don’t know, but later on I had no trouble booking Bill Robinson or Lena Horne.”
As “Mr. Television,” Berle was one of the first seven people to be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1984. The following year, he appeared on NBC’s Amazing Stories (created by Steven Spielberg) in an episode called “Fine Tuning”. In this episode, friendly aliens from space receive TV signals from the Earth of the 1950s and travel to Hollywood in search of their idols, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, The Three Stooges, Burns and Allen—and Milton Berle.
Are you willing to risk your success in business to help others find success?
Are you prepared to cross that line?