I mentioned Milton Berle in my previous post, and I actually have a family story about a run in with the comedy legend.
For those of you too young to remember him, or who aren’t comedy nerds like me, here’s Uncle Milty:
He was a pioneer in early television, and for decades played to sold-out rooms. He appeared in numerous movies, including one of my favorites, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.”
Years ago, my great uncle, Joe Curci, was a barber in Philadelphia, working in a shop near Veterans Stadium. And years later, when I was a little kid, he owned his own shop in my hometown in northwestern Pennsylvania.
That’s where I got my first haircut as a little kid. I don’t know if all older Italians do this, or if it was just my family, but they loved to scare kids. My Uncle Joe kept saying “I hope I don’t cut off your ear.” Kids believe that stuff! Another “fun” game they played was when they would grab my nose, and, say “I got your nose!”
Now that they’re old, I get them back, go into their room at the home and say “Diabetes got your foot!”
Anyway, back to the Milton Berle story. Hanging on the walls of my uncle’s barbershop, he had photos of him as a younger man cutting the hair of many famous people from that shop in Philly. Most were baseball players, but there were a few actors and comedians in the mix. It was a long time ago, and I remember just three of them: Mickey Mantle, Art Carney and, of course, Milton Berle.
According to the story I heard, Milton Berle was a friendly enough fellow, and, happy with his trim, he gave my Uncle Joe $20 for a $5 haircut.
“That’s awfully generous of you, Mr. Berle,” my uncle said.
Well, it wasn’t much later when Milton Berle called from his hotel, and asked, “Did I give you a twenty or a ten?”
My uncle said he had graciously left a twenty-dollar bill.
“I meant to give you a ten,” Berle said.
According to the family story, Berle actually went back to get his change!
In my previous post, I talked about honesty in comedy, and being true to yourself. That’s why I love this story. It appears Uncle Milty was not just an early television pioneer. He was a pioneer of truth in comedy.