Friday, February 13, 2009


The first TV image I ever saw was in the summer of 1946. I was on my way home from Hibbard Grammar School, and I decided to take the long way home by way of Lawrence Avenue. In the window of a phonograph shop, there was a table model 10 inch Black & White TV set, and I was just in time to see Phil Cavaretta, #44 make the last out of a Cubs game... In my 8 year old mind, I figured that the game must of ended a few seconds before, because it must of took time for the TV signal to go from Wrigley Field, back to the TV station and then get into that TV set!

The following year... some TV sets began to pop up at the neighborhood taverns. I used to sneak in and sit on the bar rail at Steiner's at Kedzie and Lawrence and also Shultz's on the corner of Troy Street. I was able to see sports like football, hockey and basketball.

My dad heard that I was going into the bars, and decided the best way to keep me out was to get a set of our own... so in October of 1947, after getting home from work on South Water Market, he asked me to take a walk with him to Little Al's radio and phonograph store. On their awning they had a slogan... "Where the Customer is Always Wrong!" My dad had ordered a console RCA Victor TV, and paid Al $450. plus $65. for a one year warranty, and $65. for an outdoor antenna. With the aid of a 2 wheel hand truck, we carted it to our home at 4839 N. Troy Street.

4839 N. Troy St. & Jerry with his father Hank & 1st TV
in Albany park not in a tavern-1947

We uncrated the set, and with the aid of a temporary antenna... we were able to see our first image on the first tv in Albany Park, that was not in a tavern! It was a children's show called "Junior Jamboree" on the same day they went on the air , later, they changed the named to "KUKLA, FRAN AND OLLIE".

Jerry with his old buddies, Kukla and Ollie at the Chicago Historical Museum

There wasn't much programming then, WBKB was the only TV station in Chicago on channel 4. they went on the air at 3:30 p.m. and signed off at midnight. Their daily listing consisted of a cooking show, local news, some vaudeville and old movies, plus some wrestling matches. It was off the air all day Wednesday. There were so few tv sets, that the station sent their schedule
out weekly on an over size post card. Our living room became the gathering point for the neighborhood children.

In the next few years, Chicago added several TV stations WGN-TV, WENR,WNBQ and we were able to see kinescope recordings from other cities.
On my birthday in January in '48, I had a big party... that was mentioned on the Kukla, Fran and Ollie show, and a few of my friends stayed to watch the first kinescope of the Texico Star Theater, staring Milton Berle, and his guest was Carmen Miranda. Shortly after, with the advent of coaxial cable, the Milton Berle show came live from N.Y. and Tuesday evenings at the Pritikin's meant a large crowd in front of our 10 inch tv.

During the summer of 1951,, I read in the Chicago Daily News that "Uncle Miltie" was going to appear on the stage of the Chicago Theater.

To make sure I would get a good seat, I set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. A hour later, I was on the Ravenswood "el" heading downtown. I was the first in line, and it was at least an hour later before someone joined me. By the time the doors were opened, several hundred other fans were on hand. I ran down and got the first seat in the center isle nearest the stage. I honestly can't remember the name of the movie... but as it ended, The Chicago Theater orchestra started a drum roll and then came the familiar theme song, sung by the Texico service men, including the loud siren:
"Oh, we're the men of Texaco
We work from Maine to Mexico
There's nothing like this Texaco of ours!

Our show is very powerful
We'll wow you with an hour full
Of howls from a shower full of stars.

We're the merry Texaco men
Tonight we may be showmen
Tomorrow we'll be servicing your cars!

We wipe your pipe
We pump your gas
We jack your back
We scrub your glass

So join the ranks of those who know
And fill your tanks with Texaco

Sky Chief, fill up with Sky Chief
You'll find that Texaco's the finest friend your car has ever had

"...And now, ladies and gentlemen... America's number one television star... MILTON BERLE!"

The curtain came up and there was Uncle Miltie, and he started his "Hello Ladies and Germs", walked on his ankles and did his routine with his sidekick Fatso Marko, and Melvin from his tv show. Then he introduced Dagmar, the buxom blond from Jerry Lester's "Broadway Open House" tv show.

They did a bit... reading a radio like script. Dagmar started by looking out at the audience and saying "I am glad to see that the house is filled to catastrophe!" And then Uncle Miltie looked at her script, and corrected her and said "Capacity" ... A moment later she read from the script "Paganini" and again he corrected her... "it's page nine!" When they completed their routine, she took a low bow, Uncle Miltie again walked on his ankles as Dagmar came off the stage with the spotlight following her, as she shook hands with the people in the first row... and when she got to me, she kissed me on my cheek. Then Uncle Miltie reassembled the cast, put his fingers in his mouth and whistled, about an hour after they started and house lights went down... and the movie came back on.

I decided to stay for another show, the second time Uncle Miltie and Dagmar had new costumes, but the jokes remained the same. However, the 2nd time, Uncle Miltie came down to the first row... with the spotlight following him as he shook hands with several fans, and when he got to me... he took off his ring to shake hands with me.

I decided to stay for the 3rd show, again I watched the movie and then the orchestra started the drum roll and Uncle Miltie was back with his original costume and the same jokes. About 10 minutes into the act... I heckled Uncle Miltie by saying...That's what you said at the last show... and kept it up a few times more... but this time neither he or Dagmar came down into the audience.

But I decided to stay for the 4th time.

Again, I watched the movie. By that time I knew the stage routine, and also memorized the lines in the movie. As the movie was getting ready to end, an usher came over to my seat and said "UNCLE MILTIE WOULD LIKE TO SEE ME... AND THE GLEAM IN MY EYES LASTED FOR ONLY A SPLIT SECOND BEFORE HE FINISHED HIS SENTENCE... RIGHT OUT OF THE THEATER!" I guest he got even with me for heckling him, by making me sit through the movie the 4th time, before getting me ushered out of the Chicago Theater.

Many years later, in 1974, I heard that Uncle Miltie was having a book signing at the Emporium Department store in San Francisco. So, I got there early... so I could be first in line, again. While waiting for him... I spotted a young lady setting up the booth, and I mentioned the story to her. She brought me up on stage... and when Uncle Miltie arrived... she whispered the story to him. He looked over at me, cupped his hands so the people could not see and he mouthed to me
" YOU S.O.B.!" Then called me over, and signed my book...

To Jerry, My Heckler Love, Milton Berle

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