He Introduced Me To The Bosendorfer Imperial: Victor Borge
By 1933 Borge was touring Europe, performing on the piano while developing is comedy routine. with the rise of the Nazi Party to power, Borge was blacklisted in more and more venues because of his Jewish faith and because of his biting barbs about Hitler and the National Socialists that earned him their animosity. As Denmark was occupied by Germany in April 1940 Borge was performing in Sweden, where from there he escaped to Finland. He boarded the SS American Legion, the last American passenger vessel to depart northern Europe before the start of World War II. When he arrived in the United States on 28 August 1940 Borge could speak no English, and had only twenty dollars, three of which was immediately spent to pay the Customs fee. During the war Borge once visited Denmark disguised as a sailor during the occupation to visit his dying mother.
Borge was initially frustrated by his inability to speak English, he had been refused employment even in menial positions. But soon he learned enough English to warm up to the American audiences. He took on the name of Victor Borge, and in 1941 his first opportunity came after he moved to Los Angeles when he was hired to perform supporting Rudy Vallee's radio show. He was noticed and hired for a guest appearance on 4 December 1941 by Bing Crosby for his NBC network "Kraft Music Hall" radio hour; Borge's popularity earned him a a year-long run on this show. Borge discovered a gold mine of humor in his struggle with the English language, and the immigrant's nightmare was transformed into one of the most enduring and endearing parts of the act. He learned to poke fun at his use of English and at its idiosyncracies, most famously through his comedic routine "Phonetic Punctuation". His comedic performances of classical piano compositions left us wanting him to skip the comedy and play it all the way through - such was his great talent as a virtuoso pianist, comedian, and human being that he always left us wanting more of all he brought to the stage.
Fame would soon follow with fortune as Borge became more and more acknowledged as a special talent in the USA. He won "Best New Radio Performer of the Year" in 1942. Soon after that award, he was offered film roles and the opportunities to work with other celebrities including Frank Sinatra in the 1943 RKO musical movie "Higher and Higher"; this was Sinatra's first notable movie appearance. In 1945 the NBC network contracted Borge to perform his own nationally broadcast radio series "The Victor Borge Show", as a summer replacement for Fibber McGee And Molly. Working for him were Pat Friday and Billy Mills Orchestra over the thirteen thirty minute Victor Borge Show episodes that aired Tuesdays from 3 July to 25 September 1945. The following year he joined Benny Goodman to form a prime-time network program with forty three episodes of thirty minute each. "The Victor Borge/Benny Goodman Show" aired over the NBC radio network on Mondays from 9 September 1946 to 30 June 1947. While working on these radio programs Borge developed and refined many of his trademarks including repeatedly announcing his intent to play a piece but then appearing to become distracted by this or that, making comments on the audience, or discussing the usefulness of Chopin's Minute Waltz as an egg timer.
Image from booklet provided to me courtesy of Mr. Bernie Gurtman, Manager of Mr. Borge. Used with permission.
Click on the image to see an enlarged view (83,656 bytes)
In 1949 Borge also appeared several times on the show "Toast of the Town" hosted by Ed Sullivan several times. During the same year he became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. The half hour long "Victor Borge Show" would be Borge's first headlining opportunity to work in the new field of broadcast television. His twenty two programs aired on the NBC television network on Saturdays from 3 February 3 to 30 June 1951. In 1953 Borge married Sarabel (Sanna) Scraper. On 2 October 1953 Borge opened his live "Comedy in Music" show at The Golden Theatre in New York City. His show became the longest running one-man live show entered into the Guinness Book of World Records with 849 performances through 21 January 1956. After closing his live show in New York, Borge continued to make appearances on many television programs, and perform to live audiences around the world.
In 1963 he helped to establish several trust funds including the "Thanks to Scandinavia" scholarship fund in gratitude for the heroic deeds of those in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden who risked their own lives to save thousands of Jews and other persecuted people during the Holocaust. The multimillion-dollar fund has already brought more than a thousand students and scientists to the United States from Scandinavian countries for study and research study research health care. He established scholarship programs at three U.S. Colleges. Nicknamed "The Great Dane" by President Johnson, he earned this title in good measure for the good impact he had on society that went far beyond his profession of musician and comedian.
In his later years he did not slow down much at all, once commenting "I don't mind growing old. I'm just not used to it". He added opera and symphony conducting engagements to his heavy stage and television commitments. Among others, the National Symphony, New York Philharmonic, London, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Royal Copenhagen orchestras have taken a beating under his baton. Victor Borge continued to tour until his last days, performing at up to sixty engagements per year around the world even when he was ninety years old. He raised millions of dollars through benefit events such as the concert with Frank Sinatra at New York City's Radio City Music Hall that raised $1.8 million for the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Mr. Borge earned success with business ventures that brought even more fortune to his other good fortunes. And he used a fair amount of his value as a personality along with his own money to support a number of charitable causes. His accomplishments earned for him not only the revenue and acclaim from audiences, but he was recognized as a treasure by many countries including Orders Of Knighthood from the Scandanavian countries and the Commander Cross of Dannerbrog bestowed by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark (shown above right on this page), honors from the United Nations, the US Congress and the Kennedy Center Honors bestowed on 5 December 1999 by President Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C.
Above: Victor Borge at the keyboard of an Imperial Bösendorfer piano during his show (28,958 & 29,369 bytes).
To hear Mr. Borge closing his show visit our audio links page. Or to see this as streaming video
Content from the DVD "The Best Of Victor Borge: Act One & Two" provided to me by Mr. Bernie Gurtman,
Reflecting on his success, Borge has said: "Basically there is no difference between Scandinavian humor and American humor because when you play a thing upside down you don't have to have a language to do that." His art though was a language that all understood.
While Mr. Borge died in December 2000 we are fortunate that many of his performances were recorded for future generations to enjoy. It is even more fortunate that his programs will amaze the youngest among us, the oldest, and most in between - another testament to the genius that was Mr. Borge.
Some of the reviews of the DVD programs read:
"Victor Borge began his performing career with a piano debut in 1926 at the age of seventeen. For eight decades he's never been out of the spotlight. "The Great Dane," as the beloved international humorist and musician is known, will celebrate his 92nd birthday on January 3, 2001, and shows no signs of slowing down! THE LEGENDARY VICTOR BORGE is a smorgasbord of comedy and music from the Borge archives, including never-before-broadcast Borge routines. The program also contains such classic comedy bits as "Phonetic Pronunciation," "Inflationary Language," "The Timid Page Turner" and many more. The program is hosted by violinist and Borge fan, Itzhak Perlman.
Left: The Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial Concert Grand Piano with Artists Bench in the ebony black mirror-like finish as it is traditionally made in a contemporary style and employed by Victor Borge (64,105 bytes).
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Above: Victor Borge alongside an Imperial Bösendorfer piano during his show (81,997 bytes).
Original slide provided to me courtesy of Mr. Bernie Gurtman, Manager of Mr. Borge. Used with permission.
Click on the image to see an enlarged view (272,687 bytes)
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