Victor Borge

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The Great Musical Comedian of Denmark

Victor Borge was a Danish comedian, conductor and pianist who achieved great popularity in radio and television in the United States and Europe. His blend of music and comedy earned him the nicknames “The Clown Prince of Denmark”, “The Unmelancholy Dane”, and “The Great Dane”.

On this page you will find his biography, an interview, some quotes and videos of Victor Borge’s best performances including “page turner”, “hands off”, “phonetic punctuation”, “Mozart opera” and many others.

Childhood in Copenhagen

Victor Borges original name was Børge Rosenbaum. He lived from 3 January 1909 to 23 December 2000. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, into a Jewish family. His parents, Bernhard and Frederikke (Lichtinger) Rosenbaum, were both musicians — his father a violist in the Royal Danish Orchestra and his mother a pianist. Like his mother, Borge began piano lessons at the age of two, and it was soon apparent that he was a prodigy. He gave his first piano recital when he was eight years old, and in 1918 was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music.

First Concert

Borge played his first major concert in 1926 at the Danish concert-hall Odd Fellow Palæet (The Odd Fellow’s Lodge building). After a few years as a classical concert pianist, he started his now famous “stand up” act, with the signature blend of piano music and jokes. He married American Elsie Chilton in 1933, the same year he debuted with his revue acts. Borge started touring extensively in Europe, where he began telling anti-Nazi jokes.

Fleeing the Nazis

When the Nazis occupied Denmark during World War II, Borge was playing a concert in Sweden, and managed to escape to Finland. He traveled to America on the United States Army transport American Legion, the last neutral ship to make it out of Petsamo, Finland, and arrived 28 August 1940, with only $20 (about $337 today), with $3 going to the customs fee. Disguised as a sailor, Borge returned to Denmark once during the occupation to visit his dying mother.

In this great video Victor Borge performs the “page turner”, “hands off”, “inflationary language”, “two pianists playing Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody on one piano”, “Mozart opera” and “phonetic punctuation” as an encore.

In U.S.A.

Even though Borge did not speak a word of English upon arrival, he quickly managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience, learning English by watching movies. He took the name of Victor Borge, and, in 1941, he started on Rudy Vallee’s radio show, but was hired soon after by Bing Crosby for his Kraft Music Hall program.

From then on, fame rose quickly for Borge, who won Best New Radio Performer of the Year in 1942. Soon after the award, he was offered film roles with stars such as Frank Sinatra (in Higher and Higher). While hosting The Victor Borge Show on NBC beginning in 1946, he developed many of his trademarks, including repeatedly announcing his intent to play a piece but getting “distracted” by something or other, making comments about the audience, or discussing the usefulness of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” as an egg timer. He would also start out with some well-known classical piece like Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and suddenly move into a harmonically suitable pop or jazz tune like Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” or “Happy Birthday to You”.


One-man Show: Comedy in Music

Borge appeared on Toast of the Town hosted by Ed Sullivan several times during 1948. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States the same year. He started the Comedy in Music show at John Golden Theatre in New York City on 2 October 1953. Comedy in Music became the longest running one-man show in the history of theater with 849 performances when it closed on 21 January 1956, a feat which placed it in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Playing With Famous Orchestras

Continuing his success with tours and shows, Borge played with and conducted orchestras including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and London Philharmonic. Always modest, he felt honored when he was invited to conduct the Royal Danish Orchestra at the Royal Danish Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1992.

Victor Borge continued to tour until his last days, performing up to 60 times per year when he was 90 years old.

Borge helped start several trust funds, including the Thanks to Scandinavia Fund, which was started in dedication to those who helped the Jews escape the German persecution during the war.

Author of three books

Aside from his musical work, Borge wrote three books, ‘My Favorite Intermissions’ and’ My Favorite Comedies in Music’ (both with Robert Sherman), and the autobiography (in Danish) ‘Smilet er den korteste afstand’ (The Smile is the Shortest Distance) with Niels-Jørgen Kaiser.

Borge died in Greenwich, Connecticut, at the age of 91, after more than 75 years of entertaining. He died peacefully in his sleep a day after returning from a concert in Denmark. According to his wish, to mark his connection to both the United States and Denmark, a part of Victor Borge’s ashes is interred at Putnam Cemetery in Greenwich, with a replica of Danish icon The Little Mermaid sitting on a large rock at the gravesite, the other part in Western Jewish Cemetery, Copenhagen, Denmark.

References:

Victor Borge in Wikipedia
Obituary in the New York Times
Obituary in the Telegraph
Victor Borge: My Favorite Intermissions
Victor Borge: My Favorite Comedies in Music

Victor Borge Quotes:

The Smile is the Shortest Distance

Humor is something that thrives between man’s aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth

Always remember to forget the things that made you sad, but never forget to remember the things that made you glad

A Smile is a curve which can set a lot of things straight

I wish to thank my parents for making it all possible… and I wish to thank my children for making it necessary

Borge: “Are there any children in the audience?”

Audience: “Yes.”

Borge: “Out!” ——  Addressing the manager: “We do have some children in here; that means I can’t do the second half in the nude. —– I’ll have to wear a tie. —— The long one. —– The very long one, yes.”

Phonetic Punctuation

Reciting a story, with full punctuation (comma, period, exclamation mark, etc.) as exaggerated onomatopoeic sounds.

Inflationary Language

Incrementing numbers embedded in words, whether they are visible or not (“once upon a time” becomes “twice upon a time”, “wonderful” becomes “twoderful”, “forehead” becomes “fivehead”, “tennis” becomes “elevennis”,

“I ate a tenderloin with my fork and so on and so forth” becomes “‘I nine an elevenderloin with my five’k’ and so on and so fifth”.

Interview with Victor Borge

Other video and audio:

The Victor Borge Collection Volume 1 [DVD]
The Victor Borge Collection Volume 2 [DVD]
Victor Borge – In Concert & Encore [DVD]
Victor Borge – The Great Dane of Comedy
Victor Borge – The Legendary Victor Borge
Phonetically Speaking – And Don’t Forget The Piano! CD

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