The Private joke files of Milton Berle on the auction block at Bonhams in May

Entertainment Memorabilia including Animation Art
5 May 2013
Los Angeles

Los Angeles –Bonhams is pleased to announce its May 5 auction of Entertainment Memorabilia in Los Angeles. The highly anticipated sale includes the Estate of comedian, actor and entertainer, Milton Berle. Highlights include his vast library of original working scripts from over 85 years in show business, paraphernalia related to his trademark cigar plus his carefully curated "joke file."

According to Catherine Williamson, Director of Entertainment Memorabilia, "Milton Berle was one of the most influential comedians of the 20th century, performing successfully in every medium from vaudeville to the legitimate theatre to the concert stage, to radio, film, and most memorably, television. He was also a friend and associate of other great 20th century figures like John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Quite literally, Milton is a legend.."

Berle [1908-2002] entered show business at the age of 5 when he won an amateur talent contest. He appeared in several silent films as a child before moving to vaudeville at age 12. By the 1930s, he was a successful comedian, and by the 1940s he had become a popular radio star. Berle's catapult to superstardom came in 1948 when he was tapped to host the "Texaco Star Theatre" on television. Berle's brand of physical comedy, rooted in the slapstick routines of vaudeville, proved to be a perfect match for television and he quickly became the medium's first superstar. He earned the nickname "Mr. Television" and was credited with spurring the explosion in TV set sales. Some of his most famous bits involved dressing in drag (including as Cleopatra and Little Bo Peep) and getting hit in the face with a powder puff whenever he called "Makeup!" Berle's show became one of the most watched, most talked about TV programme of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and he would up on the cover of both "Newsweek" and "Time Magazine" in the same week in 1949.

In addition to his television success, Berle also acted in many films, making notable appearances in "Let's Make Love" with Marilyn Monroe, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "Broadway Danny Rose," among others. In addition to his work in radio, television, and film, Berle enjoyed a long and successful career on stage and in concert, and published a number of books, including several memoirs, a novel, and two editions of his "Private Joke File."

As a member of the show business community for the better part of the 20th century, Berle had many celebrity friends and colleagues and enjoyed close friendships with John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra. He is also remembered as a prominent member and Abbot Emeritus of the Friar's Club, a long time hangout of many comedians and other celebrities.

Featured items from the Estate of comedian, actor and entertainer, Milton Berle include his literary archive of a working scripts from his entire career, spanning vaudeville, radio, television, and film ($80,000-100,000); the private joke file (est. $10,000-15,000); complete bound sets of scripts from the "Texaco Star Theatre" and other career high points (estimates vary); one of the Powder Puff props from his television show (est. $1,000-1,500); his working script from the Marilyn Monroe film "Let's Make Love" (est. $800-1,200); a signed photograph of JFK and Jackie Kennedy, inscribed to Berle (est. $1,500-2,000); a selection of early vaudeville costumes and props (estimates vary); a selection of humidors and cigar paraphernalia (estimates vary); a group of Friar's Club awards and memorabilia (estimates vary); a sterling silver humidor by Tiffany with an engraved presentation from Mike Todd Jr., Stepson of Elizabeth Taylor (est. $5,000-7,000); an original watercolour portrait used on the cover of "Time Magazine" in 1949, with copy of the printed cover (est. $1,500-2,000); a collection of photographs by Philippe Halsman (estimates vary); a sterling silver cigarette case presented to Berle by Sinatra on the occasion of JFK's inauguration in 1961 (est. $2,500-3,500); Sinatra's telegram to Berle, outlining the plans for Kennedy's Inaugural Gala performance (est. $300-500) and a selection of sterling silver Christmas gifts also from Sinatra (estimates vary), among others.

The illustrated auction catalogue will be available online for review and purchase in the weeks preceding the sale at

Preview: May 3-5, Los Angeles

Auction: May 5, Los Angeles


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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