Some reminiscences on the early days of television in the 1974 autobiography Milton Berle:
(On giving himself the nickname "Uncle Miltie" while trying to fill time when his live show came up short one night.)
I started ad libbing, digging out anything I could think of. Then I said to Nelson, "How are we doing?" It felt like I had used up 15 minutes.
He held up five fingers.
That's when I remembered those requests from mothers. Since I was running out of things to say, I went into a spiel off the top of my head. "Since this is the beginning of a new season, I want to say something to any of you kiddies who should be in bed, getting a good night's rest before school tomorrow. Listen to your Uncle Miltie, and kiss Mommy and Daddy good night and go straight upstairs like good little boys and girls."
Today, if a television show is in the top 30, the sponsor is happy. But back at the beginning, the sponsor was nervous if you weren't in the top five, and if you fell below 10 you were dead.
Whenever I took my week off in the 1951-52 season, the show took a nose dive. There were now enough shows on television for the viewer to shop around. And when I came back after a week off, I had to work twice as hard to pull the show back up.
Sharkey, a trained seal, had a great act. He could balance anything. One of the things he balanced was a potty. Only nobody told Sharkey that NBC had cut the potty bit — too offensive in those days — from his act. Everything went great in Sharkey's act until it was time for him to balance the potty on the tip of his nose. No potty. The poor seal kept wandering around the stage looking for his potty. He wouldn't get off. The audience howled, and the show ran overtime again.
This is not to say I was a saint during the Texaco days. I was rough, and I have lots of regrets about things I did and said, for the way I pushed and shoved and bullied during those hysterical years. My only defense, which is no defense, is the pressure I worked under, and the person I was raised to be. You take a kid at the age of 5 and make him the star of the family, and then take that same kid out into the world and make him a star with everybody catering to him as if he were something more than another perishable human being, and it's a miracle if that kid doesn't grow up to be a man who believes he's Casanova and Einstein and Jesus Christ all rolled into one.