For years I ate lunch every Thursday at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills. I sat at the bar, read the sports pages and discussed wagering strategies with the bartender. Milton Berle sat in the lounge area just beyond the end of the bar, between me and the TV but a little over toward the wall. Eventually, the lunch crowd departed. By 230pm or so, it was just the three of us sitting watching the Dodgers or the Yankees.
I never said much to him. He didn’t say much at all. Sometimes a player would botch a play and he’d say, “What the hell was that?”
Other than that he would watch in silence while the bartender told me about how Frank Sinatra used to tip him $100- for each drink he ordered. I didn’t think about the fact that every week I was watching television with the man that practically invented it.
About once a week somebody would come in to the lounge, pull a chair up next to him and announce themselves, “Mr. Berle, it’s So and So, how are you?”
Mr. Berle was always incredibly gracious. “Oh, hi, how are you?” he’d answer with one eye on the TV. The bartender would turn down the volume on the baseball game so they could talk.
“Mr. Berle, I’d like you to meet my nephew (business associate/ sister/ dog groomer). He’s a huge fan!”
“Hi, how are you doing?” he’d say, extending a weak hand.
The guest would ramble on and on for about ten minutes. Mr. Berle would interrupt them occasionally with a quick one-liner. Mostly he listened. Eventually they would leave, thrilled to have had some face time with a legend.
It was just the three of us again. Mr. Berle would look at the door and then look at us at the bar.
“Who the hell was that?” he’d say. Then he’d laugh.
We’d laugh, too.
I miss him.