Victor Borge

Pianist / Comedian

Born: 3 January 1909
Died: 23 December 2000 (heart failure)
Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark
Best known as: The witty pianist who created Comedy in Music

Name at birth: Børge Rosenbaum.

Victor Borge was once called "the funniest pianist on Earth" by The Washington Post. He toured the world for decades with his popular one-man show, which mixed classical piano performance with quips, wordplay and pratfalls. Borge's dour Scandinavian face and formal dress set the stage for the sly hijinks to come: he would comically mangle classic tunes, make faces, or simply stop at the keyboard to tell jokes. Borge was a child prodigy who trained at the Danish Royal Academy of Music. He first performed as a serious classical pianist, but his talent for whimsy overtook the music. By the time he fled Denmark for the United States at the start of World War II, Borge was known best as a comedian. In America he learned English, took the name Victor Borge, and became a popular radio star. His own one-man Broadway show followed: Comedy in Music ran for 849 performances from 1953-56. During the 1960s and '70s he was a familiar face on TV talk and variety shows, including The Dean Martin Show and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Besides musical jokes, Borge also created read-aloud gags like phoenetic punctuation (with Borge reading each period aloud as "phwwt!") and the so-called "inflationary" language, in which "tomorrow" became "threemorrow" and "What for?" became "What five?" Borge never lost his classical chops, sometimes serving as a serious (or nearly serious) guest conductor for major orchestras, and he continued to tour the world until just before his death. He published the memoirs My Favorite Intermissions (1971) and My Favorite Comedies in Music (1980).

Extra credit: Borge became a U.S. citizen in 1948... He was knighted by Denmark and each of the other four Scandinavian countries; he quipped, "After I was knighted five times, I became a weekend"... Borge married American Elsie Chilton in 1933; that marriage ended in divorce and in 1953 he married his manager, Sanna Roach. They were married until her death, three months before Borge, in 2000.

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