PERFORMERS: VICTOR BORGE

Born: January 3 1909
Died: December 23 2000

borgeby PETER TATCHELL (reprinted from LAUGH MAGAZINE #5, 1992)

For over half a century Victor Borge travelled the world spreading his own particular blend of music and comedy to the joy of untold millions of people. His approach to the classics and pop pieces was always the same … instil into his interpretations a sense of fun and gentle mockery without losing touch with the artistry of the composer.

Borge was born in Denmark in 1909 to a musical family. At an early age he was regarded as a child prodigy but not for him the strict reverence to classical compositions. By his early teens he was pricking the pomposities of concert performances, much to the delight of the audience. By the 1930s he’d become a popular favourite in his homeland and had even appeared in a series of motion pictures. His satire was not limited to music; one of his targets was German leader Adolph Hitler and by the time the Third Reich marched into Copenhagen Borge was high on their list of undesirables.

By a lucky stroke of fate, Victor was performing in Sweden at the time and was able to escape to New York on the last ship leaving Finland. Despite his success in Scandinavia, Borge was unknown in America and wasn’t able to speak English. His solution to the problem was to spend hour upon hour in movie theatres until eventually he was able to learn the language.

This not only allowed him to communicate and resume performing, but it created a fascination of the idiosyncrasies of the language itself. From that point on, his stage routines would rely on clever puns and word-plays sprinkled amongst his piano offerings.

Finding few openings in New York, Victor headed for Los Angeles and was soon hired as a “warm up” man for studio audiences to Rudy Vallee’s network radio series. Despite receiving enthusiastic response to his routines, Vallee’s format didn’t include guest artists and Borge had to be content with his off-air acclaim. Before long, however, he was asked to appear on Bing Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall broadcast and his sensational performance garnered so much listener approval he was signed as a regular.

Victor stayed with the Crosby program for just on a year before freelancing on other popular shows. In 1943 he appeared in his first English language film Higher And Higher in a support role (in what was to be Frank Sinatra’s breakthrough movie).

Then in 1945, he was given his own nationally broadcast network radio series The Victor Borge Show, as a summer replacement for Fibber McGee And Molly. The following year he joined Benny Goodman for a prime-time network program, again over NBC.

When television came into its own in the early 1950s, Victor was soon starring in his own coast-to-coast series, but it was not until 1953 that he was finally regarded as a show business legend. In October that year he opened his one-man show Comedy In Music on Broadway, and stayed there for a record-breaking 849 performances.

It was basically a mixture of all his finely-honed musical lampoons, dialogue routines and piano slapstick he’d built up the preceding twenty years. And it became the Borge career path from that day on. In the decades since that Broadway triumph, he toured the world and filled theatres and concert halls by virtue of his inimitable style and roguish humour. Even in his eighties people everywhere were still enchained by his childlike sense of fun.

He died in 2000, successful and popular as ever.

 

RADIO

The Kraft Music Hall (NBC) 
Victor made a guest appearance on December 4 1941 and was signed as a regular performer on the show from then on. He stayed with the program for just on a year.
Jan 29, Mar 12 to Apr 30, May 21 to June 4, Oct 1, Oct 15 to Nov 12 and Dec 24 1942 are with collectors

The Victor Borge Show
Blue Network Mon-Fri March 8 to July 9 1943 (15 min)

The Victor Borge Show
NBC Tuesdays July 3 to September 25 1945 (13 x 30 min)
With Pat Friday and Billy Mills Orchestra.
July 3 show is with collectors

The Victor Borge/Benny Goodman Show
NBC Mondays Sep 9 1946 to June 30 1947 (43 x 30 min)
Oct 7, Nov 11 and Jan 6 are with collectors

Victor Borge
Mutual Mon-Fri January 1 to June 1 1951 (5 min)

Victor Borge
ABC Mon-Fri October 1 to December ? 1951 (5 min)

Victor also appeared on a number of AFRS programmes during (and after) World War 2

Command Performance
#20  June 30 1942
#44  December 28 1942
#183  July 12 1945
#189  August 30 1945
#224  summer 1946
#251  late 1946
#279  summer 1947
#315  early 1948
#371  spring 1949
shows 20, 183, 189, 224, 251 and 315 are with collectors

Mail Call
#116  November 2 1944
#146  May 23 1945
#279  December 1947
show 116 is with collectors

G.I. Journal
#99  June 15 1945

 

FILM

Higher and Higher
RKO 1943 feature.
Victor played a supporting role in this Frank Sinatra musical

 

TELEVISION

The Victor Borge Show
NBC Saturdays February 3 to June 30 1951 (22 x 30min)

Victor has also hosted the following one hour specials:

All Star Revue
NBC Saturday October 27 1951

Victor Borge’s Comedy in Music 1
CBS June 14 1956

Victor Borge’s Comedy in Music 2
CBS December 11 1956

Victor Borge’s Comedy in Music 3
CBS February 9 1958

Victor Borge’s Comedy in Music -4
CBS November 29 1958

The Victor Borge Special
NBC February 18 1960

The Victor Borge Show
NBC March 18 1960

The Victor Borge Show
ABC October 6 1960

Victor Borge’s 20th Anniversary Show
CBS September 27 1961

The Hollywood Palace (ABC) 
Victor hosted the editions of
May 23 1964
November 14 1964
March 13 1965
April 23 1966
December 3 1966
October 3 1967
February 2 1968
He also guested on the edition of
October 31 1967

Victor has appeared on a number of specials on British television

A Gala Evening With Victor Borge
ITV June 18 1972

The Complete Victor Borge
BBC2 Thursdays October 31 to December 5 1974 (6 x 30 min)

Victor Borge in Concert
Thames Television June 27 1979

 

BOOKS

My Favourite Intermissions
by Victor Borge and Robert Shennan (New York, 1971)
also published as My Favourite Intervals (Woburn Press, 1974)

Victor Borge’s My Favourite Comedies In Music
by Victor Borge and Robert Sherman (Robson Books, London, 1981)

 

DISCOGRAPHY

Phonetic Punctuation (Parts 1 and 2)
Columbia 78rpm 36911

Blue Serenade/A Lesson In Composition
Columbia 78rpm 36912

Brahms’ Lullaby/Greig Rhapsody
Columbia 78rpm 36913

Mozart Opera By Borge/All The Things You Are
Columbia 78rpm 36914

Brahms, Bizet and Borge
Columbia 10” LP CL 2538
The Blue Serenade
Brahms’ Lullaby
All The Things You Are
Bizet’s Carmen
Greig Rhapsody
A Lesson In Composition

Comedy In Music
Prism CD PLAT/CD 570
Bizet’s Carmen
Unstarted Symphony
Intermezzo
Stardust
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 (excerpt)
Inflationary Language
Hist Hvor Vejen Slaar En Bugt + Vuggevise
Clair De Lune
Phonetic Punctuation (parts 1 & 2)
A Lesson In Composition
The Blue Serenade
Grieg’s Rhapsody
Brahms’ Lullaby (dedicated to my Mother)
A Mozart Opera By Borge
All The Things You Are

Comedy In Music
Columbia LP CCL 554
Also issued as two 10” LPs CL 6292/3, and on Compact Disc CBS A 554
Comedy In Music
Medley Of Popular Songs (incl. The Donkey Serenade + Falling In Love With Love + Let Me Call You Sweetheart + Farmer In The Dell + Always + Mary Had A Little Lamb + 01’ Man River + Oh What A Beautiful Morning + Some Enchanted Evening + So In Love + Without A Song + Happy Birthday + Summertime + Rhapsody In Blue + Tenderly)
Warsaw Concerto + Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart

Caught In The Act
Columbia LP CCL 646 and CD CBS A 646
Requests (incl. Tea For Two + Malaguena + Stardust + Nola + Trees + One Fine Day + Tales From The Vienna Woods + Third Man Theme + Nocturne + Blue Danube Waltz)
A Mozart Opera By Borge
Three Borge Favourites (incl. Tango + “Minute” Waltz + Liberstraum)
Family Background
Phonetic Punctuation

Victor Borge Live
Sony CD MDK 48482
Features highlights from the above two recordings
Comedy In Music
Medley Of Popular Songs
A Mozart Opera By Borge
Three Borge Favourites
Family Background
Phonetic Punctuation

A Mozart Opera By Borge/Phonetic Punctuation
Phillips single bbe 12154

Borge’s Back
MGM LP (S)E 3995P
(reissued as Great Moments of Comedy With Victor Borge Verve LP V-15044
and Borgering On Genius MGM LP 235 4029)
Introduction
Inflationary Language
The Blue Danube Waltz
Requests
Duets

Victor Borge Live At The London Palladium
Pye LP NSPL 18394
and CDs Pickwick PKD 3147 and Castle 2CD DUO 121 (coupled with Tony Hancock material)
Night And Day
Happy Birthday To You
Chopsticks
Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody
The Folk Song
The Russian Opera

My Favourite Intervals
Pye 2LP NSPD 502
Borge On Bach And Beethoven
Borge On Handel
Borge On Mozart And Offenbach
Borge On Rossini

His Greatest Hits and Finest Performances
Reader’s Digest 3CD set 2258 (1994)
Caught in the Act:
Phonetic Punctuation
A Mozart Opera by Borge
Family Background
Comedy in Music
Medley of Popular Songs
Inflationary Language
By Request:
Tea for Two
Malaguena
Star Dust
Trees
One Fine Day
Tales from the Vienna Woods
The Third Man Theme
Nocturne
Blue Danube Waltz
Tango
Minute Waltz
Liebestraum
Warsaw Concerto
Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart
The Adventures of Piccolo, Saxie and Company
Victor Borge Plays it Straight … Almost:
Bizet’s Carmen
Claire De Lune
A Lesson in Composition
The Blue Serenade
Moonlight Sonata
Kurt Weill MedleyChopin’s Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3
Grieg Rhapsody
All the Things You Are
Excerpt from Rachmaninnoff’s Piano Concerto
Brahm’s Lullaby
Star Dust
Intermezzo
Tschaikovsky Medley
Unstarted Symphony

Victor’s performances on several Kraft Music Hall broadcasts may be heard on the following LPs:

The Kraft Music Hall of March 12 1942
Spokane LP 2

The Kraft Music Hall of April 30 1942
Spokane LP 3

The Kraft Music Hall of April 16 1942
Spokane LP 4

The Kraft Music Hall of January 29 1942
Spokane LP 11

Victor also appears on the following non-comedy LPs:

Piccolo, Saxie and Company
Columbia LP CL 1233

Victor Borge Plays and Conducts Concert Favourites
Columbia LP CL 1305/CS 8113

Hans Christian Andersen
Decca LP DL7 34406

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