"Humor is something that thrives between man's aspirations and his limitations. There is more logic in humor than in anything else. Because, you see, humor is truth."
Børge Rosenbaum was born on January 3, 1909 in Copenhagen, Denmark to musicians Bernhard and Frederikke Rosenbaum (Bernhard played violin in the Royal Danish Chapel). Taking up piano like his mother at the age of 3, it was soon realized that Børge was a child prodigy, and he was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory in 1918, studying under Olivo Krause. Later on, he was taught by Victor Schiøler, Frederic Lamond, and Egon Petri.
Børge had his debut already in 1926 at the Danish concert-hall Odd Fellow Palæet ("The Odd Fellow Mansion"). After a few years as a classical concert player, he started his now famous "stand up" act, with the signature blend of piano music and jokes. He married American Elsie Chilton in 1933, the same year he debuted with his revue acts. Børge started touring extensively in Europe, where he began telling anti-Nazi jokes. This led to Adolf Hitler placing the outspoken Jew on his list of enemies to the Fatherland.
"What is the difference between a Nazi and a Dog?"
"The Nazi lifts his arm!"
When Germany invaded Denmark on April 9, 1940, Børge was playing a concert in Sweden, and managed to escape to Finland. He travelled to America on the SS American Legion, the last passenger ship that made it out of Europe prior to the war, and arrived August 28, 1940 with only 20 dollars, 3 of which went to the customs fee. Børge actually returned, disguised as a sailor, during the occupation to visit his dying mother.
Even though Børge didn't speak a word English upon arrival, he quickly managed to adapt his jokes to the American audience, learning English by watching B movies. He took the name of Victor Borge, and already in 1941, he started on Rudee Vallee's radioshow, but was soon after hired by Bing Crosby for his "Kraft Music Hall".
From then on, it went quickly for Victor, who won "Best New Radio Performer of the Year" in 1942. Soon after the award, he was offered film roles with big shots, such as Frank Sinatra (in Higher and Higher). Hosting The Victor Borge Show on NBC from 1946, where he would repeatedly announce his intent to play a piece, but would get "disctracted" by something or other, making comments on the audience, or lament on the usefulness of the One Minute Waltz as an eggtimer. Victor guested Toast of the Town, hosted by Ed Sullivan, several times during 1948.
Upon obtaining citizenship in 1948, all doors were open for Victor. He started the Comedy in Music show on The Golden Theatre in New York City on October 2, 1953. Shortly after divorcing Elsie, he married Sarabel Sanna Rodgers (daughter of Richard Rodgers) in 1953. Comedy in Music would come to be the longest running one-man show, with 849 performances when he stopped January 21, 1956, being accepted in the Guinness book of world records.
Continuing his success with several tours and shows, playing with some of the world's most renowned orchestras, New York Philharmonic and London Philharmonic among others. Always modest, though, he felt very honored when he was invited to conduct the Danish Royal Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1992.
Always a generous person, he helped starting several trust funds, including the Thanks to Scandinavia fund. It was started in dedication to those who helped the Jews escape the German invasion during the war. He was also awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 1999.
Aside from his musical work, Victor has written the book My Favourite Intermission (with Robert Sherman), and the biography Smilet er den korteste afstand ("The Smile is the Shortest Distance" with Niels-Jørgen Kaiser) - the title is the Danish version of a saying of his, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people," his motto of life. His philosophy was clear; "if I have caused just one person to wipe away a tear of laughter, that's my reward."
Victor never really slowed down, and continued touring until his last days, doing some 60 shows a year when he was 90 years old. As he says, "I don't mind growing old. I'm just not used to it."
Victor Borge died December 23, 2000 in Greenwich, Connecticut, after more than 75 years of entertaining. He died peacefully, in his sleep, the day after returning from a concert in Denmark. "It was just his time to go," Frederikke Borge said. "He's been missing my mother terribly." Victor left behind 4 children, Victor Jr. and Frederikke with Sarabel, and Ronald and Janet with Elsie.
Among Victor's most famous routines is the spoken punctuation routine, in which he recites a story, with full punctuation (comma, period, exclamation mark, etc) as weird sounds. Another is his inflated language, where he adds 1 to each number in a text, whether they are visible or not (inflate becomes inflnine, etc).
And to end this writeup properly, a typical Borgeism:
"Flint must be an extremely wealthy town: I see that each of you bought two or three seats."
- Victor Borge, playing to a half-filled house in Flint, Michigan.
Sources: IMDB, Amazon, Google, Celebrity Deathwatch, my memory, 2 biographies: http://www.obits.com/borgevictor.html and http://www.kor.dk/borge/