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Berle was a local 'jewel to promote'
by Harry Spencer
Nov 20, 2009 | 1161 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
AP Photo -
Comedian Milton Berle is the siren of the Nile during "The Milton Berle Show" on Feb. 6, 1962.
AP Photo - Comedian Milton Berle is the siren of the Nile during "The Milton Berle Show" on Feb. 6, 1962.
If things go as expected tonight for the University of Nevada, Reno Wolf Pack football team, it is almost certain that next week’s game of the year to decide the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) championship will be a reality. At press time, the next to last game for Boise State had yet to be played but it was presumed to be a lock for the Broncos, just as tonight’s game for Nevada at New Mexico State is supposed to be for the Silver and Blue.

However, anything that might happen in college football could happen to both Nevada and Boise. If both should be upset they would still be playing for all the marbles next week. If only one of them should be upset, it would behoove the loser to strive mightily to win the final game to at least get a share of the championship.

Boise, at this stage, is gunning for a BCS berth and might easily achieve one if they end up with an undefeated season, Nevada, on the other hand, has looked more and more impressive as they have rolled to seven straight wins after their 0-3 start this year. Nevada’s complete dismantling of a supposedly strong Fresno State team last Saturday showed what a tremendous improvement the Pack has made over the course of the year. That improvement leads us to the discussion that has raged here every year about the toughness of the Wolf Pack’s nonconference football schedule. There are those who don’t like it because it sets a bad mental, emotional and possibly physical feeling in the minds of the players when they routinely get hammered by top-ranked teams.

On the other hand, those in favor of tough early games say that they accomplish two things: one, it brings to light the areas in which the local team needs to improve and, two, it makes the conference schedule seem more of a cakewalk later on. There is probably merit in both arguments, but the latter has been proven true this year as the relatively healthy Pack has never really been threatened in its seven wins. Even though the defense has been a sore spot, particularly in the passing category, it too has improved its performance when opponents get into the red zone and has also managed to up the turnover ratio as it showed against Fresno.

Probably the greatest challenge for longtime Pack fans is in seeing a Nevada offense more geared to the running game. In the past it was “air Ault” when the home team took to the gridiron. Now, with the possibility of three 1,000-yard rushers (Taua, Kaepernick and Lippincott) in the same backfield for the first time in school history, the Wolf Pack has been transmogrified into the best rushing offense in the country.

Celebrity Corner

Old movies that start with a northern Nevada connection continue to proliferate on the Turner Classic Movie channel. This past week, an old 1941 black-and-white picture titled “Tall, Dark and Handsome” was aired. The star of the film was a young Cesar Romero, who went on to have a stellar career in motion pictures. As his sidekick, in a featured role, was comic Milton Berle. When you saw the two together onscreen it was easy to figure out to whom the title of the picture referred. Romero, who was cast in “Tall” as a soft-hearted Chicago gangster, made at least one live appearance here back in the mid-1970s. The location was the Tahoe Racquet Club at Incline Village when that tennis facility was in its prime.

We were on the court in a pretty long-lasting doubles match and at the outset we saw a tall, distinguished looking gray-haired man emerge from the bar adjacent to the courts. He settled down in a deck chair, cocktail in hand, and proceeded to watch the entire match, frequently replenishing his glass. As we finished the match he gave us a round of applause and came over to introduce himself. It was then that we recognized him as the famous movie star, Romero.

As for Berle, during the 1960s he frequently starred in the Skyroom of the Mapes Hotel. His two-week, twice a night show sold out regularly since he had established himself as the king of TV comedy during the early days of that medium. Of all the stars whom I was fortunate enough to work with he was one of my favorites. An extremely personable individual, he did not have an inflated ego and was as entertaining off stage as he was on stage. Up for any type of publicity photo, he was a jewel to promote. At one point during that era, a good friend of mine and I were cruising down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles and we noticed that the marquee at the Ambassador Hotel said, “Milton Berle in the Coconut Grove.” Since my friend had never seen Berle in person we decided to catch the show that night. Unfortunately we were almost last in line for tickets and found the room sold out when we reached the box office. On the off chance I could get through, I picked up the house phone and asked for Berle’s dressing room. Milton picked up his phone, recognized me and told me to to go the maitre’d stand. When we got there, we were escorted to a ringside table that sported a “Reserved” sign and informed by the waiter that we were Mr. Berle’s guests for the evening.

I doubt that they make entertainers like that any more.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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