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January 3: The Great Dane

January 3, 2016

1Danish pianist and comedian Victor Borge (Børge Rosenbaum) was born in Copenhagen on this date in 1909. The son of musicians and a child prodigy, he received a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and played his first major concert in 1926. Within a few years he began interrupting his own performances with jokes — especially anti-Nazi jokes, once Hitler rose to power in Germany — and had developed the music-and-comedy routine that would make him famous. Borge was playing a concert in Sweden when the Nazis conquered Denmark and managed to escape to Finland and then the United States. He acquired English by immersing himself in movies, changed his name to Victor Borge, and in 1942 the was named the Best New Radio Performer of the Year. Borge appeared in several films and was then given his own show on NBC in 1946. His routines included fading in and out of jazz and “happy birthday”-type musical phrases while playing famous classical pieces; falling off his bench from energetic playing (after which he would fasten himself into a seat belt); commenting on audience members’ responses; and brightly spoofing popular culture. Borge had a vibrant career as a television performer (including with the Muppets), and he was playing more than five concerts each month when he died at age 91, the day after returning from performing in Denmark. To see him playing at the White House during Eisenhower’s presidency, click here and scroll down.

“Laughter is the closest distance between two people.” —Victor Borge