My grandfather was one of the great inventors of his time; he invented the burglar alarm, which unfortunately was stolen from him.
Victor Borge learned music at a young age using his mother's piano. His father, a violinist, played for 35 years with Denmark's Royal Opera Orchestra, and when he came home, Borge said, "My mother didn't recognise him." He started playing the piano when he was only three years old and made his orchestral debut as a soloist with the Copenhagen Philharmonic when he was 10. He was hailed as a genius and given a scholarship to the Royal Danish Music Conservatory. He was educated by Olivo Krause, and later by Victor Schiøler, Frederic Lamond, a protege of Franz Liszt, and Egon Petri.
When he was about 12, he saw a Russian pianist in Copenhagen, Denmark, accidentally fall off the piano bench. That was "such a cheap slapstick thing." When playing for the public, he was a serious musician, but at school, in clubs, and at family gatherings he played with humour. Borge was a child piano prodigy who regularly performed at his parents' dinner parties — at least until his parents discovered he was insulting their guests by announcing he would play a Beethoven sonata. He would then perform a piece of his own work. His goal was to expose these people, who exclaimed that his Beethoven was beautifully articulated, as hypocrites. His incredible wit combined with his musical ability established him quickly as a one-of-a-kind artist. Word got out, and by his early twenties Borge was established as one of the leading film and stage personalities of Scandinavia.
The Nazi invasion of Denmark in April 1940 caused him difficulty. The Germans blacklisted Borge, then a popular entertainer. Never one to hold his tongue, he could not resist taking jabs at the storm-troopers as he ran up against the Nazis. The confrontation was predictable, he said: "They were Nazis and I was Jewish." He also had trouble keeping quiet. One of his jokes went: "What is the difference between a Nazi and a dog? A Nazi lifts his arm." While in Finland rehearsing a new musical, Germany invaded Denmark. This turn of events made it impossible for Borge to return to his native homeland; Borge had no choice but to leave Denmark. He travelled from Petsano, Finland to New York on the SS American Legion, the last American passenger ship out of Europe.
Arriving in New York at Ellis Island, like many emigrants, he had no money, he was unknown and he did not speak the language. After a year he gravitated towards California and Hollywood in particular. Borge was soon playing at Hollywood parties often mingling with members of the Hollywood "Mafia". It was at one of these parties that Rudy Vallee discovered the talents of Victor Borge. Vallee helped Borge get his start in his new country by doing the warmup for the Rudy Vallee radio show. Carroll Carroll, chief writer for Bing Crosby, heard Borge's warmup in Dec. 1941.
Although he did not speak good English he soon managed to "translate" his humour, and he performed for the first time in Bing Crosby's radio show in 1941. Borge's performance involved reading a story, including each punctuation mark, to which he gave a specific sound. Borge was booked for the very next Kraft Music Hall. Carroll finishes the story: "Victor was scheduled to go on after the station break. That meant there would be a song by Bing, the Victor Borge spot, a commercial, a song by Bing, another guest spot, a song by Bing, a commercial, theme, sign-off. "I shortened the other guest shot because I knew Victor needed time. We took a chorus out of one of Bing's songs. Victor agreed that he could do the spot in 12 minutes. That is, we thought he agreed. He spoke almost no English and only understood, if anything, what he chose."
In 1942 he was named "the best new radio performer of the year" by the American press, and his radio and TV shows became extremely popular. He became an American citizen in 1948, and had his own show, "Comedy in Music", at The Golden Theatre, New York ran from 1953-56.
In the more than fifty years he has lived in the United States, Victor Borge has performed on radio, in films, on television, in huge sports arenas, in opera houses, and at the White House.
When Victor Borge celebrated the 70th Anniversary of his first concert performance, a gala commemorative event took place at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark. Among the accolades was a greeting from President Clinton who commended Mr. Borge for "enchanting audiences around the globe whether performing for royalty, presidents or entertaining children; you have spent a lifetime sharing laughter with the young and the young at heart." While Victor Borge's comedic reputation has been built on his not playing the piano, he possesses a magnificent gift that amazes audiences when he does play.
He may be the only musician who has rhymed Shostakovich with "just a moment."
In Musical America the distinguished violinist and conductor Henri Temianka spoke of the art of Victor Borge: "There is more to Borge's piano playing than he allows us to hear. But, in those fleeting moments we recognise an elegance of touch, a limpidity, a grace, a transparency, a talent that sets apart the few from the many."
Each season Maestro Borge performs with and leads a number of the world's premiere orchestras including at times the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, London Philharmonic, the Royal Danish, and many more. He recently appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl to commemorate the Bowl's 75th Anniversary season. Some orchestras have actually had their seasons rescued by the inclusion of a Victor Borge appearance in their programs or by special benefit performances.
For the 1998-99 season, Mr. Borge continued to perform with orchestras and toured his one-man show throughout the world including a special birthday celebration at Carnegie Hall in 1999. As a prelude to his 90th birthday season, his autobiography "Smilet er den korteste afstand" was recently released to great acclaim in the Scandinavian countries. However, publication has been postponed for the rest of the world. Borge has written two books with Robert Sherman - My Favourite Intermissions and My Favourite Comedies in Music. It should be pointed out that Borge is renowned for his use of footnotes.
He made his operatic acting "debut" by performing as both Prince Orlovsky and the jailer Frosch in Sarah Caldwell's Boston Opera Company production of Die Fledermaus with Beverly Sills. He conducted five S.R.O. performances of Mozart's The Magic Flute for the Cleveland Opera - Borge has also presented his own concert adaptation of Bizet's Carmen, which he narrated and conducted to critical acclaim.
In Denmark, Borge recently lifted his baton to conduct The Magic Flute for the same company that his father had performed with many years earlier, the Royal Danish Philharmonic Orchestra. According to an Associated Press report, he remembered walking up to the podium, bowing to the Queen and the audience and wishing that the moment could last forever. Because for as long as he could remember, he wanted to do just that. Upon his return to the U.S., he conducted the Washington Symphony Orchestra in two performances of his special adaptation of Mozart's The Magic Flute.
Borge has established scholarships at universities and colleges, and with the eminent New York lawyer Richard Netter created in 1963 the Thanks To Scandinavia scholarship fund in gratitude for the heroic deeds of the Scandinavians who, while risking their own, saved the lives of thousands of the persecuted and doomed during the Holocaust. The multi-million dollar fund has already brought more than a thousand students and scientists to America from the Scandinavian countries for studies and research. In memory of his parents, he has established a special music scholarship; one of the highest study grants in his native country, it is awarded each summer at a gala ceremony in the Concert Hall of the famous Tivoli Gardens. He has given innumerable benefits to help worthy causes.
An expert skipper, Borge says, "with me the three B's are Bach, Beethoven and Boats". Deeply devoted to his native country, he is no less grateful for being a citizen in the one he adopted. "The smile," he says, "is the shortest distance between people". Thanks to Victor Borge, millions of people have been brought together.
On his 80th birthday, Victor Borge was informed that the "Iraqi foreign minister had requested some videotapes 'because Saddam is crazy about him'."