Victor Borge's Biography: Early Life & Career

Victor Borge once said, “musicians look and act absolutely ridiculous.” Lampooning the manner of classical musicians became the comedian’s claim to fame and way of life.

Born Borge Rosenbaum in Copenhagen, Denmark (January 3, 1909), the Great Dane, the Unmelancholy Dane, and the Clown Prince of Denmark was a piano prodigy, giving his first recital at the tender age of 8. Borge grew up around glissandos and crescendos, his father a violinist in the Royal Danish Orchestra and his mother a pianist. A light bulb moment came when, at the age of 12, he saw a Russian concert pianist accidentally fall of a piano bench. That what could have been a minor incident so moved Borge indicates he had already located a certain preciousness or stuffiness in the world of music. He went on scholarship to the Royal Danish Academy of Music and began performing for money at the age of 17.

Borge did work as a concert pianist at the dawn of his career, but before long, began a stage show consisting of musical comedy. While much of his early humor was often lighthearted and perhaps homespun, he also developed a cutting political edge, adding anti-Nazi barbs into the mix. One example is “What is the difference between a Nazi and a dog? A Nazi lifts his arm.”

It was Nazi occupation of Denmark that sent Borge to Sweden and then to the United States. He made his way Hollywood and began playing swanky parties as a pianist. Radio star Rudy Vallee met him at one of these and hired him as a warm-up performer for his radio show. The next rung on the ladder was slid into place by Carroll Carroll, a writer for Bing Crosby, who heard Borge’s warmup routine in December of 1941. With Borge performing on Crosby’s radio show, he was launched as a recognizable name in American show business. His style of inventive, plucky sendups of the conventions of concert performance would endear him to generations.

Comedian Victor Borge Dead at 91. ABC News
Nordic Notes. Vol. 4, 2000.


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