Victor Borge Børge Rosenbaum (3 January 1909 – 23 December 2000), known professionally as Victor Borge (/ˈbɔːrɡə/ bor-gə), was a Danish and American comedian, conductor, and pianist who achieved great popularity in radio and television in the United States and Europe. His blend of music and comedy earned him the nicknames “The Clown Prince of Denmark,” “The Unmelancholy Dane,” and “The Great Dane.”
Rosenbaum was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, into a Jewish family. His parents, Bernhard and Frederikke (Lichtinger) Rosenbaum, were both musicians: his father a violist in the Royal Danish Orchestra,and his mother a pianist. Borge began piano lessons at the age of two, and it was soon apparent that he was a prodigy. He gave his first piano recital when he was eight years old, and in 1918 was awarded a full scholarship at the Royal Danish Academy of Music, studying under Olivo Krause. Later on, he was taught by Victor Schiøler, Liszt’s student Frederic Lamond, and Busoni’s pupil Egon Petri.
Borge played his first major concert in 1926 at the Danish concert-hall Odd Fellow Palæet (The Odd Fellow’s Lodge building). After a few years as a classical concert pianist, 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. Borge started touring extensively in Europe, where he began telling anti-Nazi jokes.
When the Nazis occupied Denmark during World War II, Borge was playing a concert in Sweden and managed to escape to Finland. He traveled to America on the United States Army transport American Legion, the last neutral ship to make it out of Petsamo, Finland, and arrived 28 August 1940, with only $20 (about $338 today), with $3 going to the customs fee.