The one-of-a-kind Danish musical entertainer initially studied, in his native country, to become a concert pianist. But even as a youth he worked small sight gags into his recitals, and he later admitted he was smitten by the ability to generate laughter. In 1939 he sailed to America on what he claimed was the last passenger ship to depart from Europe before the war halted such transportation. He settled in New York and acclimated himself to American culture by watching movies in 10 cent midtown theaters. The self-tutorials worked: within a couple of years he was working regularly on national radio programs, including Big Crosby's. Shortly thereafter he opened on Broadway in his own one-man show, "Comedy in Music." The show featured Borge's trademark puns and wordplay, his affectionate skewering of the conventions of classical music (The "Caro Nome" from "Rigoletto" would be introduced as the "Cockamamie from Rigor Mortis'') and his own signature device, phonetic punctuation. The latter consisted of Borge reading aloud from a sappy, made-up love story, rendering all the punctuation marks as vivid, and frequently indelicate audible sounds. Borge lived most of his adult life in Connecticut, first in Southbury where, as a kind of semi-legit second career, he raised Cornish game hens and helped to bring those succulent little birds to American dining tables. He later moved to an imposing oceanside mansion in Greenwich, one feature of which was a room that contained two side-by-side concert grand pianos. Borge made many appearances with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, including one 1980 outdoor concert on the rolling Cigna lawn in Bloomfield, to a crowd estimated at 50,000. According to the Courant's account, he opened that concert with a vintage Borgian quip: "Everybody nice and comfortable? Audience: "Yes!" "That's too bad because they're coming to cut the grass in 10 minutes."
CORBIS BETTMANN / REUTERS
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