Danny Welkes, Milton Berle's Manager Behind 30-Year NBC Deal, Dies at 88

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Milton Berle

Showbiz veteran signed Tony Bennett, took the last phone call from disgraced studio exec David Begelman.

Danny Welkes, the longtime manager of legendary TV comic Milton Berle who as an agent convinced skeptics to sign Tony Bennett to a record deal, died Oct. 1 of an apparent heart attack at the home in Los Angeles. He was 88.

Welkes also was best friends with dishonored Columbia Pictures president David Begelman and likely received the last phone call from the studio executive before he committed suicide in 1995. Years earlier, Begelman had been been caught embezzling company funds, which included forging checks made out to actor Cliff Robertson and others.

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As Berle’s manager, Welkes was instrumental in the comedian signing an unprecedented 30-year deal — at $200,000 a year — with NBC in 1951. At the time, Berle was the star of the Texaco Star Theater, which attracted 80 percent of the viewing audience to the fledgling medium of television. Berle also was credited with selling millions of TV sets.

However, by 1956, viewers began to tire of Berle’s outrageous vaudeville style, and his show was canceled. Welkes continued to manage “Uncle Miltie” until his death in 2002 at age 93.

Welkes also steered the careers of such performers as Judy Garland, Lucille Ball, Eddie Fisher and Connie Stevens. He introduced Ball to her second husband, comedian Gary Morton, and Berle to his second wife, Lorna.

A native of the Bronx, Welkes took up the saxophone and spent summers with his friend Morton entertaining New Yorkers in the hotels of the Catskill Mountains. During World War II, he performed as a member of Glenn Miller’s orchestra on USO tours.

After the war, Welkes was hired by MCA to work as an entertainment agent. There, he urged the firm to sign Bennett after an audition when other agents were not interested.

Never married, Welkes is survived by six first cousins. A funeral service is set for Oct. 9 in New York.