They Don't Laugh When She Sits Down at the Piano, but Rikke Borge Is Every Bit Victor's Daughter
In her 25-year role as daughter of comic-musician Victor Borge, Rikke Borge has grown weary of answering three questions. The first is always the same: “Do you play the piano?” “No,” she sighs. Next question: “Are you funny?” Answer: “Well, I’m not about to become a comedienne—my father is too much competition.” And finally comes the query that leaves her most baffled. “When people ask me what it’s like to have a famous father,” she says, “I always say I don’t know what it’s like not to have a famous father.”
Victor and Sanna Borge’s youngest offspring never had much doubt about what she would do with her life. “I wanted to be a combination Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn, just your ordinary Scandinavian-American-best-in-the-world actress,” she says with a smile.
Rikke (pronounced Rickie and short for Frederikke) isn’t there yet, but she’s gaining ground. She will be seen Oct. 11-12 in Family Reunion, a two-part NBC-TV film starring Bette Davis, and in two forthcoming movies: this month’s Tattoo with Bruce Dern and Maud Adams, and Stab, a thriller with Meryl Streep and Roy Scheider, due next spring. Rikke isn’t at all daunted by such heady company. “I think she was born sure of herself,” says her mother. “Nobody babied her. She wouldn’t let us. When she set out to do something, she generally did it.”
No one in her family pushed her into showbiz. “I always thought Rikke had the talent to become a performer, but I never encouraged her until I had seen proof of my intuitions,” explains Papa Borge, 72. None of her siblings chose the limelight. In addition to Rikke and her older brother, Victor, the Borges have three other children by previous marriages.
Rikke spent much of her childhood on tour with her father, observing from her own special perch at stageside. “I had been surrounded by the theater all of my life,” she recalls now, “and I couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t interested in going into it.”
Attending a total of 11 schools was the price of an itinerant life. But whether on the road or at home in Greenwich, Conn. and the Virgin Islands, the Borge family was close—and disciplined. “My father was quick to scold us—and then he’d make us laugh,” she remembers. “He couldn’t punish us and walk away.”
An accomplished rider, Rikke figured for a time that her future might be on horseback. “I thought I could play the lead in National Velvet after Elizabeth Taylor grew up,” she jokes, “or become the first Lone Rangerette.” In any case, she was ever watchful. “I studied people—at the dinner table, from a park bench, anywhere—trying to get inside their thoughts,” she says. “I saw the stage as a place where I could get to be other people.”
At 16 she confided her ambitions to her parents. “They both said no,” Rikke recalls. Later she and her dad made a deal: If she could gain admission to the exclusive acting school at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University, her career would have his blessing. She got in, then left after two years to “learn through the real world.”
Rikke spent seven months at an English-language theater in her father’s native Denmark. Returning to New York, she studied with drama coach Stella Adler while supporting herself as a waitress. In 1978 Rikke went to work for Stephen Kesten, an associate producer of movies like Gloria and Marathon Man. She started as an unpaid coffee fetcher before “making myself indispensable.” Kesten, 46, and Rikke were married last December and now live in a Manhattan walk-up. “Three people can fit comfortably,” she jokes, “four if one stands in the closet.”
Rikke sees her father as often as possible between his frequent tours. “He’s always been so afraid that I’d be hurt by this business,” she explains, “that he kept his distance. But now that I am beginning to succeed, he’s become very supportive.”