Poster: Mr. Television
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George: Gracie, what do you think of television?
Gracie: I think it's wonderful-I hardly ever watch radio anymore.
The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show ran from October 1950 until September 1958 on CBS.
George Burns and Gracie Allen had one of the most enduring acts in the history of show business. They were headliners in vaudeville in the 1920's( the two had married in 1926 after four years together as a vaudeville team), on radio in the 1930's and 1940's ( their radio show lasted from 1932-1950), and for almost a full decade on television in the 1950's. The factor which finally terminated the act was not loss of audience appeal, but Gracie's decision to retire in 1958.
The format of the tv Burns and Allen Show was simple enough. It was set in the Burns home and cast George in the dual role of on-screen narrator of the proceedings and straight man for Gracie's scatterbrained but delightful involvements with various people and situations. Gracie's cohart in many of her predictaments was neighbor Blanche Morton, whose long suffering accountant husband Harry was as infuriated by the girls' escapades as George was tolerant. George was unflappable. He would simply turn to the camera, cigar in hand, and philosophize to the audience.
One episode had him finishing one of his monologues by telling the audience that his time was up-but he promised to wave to us after he walked back into the scene. And he did. In later episodes, George had a magic all-seeing TV set in his upstairs office-he could turn it on and see what Gracie , Blanche and the rest were up to. He would turn from the set, face the camera and say: " according to my calculations, Harry Von Zell should be over at the Mortons' and by now Gracie should have him mixed up in this too...Let's take a look..." It added a surrealistic element to the show; George was doing what the audience was doing-watching his show on tv.
One week , Burns was talking about how sometimes his writers couldn't think of any way to end his show. As he spoke, the camera did a slow fade until the picture was only a tiny dot and then disappeared totally into blackness. The next week on the show, a character was complimenting George on how clever that gimmick was. Burns replied that it would probably never happen again-and as he said this, the picture began to disappear from left to right, with Burns ( on the left)wiped out at the end.
When it first came to television in 1950, The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show was produced live in New York and aired every other Thursday night.( In the fall of 1952 the series became a weekly filmed feature originating from the west coast). Members of the radio cast who followed the show to television were Bill Goodwin, the commercial announcer who doubled as George and Gracie's friend; Bea Benaderet as neighbor Blanche Morton; Hal March as Blanche's husband Harry; and Rolfe Sedan as the mailman to whom Gracie gossiped.
Bea Benaderet had been around. Before Blanche , she had played scores of radio shrews on shows such as Jack Benny ( where she played telephone operator Gertrude Gearshift), Ozzie And Harriet( where she played Gloria the maid), and even The Burns And Allen Show.Among her best radio roles: Amber Lipscott in My Friend Irma,Mrs Carstairs on Fibber McGee And Molly, Mama on Meet Millie, and Lucille Ball's best friend Iris Atterbury on My Favorite Husband. When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created the similar sitcom I Love Lucy , Benaderet was the first choice to play Ethel Mertz but she was unavailable to take the role since she was then staring on The Burns And Allen TV Show. " When tv began," she later said, " I think their was some doubt as to whether I could walk or not." She could and did
There was considerable turnover in the role of Harry Morton during the series early years. March left the show in January 1951 to be replaced by John Brown. Brown lasted 6 months until he was blacklisted by the red scare of the early 50's. He was replaced in June by Fred Clark who was in turn replaced in the fall of 1953 by Larry Keating. On Fred Clark's last show, Blanche was waiting by the door to hit him over the head with a vase because she didn't like the iron deer he had bought for the front door. When Clark entered, Burns walked into the scene and said, " Hold it!" and then explained to the audience that Clark had asked for to big a raise and had been replaced. George introduced Larry Keating -the new Harry to the audience , then to Bea Benaderet . They bowed and George said , " Now let's get back to the story." Keating exited and then re-entered -and Blanche hit him over the head with the vase. ( Burns had disappointedly said he never received one letter about the episode).
Keating had been on radio for 7 years in This Is Your F.B.I. and had made 40 movies , including Daddy Long Legs, Monkey Business, The Buster Keaton Story, and The Eddie Duchin Story. He had entertained during World War 2 with the Bob Hope troupe.
Harry Von Zell joined the cast at the start of the 1951-1952 season as a replacement for Bill Goodwin doing the commercials and playing a friend of the family. Von Zell ( the real one) had been a radio announcer in the 30's and 40's for such performers as Phil Baker, Paul Whiteman, Lawrence Tibbett, Ed Wynn, and Fred Allen, for whom he was known for his tongue-twisting introductions: " Presenting that lackadaisical leviathan of laconic lampoon...
On Burns and Allen, he played George's foil. He was goofy, and was always worried about his job security( George the character, fired and rehired him regularly). And Von Zell worried whether his sholders were broad enough to win the attention of some nubile teenaged girl( played by one in an interminable series of starlets who inevitably preferred his boss' son Ronnie Burns). And somehow Harry Von Zell always got messed up in Gracie's schemes. Once she even dressed him up as a witch doctor to chase away unwanted guests.
When the 2 couples got together -with Harry Von Zell running an ineffectual interference-the result was a merry mayhem, a kooky bedlam so typical of 50's sitcoms. Just a glance at 2 Burns and Allen plot lines bears out the possibilities of these improbable situations.
" Gracie Buys A Boat For George" Harry Morton tries to induce George to play golf , and when this fails Gracie recruits Harry Von Zell to buy a boat for George.
" Gracie Thinks Harry Morton Is In Love With Her"; Gracie convinced of neighbor Harry's passion , cools his ardor by giving him a sandwich spiced with chopped shoelaces.
Although The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show was never among the top rated series, it maintained consistantly high ratings throughout it's 8 seasons. The show garnered a total of 12 emmy nominations, four for best comedy series, six for Gracie Allen as best actress and comedienne and two for Bea Benaderet as best supporting actress.
In 1955 after the show had been on the air for many years-George had a talk with his 20 year old adopted son, Ronnie, then a student at the University of Southern California." Ronnie have you ever thought about acting?...Well start thinking about it!"-and from then on Ronnie Burns was playing Ronnie Burns- a regular ( he had had one brief tv stint on The Honeymooners for which he was paid a new Buick Convertable).
It was odd when Ronnie joined the show. As a sophisticated college student with his constant giggling gaggle of girlfriends ( including Judi Meredith as Bonnie Sue McAfee during the last season), and his down to Earth manner , he somehow seemed older than his parents. He was taller anyway. His sallery was $285 a week ( Fred Clark would not have been happy) and almost at once 5,000 viewers joined his fan club.His presence added a domestic dimension that heretofore hadn't been on the show. George and Gracie now had to be responsible parents, a role viewers hadn't imagined them in. Especially Gracie. But as zanily zapped out as she was, people could actually relate to her. Unfortunately, she couldn't relate to it anymore and she wanted out.
In 1958, Gracie Allen retired from show business and George Burns tried a second comedy series that fall ( The George Burns Show), which was unsuccessful.
An Article from Time Magazine
Nat & Googie
Monday, Jan. 30, 1933
George: Get down! Gracie, you shouldn't let your dog jump on me like that!
Grade: That's all right, George. I have to give him a bath anyway. . . .
George: I love dogs as much as anybody. But a movie theatre's no place for a dog.
Gracie: George, you're awfully silly. How could a moving picture possibly hurt him? . . .
George: Is your brother a lodge man?
Gracie: No, he's not a lodge man. He's about medium build. . . .
George: Gracie, did you ever wish you had brains?
Grade (coquettishly) : Oh, George, I'll bet you tell those things to all the girls.
Burns & Allen, scatterbrained comedians in General Cigar Co.'s weekly radio program, have been gushing such lines as these for nearly a year. In Variety's national survey of program popularity they have climbed into fifth place. In the minds of more casual radio listeners Burns & Allen have shot into first place as the most annoying broadcast on the air,the climax of sub-moronic radiodrivel.
To each other and to their friends George Burns and Gracie Allen are "Nat" and "Googie." George was born Nat Birnbaum, one of twelve children of a Manhattan East Side clothing manufacturer. At 11 he was on the stage, giving imitations of stage stars he had never seen. Gracie danced jigs, played brogue parts up & down the Pacific Coast in an Irish troupe. Ten years ago George Burns and Gracie Allen teamed up in vaudeville in Boonton, N. J. at $10 a performance. At first it was Gracie who played the exasperated "straight" to George's fatuous lines. Audiences awarded George's gags a crash of silence, roared at Grade's twittery voice, her air of blissful inanity. They promptly changed places. Three years later in Cleveland George Burns and Gracie Allen were married by a peace justice who was in a hurry to go fishing. Their taxi ticked up only 15 cents waiting time.
Last week Nat Burns, Googie Allen, General Cigar and their admen, J. Walter Thompson Co., fairly dithered with excitement over a lush harvest of free publicity. It all derived from a neat stunt concerning Gracie Allen's "lodge," incredible and wholly mythical brother in which Columbia Broadcasting System happily cooperated. On every Wednesday night program for nearly a year Gracie has been piping stories of this brother who invented a way of manufacturing pennies for 3 , who printed a newspaper on Cellophane so that when dining in restaurants he could watch his hat & coat, who hurt his leg falling off an ironing board while pressing his pants. Early this month Gracie simpered the news that her brother had disappeared. The stunt was to find him. Columbia Broadcasting's part lay in letting Burns & Allen wander in & out of other station programs. Amid prearranged confusion they burst in with a flood of stupid questions as to the whereabouts of the daft brother. Audiences loved it. Newspaper colyumists gave it columns of space. And last week Animal Hunter Frank Buck (Bring 'Em Back Alive) joined the nonsensical brother-hunt.*
Whatever critical listeners may think of Nat Burns's gags they do sell Robert Burns cigars. In a study of radio advertising's effectiveness in 1931 Professor Robert F. Elder of M. I. T. reported that Robert Burns had 25% more smokers in radio homes than in non-radio homes. This year he reported that the advantage had increased to 260%. Radiomen think that Guy Lombardo and his orchestra, also on the General Cigar program, deserve praise for this increase as well as Burns & Allen.
A shrewd guess on Burns & Allen's radio salary: $2.000 per week. Combined with cinema and vaudeville profits they make some $5,000 per week, live in a swank apartment on Manhattan's Central Park South. Gracie Allen, a normal adult, chafes under a growing reputation for living her comedy character.
Meanwhile in San Francisco last week life was made miserable for Gracie Allen's real brother George who was neither missing, daft nor disreputable but simply a sober, honest clerk for Standard Oil Co.
*The unseen and unseeing audience of National Broadcasting Co. was not let in on the fun at first. Loth to help puff a competitor's stunt, NBC banned all mention of the brother-hunt when Burns & Allen were invited as guests of Chase & Sanborn's Eddie Cantor. Fleischmann's Yeast's Rudy Vallee. Crooner Vallee was actually switched off the air when he inadvertently referred to it. But since Eddie Cantor threatened to work in a reference in such a way that NBC would have to switch station announcements, NBC's protests have gone pretty much unheeded.
An Article from Time Magazine
Monday, Dec. 26, 1938
In the 30-minute weekly broadcasts of Burns & Allen, Comedian Gracie Allen gives her radio listeners many a rib-tickling account of her mythical family. Since these relatives, invented for her by the Burns & Allen gagmen, are either nitwits, convicts or a blend of the two, they are frequently identified by their places of residence Alcatraz for father, such other Federal and State penitentiaries as San Quentin, Joliet, Sing Sing, Leavenworth for brothers, uncles, cousins.
Last week the joke turned sour. After her microphone partner and husband, George Burns, pleaded guilty in Manhattan to two Federal indictments for smuggling (TIME, Dec. 19), with the case still pending, he flew to Hollywood to ready their radio program. Last Friday they took to the air. Gracie prattled gaily about her fictional family, but on their criminal careers and residences in jail, as well as on the troubles of her real family, she was mumchance.
An Article from Time Magazine
Monday, Dec. 13, 1943
George Burns, the most famous straight man in U.S. radio, observed his 40th anniversary in show business this week with a straight man's true imperturbability. As "the brain" and foil of the comedy team of Burns & Allen (CBS, Tues., 9-9:30 p.m E.W.T.), he was thankful that his old vaudeville routines, neatly brought up to modern times, were worth $10,000 a week as a package show to his sponsor (Swan Soap), and he was delighted with the show's 15,000,000-odd listeners.
Now 47, dry, petulant, hawk-voiced George Burns has played straight man so long that he is sometimes given to echoing questions addressed to him. If a waiter asks "What are you going to eat today?" Burns is likely to reply "What am I going to eat today?" The character of George Burn's offstage conversation is better suggested by the fact that his best friends include Jack Benny, Harpo Marx, Lou Holtz and Bert Lahr. Though he travels in such fast company; Straight Man Burns has no trouble keeping ahead of it.
Jack Benny has never forgotten his attempt to be funny on the night, 15 years ago, when George Burns married his partner, Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalia Allen, in Cleveland. Benny's idea of humor was to call up the newlyweds from San Francisco at 3 a.m. He did so and, getting a male voice, inquired, "Hello, George?" The male voice at once barked, "Send up two orders of ham and eggs" and hung up.
Burns is also curiously remembered by a foursome at Los Angeles' Hillcrest Country Club. An inconspicuous character and a wild-eyed man who somewhat resembled Harpo Marx asked to be allowed to play through. This proper request was granted. A few minutes later another duo made the same request. They bore a strange resemblance to the first pair except that they were heavily mustached. Shortly after they had disappeared ahead, the foursome was hailed by still another pair. This last couple was uncannily like the others save for caps and full beards.
Small Four. George Burns had an early training in antics. Born Nat Birnbaum into a family of twelve children on Manhattan's crowded Pitt Street, he began his theatrical career of necessity at the age of seven, after his father died. George organized the Pee-Wee Quartet, featuring himself and a six-year-old basso. The four took turns passing the hat in saloons and backyards.
Five years later Burns and a youth named Bern rented a second-floor loft and opened BB's College of Dancing. They got together a four-piece band so noisy that it had to play near an open window to let the bulk of the syncopation blast into the street. This also served as ballyhoo. The boys got some of their customers by going to Ellis Island and approaching immigrants just off the boats. The sales talk: one of the first requisites of U.S. citizenship was a $5 course of dancing lessons.
At an early age George quit public school and joined a roller-skating act. Then he formed a ballroom-dancing act with a 16-year-old girl whom he named Hermosa Jose , after a five-cent cigar.
Big Seven. In 1922 one of George's friends brought Gracie Allen, daughter of a song-&-dance man, to see Burns 's act at Union Hill, N.J. Hunger had persuaded Gracie to abandon vaudeville for secretarial school. Burns promised to feed her if she would join him. When he found that as the straight member of the act she was getting all the laughs, he forgot his comedian's pride and took the straight role himself.
Today Burns and five gag writers do all the preperformance work on the script. Gracie stays home with their two adopted children. Time and the public temper have led Burns & Allen to abandon such pitter-patter as the following:
George: "Do you love me?"
Gracie: "Sure, Harry."
George: "But my name is George!"
Gracie: "I keep thinking this is Tuesday."
But the vaudeville mood is still their mainstay, despite the elaborate plot of the script and the guest stars. Last week this was apparent in the opening dialogue introducing Charles Boyer. Going home from a Boyer movie, George said:
"Gracie, could you walk a little faster?"
Gracie (in a daze): "Hmmm?"
George: "I said, could you walk a little faster?"
Gracie: "If you wish, Charles."
George: "Gracie, I'm George Burns, your husband. Remember? I'm not Charles Boyer!"
Gracie: "Oh, well, that's life."
An Article from Time Magazine
Monday, Mar. 11, 1946
Harry S. Truman & family traded backslaps with the folks. Radio Fan Truman was moved to send a congratulatory wire to a couple of radio comics who had involved him in the plot of a script: so George Burns & Gracie Allen had the Presidential endorsement: "We all enjoyed the show immensely. . . ." Bess Truman and Daughter Margaret won applause from the Chenango Street Methodist Church of Binghamton, N.Y., which paid happy tribute to "the courage that you . . . showed [at a Manhattan banquet] when you ordered orange juice instead of cocktails
An Article From Time Magazine
Monday, Oct. 30, 1950 Article
In her best bird-brained manner, Gracie floundered in malapropisms, clipped the top off a boxwood hedge with George's electric razor, soundly bussed a startled book salesman (so "snoopers" wouldn't catch her talking to a strange man). Using the reliable formula that won them more than 45 million radio listeners, George Burns and Gracie Allen were making their bow on TV with the first in a bimonthly series (Thurs. 8 p.m., CBS-TV).
Old Vaudevillians Burns & Allen are not likely to disappoint their fans. Pointing up Gracie's gags, Straightman George uses a slow-burn delivery and purse-mouthed pauses ("A man drowned once while I was pausing"). Compared to the machine-gun patter of most TV comics, his style gives the show a relaxed, almost leisurely pace. A high point of the program: Gracie's dubious plugs for Carnation Milk ("I don't see how they get milk from carnations").
What do Burns & Allen think about the new medium? "Well," says long-suffering George, never at a loss for a gag: "Now everybody can see and hear what I've been seeing and hearing for 25 years."
Another Article From Time Magazine
Burns Without Allen
Monday, Mar. 03, 1958 Article
The longest-running team in show business began applying the brakes last week in Hollywood. After 36 years as the better half of Burns and Allen, pretty, professionally giddy Gracie, still slim and girlish at 53, announced that she will retire in May. "I'm going to sleep for six months," she said. "I'm going to invite people in to dinner, and visit my grandchildren. And I'm going to clean out the bureau drawers."
Over the years, Mrs. George Burns has accumulated an overflow of nostalgia ,good times, well-used gags and trademarked nitwitticisms that made her vaudeville's, radio's and TV's longest-suffered, best-loved wife. Her Irish father, a song-and-dance man from San Francisco, named her Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalia Allen, and at three, Gracie joined his act in top hat and red whiskers. In 1922, after hunger had urged her into secretarial school, she caught the down-at-heel act of George Burns (real name: Nathan Birn-baum). George promised to feed her, even became her foil when Gracie got all the laughs. They were married in 1926. Six years later they landed a CBS contract and have been on the air ever since.
Gracie has ingratiated herself with millions of Americans in such mad trifles as her One Finger Piano Concerto, her plugs for Sponsor Carnation Milk ("I don't see how they get milk from carnations"), her weakness for clipping her boxwood hedge with George's electric razor. In the '30 she popped up all over the dial looking for her supposedly lost brother, a long-running gag that drove her real, unlost brother, a San Francisco accountant, into hiding. In desperation, he wired Gracie: "Can't you make a living any other way?"
As petite, auburn-haired Gracie bowed out of one of television's most successful comedy shows, George Burns, now 62, insisted that he would go on without her. He will also continue as head of TV's moneymaking McCadden Productions (Bob Cummings Show, The People's Choice). Of Grade's retirement, he said: "No one so richly deserves it. Her kind of work takes a lot out of you. Like I ask Gracie how her brother is and she talks for four minutes without stopping. That's very hard work."
GRACIE ALLEN'S OBITUARY
To read Gracie Allen's Obituary go to http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=_9ceAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xGUEAAAAIBAJ&dq=gracie%20allen%20died&pg=2651%2C5794836
Here is George Burns Obituary from The New York Times
George Burns, Straight Man And Ageless Wit, Dies at 100
By ALBIN KREBS
Published: March 10, 1996
George Burns, the cigar-puffing comedian who was the best comic "straight man" of his time in a partnership with the brilliantly scatterbrained Gracie Allen, and who began a solo career when he was nearly 80, died yesterday. He was 100 years old and his career in show business lasted 93 years.
He died at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., said his manager, Irving Fein.
The diminutive, gravel-voiced Mr. Burns, delivering doses of his dry humor and occasionally breaking into a fragment of some long-forgotten vaudeville ditty, all the while savoring a huge cigar, was a beloved figure to several generations of Americans. He not only survived but triumphed in vaudeville, radio, television, nightclubs, records, books and movies. Even as he aged, he seemed ageless.
When he was well into his 90's, Mr. Burns announced with his customary brio that he had arranged to celebrate his 100th birthday, on Jan. 20, 1996, with an engagement at the London Palladium. That being the case, he noted, he could not possibly die -- "I'm booked," he explained.
In July 1994, however, Mr. Burns fell in a bathtub in his home and was hospitalized. Two months later he was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for surgery to drain fluid from the surface of his brain.
He never recovered fully and became increasingly frail. He was forced to cancel his Palladium appearance and a sold-out engagement scheduled for last year at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev. Mr. Burns already had his opening line ready: "It's nice to be here. When you're 100 years old, it's nice to be anywhere."
Then a bout of flu kept him from attending a party in his honor on Jan. 16 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. The birthday party was also timed to coincide with an announcement of Mr. Burns's donation to Cedars-Sinai for the George Burns and Gracie Allen Research Institute. There already is a George Burns Medical Education Center in Israel.
The Burns and Allen team rose to the heights of the entertainment world in the 1920's and remained there, whether in vaudeville, movies, radio or television, until Miss Allen's retirement in 1959.
After Miss Allen's death in 1964 at the age of 58, Mr. Burns continued to perform on television in concerts and nightclubs with performers like Carol Channing, Ann-Margret and Dorothy Provine.
In 1975, when he was 79 and after undergoing major heart surgery, Mr. Burns made a triumphant movie comeback in Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys," in the role of a retired vaudeville performer, and began his remarkable second career.
He had been absent from the screen in a leading role for 35 years, but he won an Academy Award as best supporting actor, a coup that led to new film roles. He also appeared in annual television specials and was a guest on many other programs.
Prominent Products Of Vaudeville
Mr. Burns and Miss Allen were products of that golden age in vaudeville that produced many comedians who successfully made the transition to motion pictures, radio and television. Among them were Milton Berle, George Jessel, Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, Phil Silvers, Bert Lahr and Mr. Burns's closest friend for a half-century, Jack Benny.
Although on stage Mr. Burns made a mild pass at appearing to be vain -- he pretended to be the great lover as well as a fine singer, and naturally fooled no one on either count -- he was unegotistically content to play the Burns and Allen team's straight man, slyly feeding his partner the lines that set up the punch lines.
"Me, the long-suffering husband," he said, "seems to utter only lines that give Gracie, the nutty flibbertigibbet, a chance to say something crazy. I don't mind. I wind up having the last laugh, anyway, when I bank our pay."
Indeed, as one of the most successful comedy teams in modern times, Mr. Burns and Miss Allen were millionaires several times over. In the 1950's, when theirs was one of the top-rated television shows, Mr. Burns added to their fortune by forming a production company that filmed their show and others.
The Burns and Allen comedy team came into being in 1922, but Mr. Burns had been in show business for about 15 years before that.
Nathan Birnbaum Of Lower East Side
Mr. Burns, whose original name was Nathan Birnbaum, was born on Jan. 20, 1896, on Pitt Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the ninth of twelve children. As a child, he and a pal would pick up bits of coal from the streets to take home. And friends, on seeing the boys' knickers bulging with coal, would call out, "Here come the Burns Brothers," a reference to the name of a coal company that served the neighborhood. The nickname stuck and the comedian took Burns as his stage name.
At age 7, he joined with a 6-year-old basso and two other boys to form the Pee-Wee Quartet, which performed in saloons and the Staten Island ferry, where, he said, the only way for people to avoid them was to jump overboard. At 13, he and a friend opened B-B's College of Dancing.
"We got most of our clients right off the immigration boats at Ellis Island," Mr. Burns late recalled. "We told them one of the first requirements of becoming a United States citizen was a $5 course of dancing lessons. Dishonest, you say? Maybe. But have you ever been hungry?"
Following the vogues of the times, Mr. Burns appeared in vaudeville as a trick roller skater and a member of Latin and ballroom dance teams. "I even did an act with a seal," he once recalled. "It was small-time vaudeville, playing bad theaters and thinking you were good if you played a theater worse than you were."
Mr. Burns's acts were invariably so awful, he said, that no booker would hire him, so he would constantly be forced to invent new stage names, among them Willy Delight, Captain Betts and Buddy Links. He was part of a song-and-dance act at a theater in Newark when he was introduced to Miss Allen in 1922.
Although she was only 16, Miss Allen had four years of vaudeville experience, playing Irish colleens. Mr. Burns persuaded her to join him with Miss Allen playing his straight "man." But it soon became apparent that Miss Allen was a natural comedienne, and Mr. Burns rewrote their material to give his new partner most of the laughs.
By 1926, when they were married, Mr. Burns and Miss Allen had become stellar attractions in vaudeville. Their act, called "Lamb Chops," written chiefly by Mr. Burns, became so popular that the Keith theater circuit signed them to a six-year contract.
In 1929, 'Hooked On the Microphone'
Their radio debut came in 1929, when they were appearing at the Palladium in London. On their show, which began on NBC in 1932 and lasted until 1950, Mr. Burns cultivated Miss Allen's characterization of the addlepated nitwit. He gave her lines, for instance, in which she explained she trimmed the hedge with an electric razor, or put straw in the water in which she boiled eggs "so they'll feel at home."
"The character was simply the dizziest dame in the world, but what made her different from all the other dumb Doras was that Gracie played her as if she were totally sane, as if her answers actually made sense," Mr. Burns once explained. "We called it illogic-logic."
Their patented humor carried over into movies. They played themselves in more than a score of films, which included "The Big Broadcast" series of 1932, 1936 and 1937, "International House" (in 1933, with W. C. Fields), "Many Happy Returns" (1934), "A Damsel in Distress" (in 1937, with Fred Astaire) and "College Swing" (1938).
"Gracie didn't tell you a joke," Mr. Burns said. "She explained it to you." Here is an example, from a 1947 radio script:
George: "Gracie, suppose you start explaining these Christmas bills. Who got this $25 hat?"
Gracie: "I gave that to Clara Bagley. I've decided to break up our friendship."
George: "Then why did you give her an expensive hat?"
Gracie: "I have one exactly like it. When she sees me with it on, she'll stop speaking to me."
Jokes like this one may not seem funny by today's "anything goes" standard. But Burns and Allen's audience, estimated at more than 40 million in the late 1930's, found them hilarious, and NBC was happy to pay them a fee of $10,000 a week, then phenomenal. The show was seldom out of the top 10.
Very Few Changes In Shift to Television
"The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" made the transition from radio to television, on CBS, in 1950, and it traveled well. The theme song, "Love Nest," was the same and so were many of the cast members, including Bea Benaderet as Gracie's neighbor, Blanche, and Hal March as Blanche's long-suffering husband, Harry. And the program always ended with Mr. Burns's rasping, "Say good night, Gracie." To which Miss Allen obligingly replied, "Good night, Gracie."
After Miss Allen's retirement in 1959, Mr. Burns continued the television show for a season, working with their son, Ronald. His son, of Los Angeles, and his daughter, Sandra Luckman of San Diego, survive him, as do seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In 1960, he teamed with Carol Channing for nightclub appearances, and later appeared on television, but his days as a major performer had seemingly ended.
Mr. Burns never remarried after Miss Allen's death in 1964, but he made a habit of squiring women many years his junior. Bill Cosby, the comedian, ran into Mr. Burns, a beautiful woman on each arm, at a book signing and asked why he always had two women with him. "They're hipper than canes," he replied. And he once said, "I'd go out with women my age, but there aren't any women my age."
After "The Sunshine Boys" won him an Oscar, he appeared in pictures including "Oh, God!," a 1977 film in which he played God, "Just You and Me, Kid" (1979) and "Going in Style" (1979).
There was a sequel, "Oh, God! Book II," in 1980 and, in 1984, another sequel, "Oh God! You Devil," in which the comedian played both God and the Devil. "Why shouldn't I play God?" he said when he was 93. "Anything I do at my age is a miracle." In 1988, he starred in "Eighteen Again," a movie in which he played a grandfather whose body is switched with his grandson's.
In 1988, the year he received a John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts award for lifetime achievement, Mr. Burns published a memoir, "Gracie: A Love Story," which remained on best-seller lists for more than five months. In 1989, he made the best-seller lists again with "All My Best Friends," a collection of reminiscences about show-business acquaintances. In all, his name appeared on 10 books, which, he noted, "is pretty good for a guy that read only two." His recording of "Gracie" also won a Grammy.
For years he was considered the wit of the Comedians' Round Table at the Hillcrest Country Club, where lunchtime regulars included Jack Benny, Groucho and Harpo Marx, Harry, Al and Jimmy Ritz, Al Jolson and George Jessel. And he would often visit his wife's grave at Forest Lawn and "tell her everything I'm doing."
Mr. Burns's devotion to Miss Allen was legendary. When she died, he arranged Episcopal rites although she was a Roman Catholic. Years later, he explained: "I want to be buried with Gracie, and since I'm Jewish, I can't be buried in Catholic-consecrated ground. I hope the Episcopal rites were the right compromise."
Photos: George Burns. (CBS, 1977) (pg. 1); George Burns and GracieAllen on their radio show, which began in 1932 on NBC and lasted until 1950.; Jack Benny, left, Bing Crosby and George Burns rehearsed a takeoff on an old-time vaudeville team. (Associated Press, 1954); George Burns's "Say good night, Gracie," always got the response, "Good night, Gracie." Both are shown here in an undated picture. (Agence Frace Presse); "Why shouldn't I play God?" Mr. Burns said, when he played God in the 1977 film, "Oh, God!" "Anything I do at my age is a miracle." (Warner Bros., Inc.) (pg. 37)
Correction: An obituary yesterday about the comedian George Burns misstated the year of Gracie Allen's retirement in some copies. It was 1959, not 1958. The obituary of George Burns on March 10 omitted a reference to the first of his two marriages. In the early 1920's, before he was married to Gracie Allen, he was briefly married to a dancer, Hannah Siegel
An Article On George Burns's Death From Time Magazine.
GOOD NIGHT, GEORGE
Monday, Mar. 18, 1996 By RICHARD ZOGLIN Article
RETIRE?" GEORGE BURNS POSED the rhetorical question to himself during a tribute on his 90th birthday. "I'm going to stay in show business until I'm the only one left." He lasted another decade, but by the time Burns died last week at 100, his prophecy had in a sense come true. He was the last of a generation of comics who grew up in vaudeville, helped inaugurate the era of sound films and radio, and embodied during the television age a style of comedy that has been celebrated or satirized--often both--by virtually every comedian since.
His raspy voice, wryly unflappable manner and ever present cigar were trademarks as familiar as Chaplin's cane or Lucy's red hair. Burns was not a particularly influential or groundbreaking comic, like Groucho Marx or George's old friend Jack Benny. But no one commanded the stage with more easygoing--and, as the years went on, inspiring--authority. He was 62 when his wife and longtime partner Gracie Allen retired, but his career was barely past its midpoint. He went on to even greater success in nightclubs, television and movies. His longevity became part of his appeal and the subject of his comedy. "It's nice to be here," he would typically announce. "At my age, it's nice to be anywhere." Years in advance, he scheduled a 100th birthday appearance, first at the London Palladium, then at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. But after a bathtub fall in 1994, his condition deteriorated, and he was forced to spend the occasion at home, though nearly every major comic in Hollywood paid warm tribute. Said Bob Hope: "It's hard to imagine show business before George."
He was born Nathan Birnbaum on New York City's Lower East Side, one of 12 children. By his teens he was doing anything he could to break into vaudeville, from trick roller-skating to performing with a trained seal. "Whatever type of act the booking agent was looking for," he recalled, "happened to be the type of act I did." He did comedy routines with a series of partners, changing his name with each new act--because, he claimed, the booker would never have rehired him if he knew who he was.
In 1923 he teamed with Gracie, a young Irish-American actress and dancer, whom he married three years later. At first Burns did the jokes and Allen played it straight, but that was soon corrected. George's indulgent prodding of Gracie's flighty non sequiturs and malapropisms helped make them the most popular male-female comedy act of the century. Burns always credited Allen with being the "genius" and deprecated his own sizable contribution. "There's a whole megillah about being a straight man," he said. "It's supposed to be so difficult. Actually, all you've got to have is ears. When the audience stopped laughing, I'd ask Gracie the next question."
In 1929 Burns and Allen appeared in their first movie short, and went on to a string of films, among them International House, The Big Broadcast of 1932 and A Damsel in Distress (in which they tap-danced with Fred Astaire). But radio was their real metier: beginning in 1932 their CBS show was among the most popular in the country. Switching to TV in 1950, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show ran for eight years as a quaint mixture of vaudeville and sitcom: Burns would speak directly to the camera, narrating each week's story, which typically involved Gracie, their fictional neighbors the Mortons and the show's announcer, Harry Von Zell. Each program ended with a stand-up routine, brought to a close with Burns' inevitable "Say good night, Gracie." The series ended in 1958 when Allen retired; six years later she died of heart disease.
Forced to reinvent himself as a solo performer, Burns tried a couple of TV sitcoms, which failed to catch on, but soon found new life as a performer in nightclubs and on TV variety shows. Wielding his cigar as a silent straight man--a puff between punch lines--he regaled audiences with show-biz anecdotes and obscure songs, which he frequently left unfinished. He launched an improbable third career in 1975, when he got the role--originally to be played by Jack Benny, who died just before filming--of an aging vaudevillian in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. Burns' droll performance opposite Walter Matthau won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and led to other roles, most notably the wisecracking, down-to-earth deity in Oh, God! and its two sequels.
As he outlived most of his contemporaries, Burns' age, like Benny's stinginess, became a surefire running gag. "I get a standing ovation just standing," he quipped. Or, about his dating life: "I would go out with women my age. But there are no women my age." Only near the end did a hint of melancholy creep in. In the introduction to his last book, 100 Years, 100 Stories, he noted that "things haven't been the same" since his bathtub accident. "I'm still an optimist," he added. "But I'm not stupid. That nurse isn't watching me all day to see if my toupee is on straight."
To read an article about The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show go to http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Q1VgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jXENAAAAIBAJ&dq=george%20burns%20and%20gracie%20allen%20show&pg=4759%2C144212
To watch some clips from The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=george+burns+and+gracie+allen+show
To go to Tim's TV Showcase go to https://web.archive.org/web/20100103195851/http://www.timstvshowcase.com/burns.html
For an episode guide of The Burns and Allen Show go to http://ctva.biz/US/Comedy/BurnsAndAllenShow.htm
For a Website dedicated to the Burns and Allen Radio Show go to http://theburnsandallenshow.blogspot.com/
For more on Burns and Allen go to https://georgegracie.wordpress.com/about-history-and-background/
To listen to episodes of the Burns & Allen Radio Show go to http://zootradio.com/Burns_And_Allen.php
To visit the cast at The Find a Grave Website go to http://www.findagrave.com/php/famous.php?page=pr&FSctf=184
R.I.P. You guys were great.
For some Burns and Allen-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/shows/george-burns-and-gracie-allen-show-the
For a review of The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show go to https://web.archive.org/web/20080215232314/http://www.televisionheaven.co.uk/burns.htm and https://web.archive.org/web/20091010005506/http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/G/htmlG/georgeburns/gerogeburns.htm
To watch the opening credits for The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_KNViwQScw
� Date: Mon January 9, 2006 � Filesize: 69.6kb � Dimensions: 487 x 658 �
Keywords: George Gracie (Links Updated 5/6/2017)