Monday, November 11, 2013


George Burns began performing on vaudeville as a member of a children's singing quartet. He later tried his hand at comedy, and was performing with a partner when he met Gracie Allen in 1922. Allen, the daughter of vaudeville performers, also started on the stage at a young age, teaming with her sister in a musical act. Burns and Allen first performed together in 1922, with Allen setting up the jokes and Burns delivering the punch lines. But Burns immediately noticed that his partner was getting all the laughs, so the act was revised with Burns as the straight man, and Allen as his ditzy, scatter-brained partner. Within a few years, Burns and Allen were one of the top acts in vaudeville. They were married in 1926.

The pair made their film debut in a series of comedy shorts, and their feature debut in "The Big Broadcast" (1932). After a lengthy and successful career in radio, "The Burns and Allen Show" debuted on television in 1950, and was a top-rated show for the next eight years, nominated for Emmy awards as the top comedy show from 1952 to 1955. Allen also received Emmy nominations from 1955 to 1957. When Allen decided to retire in 1958, Burns attempted a solo career in television and nightclubs, but with little success.

Allen died in 1964, and Burns was out of the spotlight for more than a decade. He returned to play a cantankerous old ex-vaudeville star in Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" (1975), co-starring with Walter Matthau. (Burns was not the first choice for the role, however. He replaced Jack Benny, who died shortly before production was to begin.) For his performance, Burns won the Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor, and launched the next phase of his career. Burns next played the title role in "Oh, God!" (1977), as well as two sequels -- "Oh, God! Book Two" (1980) and "Oh, God! You Devil" (1984). He also appeared as Mr. Kite in "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978), "Just You and Me, Kid" (1979), "Going in Style" (1979), "Two of a Kind" (1982) and "18 Again!" (1988).

Burns continued to perform in nightclubs and on television. When asked if he ever planned to retire, Burns would respond, "I'm going to stay in show business until I'm the only one left." Burns died a few weeks after his 100th birthday.

After Allen's death, Burns visited her crypt at Forest Lawn at least once a month for the rest of his life. Their crypt contains the simple inscription, "Together Again." Allen was born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen on July 26, 1902, in San Francisco, CA. She died on Aug. 27, 1964, in Los Angeles, CA. Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on Jan. 20, 1896, in New York City, NY. He died on March 9, 1996, in Los Angeles, CA...

1 comment:

  1. I adore George's many books, especially when he wrote about Gracie.

    My husband was 11 years old when Gracie passed away and recalls seeing a television news report on the funeral. He said he'd never seen a man look as sad as George.