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L E’s Stories – “Oh God And Gracie: A Match Made In Heaven” – Tribute To George Burns & Gracie Allen

Standard operating procedure (SOP) during the decade of the 1950’s around Bone Daddy’s house every Monday night after dinner was served, chores were done and homework was finished by Lil Wally, Bone Daddy and Runt….that is when Granny and Pops, along with the three boys, would all gather around the black and white TV with “rabbit ears” antenna to watch The George Burns And Gracie Allen Show…..which was followed by “I Love Lucy” with Lucille Ball….for an evening of laughter and entertainment. Bone Daddy says that the excitement of watching these two shows featuring comedic geniuses every Monday night was finally exceeded around the family TV in 1970….when ABC debuted NFL Monday Night Football….and that was because of Pops and his three boys outnumbered Granny…..and although Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith were a pretty good comedy team….they were no match for George, Gracie and Lucy from the “laugh meter standpoint”.  Anyway, The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show was so enjoyed by BD’s entire family, that writing this story about the two comes quite easy…..and with a really big smile.                                       

Comedy – 1950 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen – “The Unaired Pilot Episode”                                                                                                                              

Burns and Allen was an American comedy duo consisting of George Burns and his wife, Gracie Allen….who worked together as a successful comedy team that entertained vaudeville, film, radio and television audiences for over forty years.  The duo met in 1922 and married in 1926….and from there on, Burns played the straight man and Allen played a silly, addle-headed woman. The duo starred in a number of movies including Lambchops in 1929….The Big Broadcast in 1932 and two sequels in 1935 and 1936….and A Damsel in Distress in 1937.  Their 30-minute radio show debuted in September 1934 as The Adventures of Gracie….whose title changed to The Burns and Allen Show in 1936….as the series ran, moving back and forth between NBC and CBS, until May 1950.  After their radio show’s cancellation, Burns and Allen reemerged on television with a popular situation comedy….which ran from 1950 to 1958.  Burns and Allen’s radio show was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1994…..while their TV series received a total of 11 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and produced what TV Guide ranked # 56 on its 1997 list of the 100 greatest episodes of all time. They were inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1988.                                                                                                                                   

Comedy & Entertainment – 1926 To 1964 – Special – “George Burns & Gracie Allen – “A Love Story Tribute”                                                                                          

Burns and Allen first performed together at the Hill Street Theatre in Newark, New Jersey….then continued in small town vaudeville theaters….and moved up a notch when they signed with the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit in 1927. Burns wrote most of the material and played the straight man….while Allen played a silly, addle-headed woman….which was a role often attributed to the “Dumb Dora” stereotype common in early 20th-century vaudeville comedy.  Early on, the team had played the opposite roles until they noticed that the audience was laughing at Gracie’s straight lines….so, they made the change…..when in later years, each attributed their success to the other.                 

Comedy – 1955 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show Skit – “Gracie Wants The House Painted”                                                                                          

The Burns and Allen team was not an overnight sensation. “We were a good man-and-woman act,” Burns said, “but we were not headliners or stars or featured attractions. We were on the bill with them. There would be a star or two stars and a featured attraction, and then we would come—fourth billing in an eight-act show.”….but their career changed direction when they made their first film.  In the early days of talking pictures, the studios eagerly hired actors who knew how to deliver dialogue or songs. The most prolific of these studios was Warner Bros…..whose Vitaphone Varieties shorts captured vaudeville headliners of the 1920’s on film.                                                   

Comedy & Movies – 1932 – Warner Bros “Vitaphone Varieties” Three Short Films – With George Burns & Gracie Allen

Burns and Allen earned a reputation as a reliable “disappointment act”….. which as someone who could fill in for a sick or otherwise absent performer on a moment’s notice….as it went with their film debut….when they were last-minute replacements for another act (Fred Allen)….as they ran through their patter-and-song routine in Lambchops in 1929.  After a restoration, the film was released on DVD in October 2007….which was on disc three of a three-disc 80th anniversary edition of The Jazz Singer.                                                     

Comedy – 1929 – Excerpt From Movie “Lambchops” – With George Burns & Gracie Allen – “Say Goodnight Gracie”                                                                           

Paramount Pictures used its East Coast studio to film New York-based stage and vaudeville stars…..when Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, Ethel Merman and Smith and Dale were among the top acts seen in Paramount shorts…..as  Burns and Allen joined the Paramount roster in 1930….and made a string of one-reel comedies through 1933….which were usually written by Burns and featuring future Hollywood character actors such as Barton MacLane and Chester Clute.  In 1932, Paramount produced an all-star musical comedy,  The Big Broadcast….which featured the nation’s hottest radio personalities  …..when Burns and Allen were recruited….and they made such an impression that they continued to make guest appearances in Paramount features through 1937….as most of these used the Big Broadcast formula of an all-star comedy cast.  In 1935 the team also starred in a pair of low-budget features, Here Comes Cookie and Love in Bloom.                                          

Comedy – 1950 – George Burns & Gracie Allen Show Skit – “Gracie Tells A Story”                                                                                                                                 

At RKO, Fred Astaire succeeded in his efforts to make a musical feature without Ginger Rogers….and the studio borrowed Burns and Allen from Paramount for the 1937 film, A Damsel in Distress…..when their names appeared with Astaire’s before the title.  Under contract to RKO, the young Joan Fontaine was assigned as Astaire’s romantic interest….but when she proved to be an inadequate dance partner Astaire did most of his dancing with Burns and Allen.  The trio’s inspired comic dance in the film’s “Fun House” sequence earned an Academy Award for choreographer Hermes Pan.  Burns suggested a dance number that employs whisk brooms as props, used in vaudeville by a duo called Evans and Evans. He bought the idea and auditioned the routine for Astaire, with Allen and the surviving member of the vaudeville team.  This movie led Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to cast Burns and Allen in its Eleanor Powell musical, Honolulu in 1939…. which was their last film as a team….albeit Gracie made two subsequent film appearances on her own….but Burns and Allen did not return to the cameras until their television series in 1950.                                                              

Dance & Comedy – 1937 – Excerpt From Movie “Damsel In Distress” Dance Routine – With Fred Astaire + Gracie Allen + George Burns – “The Whisk Broom Dance”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Song & Dance – 1939 – Excerpt From Moview “Honolulu” – With Gracie Allen + Eleanor Powell Performing “Old Hawaii Song & Dance”                                           

When Burns was 79, he had a sudden movie career revival as an amiable, beloved and unusually active comedy elder statesman in the 1975 film The Sunshine Boys….for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor….then in 1977, his starring role in Oh, God!, along with the former film, permanently secured his career resurgence.  At the age of 80, Burns was the oldest Oscar winner in the history of the Academy Awards….which is a record that would remain until Jessica Tandy won an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy in 1989.  Burns, who became a centenarian in 1996, continued to work until just weeks before his death of cardiac arrest on March 19, 1996, at his home in Beverly Hills.                                                                                                        

Movie – 1877 – Excerpt From Movie “Oh God” Starring George Burns – “The Courtroom Scene”                                                                                                         

In 1929 Burns and Allen made their debut radio performance broadcast in London on the BBC….then in the United States, they had failed at a 1930 NBC audition.  After a solo appearance by Gracie on Eddie Cantor’s radio show, they were heard together on Rudy Vallee’s The Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour….and on February 15, 1932, they became regulars on The Guy Lombardo Show on CBS….then when Lombardo switched to NBC, Burns and Allen took over his CBS spot with The Adventures of Gracie beginning September 19, 1934.

 

Comedy – 1934 – CBS Radio Presents – “The Adventures Of Gracie” – With George Burns & Gracie Allen

Along the way, the duo launched the temporary running gag that made them near-irrevocable radio stars….as the famous hunt for Gracie’s “lost brother,” which began on January 4, 1933…..and eventually became a cross-network phenomenon.  Gracie was also liable to turn up on other shows (especially those produced by the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, which produced the Burns & Allen series) looking for her brother.  Bad publicity after a bid by NBC to squelch the stunt….which was as a result of an accidental mention by Rudy Vallee on his Fleischmann’s Hour….which helped the stunt continue….as according to radio historian John Dunning’s On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio….which also mentioned that Gracie’s real brother, a “publicity-shy accountant” living in San Francisco….who went into hiding until the gag ran its course.                                           

Comedy – 1954 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “The Television Show Party”                                                                                                                       

Burns and Allen followed this with another stunt: “Gracie Allen for President.”….when during the election year of 1940, Gracie represented the fictitious Surprise Party and advocated nonsense as part of her platform. The “campaign” was successful enough for Gracie to actually receive write-in votes on election day.                                                                                                 

Comedy – 1940 – CBS Radio Presents George Burns & Gracie Allen – “Gracie Announces She Is Running For President As The Sunshine Party Candidate”

 

Music & Comedy – 1940 – Sunshine Party Candidate For US President Gracie Allen Sings – “Vote For Gracie”                                                                                        

The title of their top-rated show changed to The Burns and Allen Show on September 26, 1936. One successful episode, “Grandpa’s 92nd Birthday”, aired July 8, 1940.  In 1941 they moved from comedy patter into a successful sitcom format, continuing with shows on NBC and CBS until May 17, 1950. As in the early days of radio, the sponsor’s name became the show title, such as Maxwell House Coffee Time (1945–49).                                                           

Comedy – 1956 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “A Night Of Vaudeville”                                                                                                                           

Burns and Allen had several regulars on radio, including Toby Reed, Gale Gordon, Bea Benaderet, Gracie’s real-life friend Mary “Bubbles” Kelly, Ray Noble, singers Jimmy Cash and Tony Martin and actor/writer/director Elliott Lewis…..when the Sportsmen Quartet….while appearing as “The Swantet” during the years the show was sponsored by Swan Soap….who supplied songs and occasionally backed up Cash. Meredith Willson, Artie Shaw and announcers Bill Goodwin and Harry Von Zell….who were usually made a part of the evening’s doings, often as additional comic foils for the duo.  For a long time they continued their “flirtation act” with Burns as Allen’s most persistent suitor. Their real-life marriage was not written into the show until 1941, when Burns noticed that their ratings were slowly but steadily slipping. He realized that he and Gracie “were too old for our jokes”, and revised the format to include husband-and-wife characters in a situation-comedy setting. Burns’s assessment was correct, and the Burns and Allen program went on to new heights.  Recordings of 176 episodes of the radio shows circulate on the web, CDs and DVDs—including all installments of the “Gracie for President” routine and some of the “lost brother” episodes.  The Burns and Allen Show was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1994.                                                                                                                    

Comedy – 1951 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “Thanksgiving”                

In 1950, Burns and Allen transitioned to television with The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show….which became an immediate success….as the half-hour situation comedy was broadcast October 12, 1950 until September 22, 1958, on CBS.  The show was initially staged live in New York….while being presented every other week….when in the fall of 1952, it became a weekly series filmed on the West Coast.  With 291 episodes, the show had a long network run through 1958….and continued in syndicated reruns for years.

 

Comedy – 1952 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “Gracie Confuses A Desk With A Person”                                                                                                       

The sets were designed to look like the couple’s real-life residence. An establishing shot of the actual house on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills, California, was often used. Although extensively remodeled, that house still exists today—including the study over the garage where George would “escape” from Gracie’s illogical logic. Burns lived in the house until his death in 1996, at the age of 100.  The format had George watching all the action….while standing outside the proscenium arch in early live episodes ….and watching the show on TV in his study towards the end of the series…. as he broke the fourth wall by commenting upon it to the viewers.                              

Comedy – 1955 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “Gracie Goes To A ‘Do It Yourself’ Show”                                                                                                

During the course of the eight-year run, the TV show had remarkable consistency in its cast and crew….when the episodes were produced and directed by Ralph Levy from 1950 to 1953….as Frederick de Cordova, later director of NBC’s The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1953–56); and Rod Amateau from 1956 to 1958. The original writing staff consisted of Sid Dorfman, Harvey Helm, Paul Henning and William Burns (George’s brother). The TV show was produced under the banner of McCadden Productions, a company run by George Burns which he named after the street on which his brother, William, lived.  Today, The McCadden catalog is owned by Sony Pictures Television.                                                                                                          

Comedy – 1957 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “Christmas In Jail”                                                                                                                                     

Bea Benaderet carried over from the radio show, portraying neighbor Blanche Morton. Her husband Harry Morton was first portrayed by Hal March (October–December 1950), and then by John Brown (January–June 1951), and after that, Fred Clark, until 1953 when the role was assumed by Larry Keating.  Also appearing in the TV series were Burns and Allen’s two adopted children, Ronnie and Sandra.  Ronnie became a near-regular on the show while playing himself….but cast as a young drama student who tended to look askance at his parents’ comedy style….where as Sandra declined becoming a regular member of the cast….although she appeared in a few episodes, usually as a secretary or the voice of a telephone operator.                              

Comedy – 1955- The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “Gracie Get A Ticket Fixed By The Judge”                                                                                             

In March 1953, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show joined I Love Lucy as part of the CBS Monday night prime-time lineup.  As a result, the show entered the top 30 television programs in the Nielsen ratings ranking at # 20. For the 1954–1955 season, it ranked # 26, and for both the 1955–56 and 1956–57 seasons it was # 28…..then with I Love Lucy ending its six-year run on CBS in the spring of 1957….as the television network wanted to renew the Burns and Allen series….but by this time Allen had grown tired of the grind….however, Burns committed both of them for another year….which would be their eighth and final year on television….as Allen announced her retirement on February 17, 1958….which was effective at the end of the current season….whereas Burns and Allen filmed their last show June 4, 1958….and the filming was an emotional experience….albeit nothing was said about it being Allen’s last performance.  At the wrap party, Allen took a token sip of champagne from a paper cup, hugged her friend and co-star Bea Benaderet, and said “Okay, that’s it.”….and after one last look around the set, she said, “And thank you very much, everyone.”                                           

Music – 1957 – George Burns & Gracie Allen –  “I Love Her, That’s Why”                   

“She deserved a rest,” Burns said when Allen devoted herself to gardening and being a housewife….She had been working all her life, and her lines were the toughest in the world to do. They didn’t make sense, so she had to memorize every word. It took a real actress. Every spare moment—in bed, under the hair dryer—had to be spent in learning lines. Do you wonder that she’s happy to be rid of it?”  Following a mild heart attack in the 1950’s, Gracie Allen suffered a series of angina episodes over a number of years….. then she had a major heart attack in 1961….after which she lived a slower but comfortable retirement for another three years….while often appearing in public with her husband but never performing…..then Gracie Allen died August 27, 1964.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Comedy – 1954 – George Burns & Gracie Allen Stand-Up Routine – “Uncle Otis”                                                                                                                                  

Burns attempted to continue the show with the same supporting cast but without Allen. The George Burns Show lasted one season (October 21, 1958 – April 14, 1959) on NBC.  The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show received  a total of 11 Prime Time Emmy Award nominations.  In 1997, the 1954 episode, “Columbia Pictures Doing Burns and Allen Story”, was ranked # 56 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time.

 

Comedy – 1989 – The Johnny Carson Tonight Show – With Guest George Burns

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show was produced under the banner of McCadden Productions, a company run by George Burns which he named after the street on which his brother William lived. While the series was in production Burns began producing other television shows and commercials. McCadden Productions employed more than 300 people and produced series including Mister EdThe Bob Cummings ShowThe People’s ChoiceThe Marie Wilson Show and Panic.  “Television was still so new that nobody really knew what kinds of shows the audience would watch,” Burns wrote, “but I figured that people would like the same things on television that they liked in vaudeville, so we did shows with pretty girls and animals.”

 

Comedy – 1956 – The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show – “Company For Christmas”                                                                                                                      

Known for his philanthropy, George Burns made numerous contributions to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The hospital is located at the intersection of George Burns Road, dedicated in 1986, and Gracie Allen Drive, dedicated in 1995. The George Burns – Gracie Allen Chair in Cardiology was established in 1989.  The Burns and Allen Research Institute was dedicated in 1996, on Burns’ 100th birthday.

 

Comedy & Entertainment – 1896 To 1996 – CNN Larry King Show Presents – “George Burns & Gracie: 100 Years Of Laughter” – Part 1

Comedy & Entertainment – 1896 To 1996 – CNN Larry King Show Presents – “George Burns & Gracie: 100 Years Of Laughter” – Part 2

Comedy & Entertainment – 1896 To 1996 – CNN Larry King Show Presents – “George Burns & Gracie: 100 Years Of Laughter” – Part 3

Comedy & Entertainment – 1896 To 1996 – CNN Larry King Show Presents – “George Burns & Gracie: 100 Years Of Laughter” – Part 4

Comedy & Entertainment – 1896 To 1996 – CNN Larry King Show Presents – “George Burns & Gracie: 100 Years Of Laughter” – Part 5

As I come to the end of this story, I am reminded once again how talented the entertainers, comedians and musicians were who came out of The Greatest Generation….like George & Gracie, George Gobel, Jack Benny, Dean Martin + Jerry Lewis, Groucho + Harpo + Chico + Zeppo , Lucille Ball,  Bob Hope, Red Skelton or Milton Berle…..for it is my opinion that the world is a far sadder place today….cuz the talent pool just isn’t the same as the talent that came through the Great Depression and fought in World War II…. and albeit the talent pool of the sons and daughters of The Greatest Generation who followed in their footsteps as The Baby Boomer Generation came in at a very close second….but since then, in the generations that followed just didn’t measure up.  So, “my hat is off” to George Burns and Gracie Allen and the rest of this glorious generation of extreme talent…. which as evidenced by the videos in this story herewith is just a relevant as it was back in the day….so, thanks for the memories George and Gracie.           

Comedy – 1926 To 1964 – Special – “What Happened To Burns and Allen? George Burns & Gracie Allen Story”

 

 

 

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