Burns and Allen
The couple met in 1922 while doing vaudeville, a form of entertainment consisting of various acts as they toured the country. They were married in January 1926. In the 1930’s Burns and Allen continued to hone their act on radio and by the early 1930s, Gracie was probably the best-known woman on the air.
During their vaudeville years, they learned to use the snappy patter and the quick give and take exchanges popular in that medium. They saw continued success during the 1940’s after deciding to play off one another with put-downs and running gags.
Early in their act, George realized that Gracie was getting most of the laughs so he decided they would reverse roles and he would play the straight man. During their years on radio, they developed the concept of situation comedy with great success.
In 1950, with the growing popularity of television, Burns and Allen moved to the growing medium. Several of their radio cohorts moved with them, and their show premiered October 12, 1950. The set revealed George and Gracie living in their home, with Blanche Morton (Bea Benaderet) and Harry Morton (Hal March) as their next-door neighbors. Blanche joined Gracie in a number of her schemes.
While George was patient and understanding, Harry was often furious with his wife. George would often watch the action and comment to the audience, before stepping back into the scene, thereby breaking the fourth wall as sometimes used in stage productions.
Besides Benaderet and March, others who made the transition from radio to join Burns and Allen included Bill Goodwin, Larry Keating, and Harry Von Zell as the announcer who was often found entangled in Gracie’s situations. A running gag was that Harry would be fired and rehired almost every week.
George wrote much of the early material and for the first two years, the show was live. They aired every other week because George felt they needed the time to rehearse. Astute businessman that he was, after two years he decided they should film the shows for later syndication, and the show went to a weekly format for the rest of its run.
In 1958, Gracie decided to retire and their last show together was September 22, 1958. George continued another year with a slightly revamped show joined by Bea Benaderet and Larry Keating in their roles as Blanche and Harry Morton, and Harry Von Zell. The show earned twelve Emmy nominations during its course. Gracie died in 1964.
George Burns continued performing, later winning a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in the movie The Sunshine Boys when he was 80-years-old. He died at the age of 100 on March 9, 1996 of natural causes.
George always had his trademark cigar as he played straight man to his beloved Gracie. It is said he smoked as many as ten cigars a day until his death. Jack Benny was a long time friend, serving as best man for their wedding. George was also good friends with Harpo Marx.
Burns and Allen had a long and illustrious career and a successful marriage. They adopted two children, Sandy and Ronnie. Ronnie later was a part of the television show, although Sandy only made a couple of appearances.
There are currently 291 episodes of Burns and Allen available on CDs, DVDs and the web, including YouTube. Staying away from topical humor, their comedy focused simply on living daily life, and now their unique style of humor lives on for many generations to enjoy.
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