George Burns

For other uses, see George Burns (disambiguation).
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George Burns in 1985, at 89 years of age.

George Burns (January 20, 1896March 9, 1996) was a legendary American vaudeville comedian who went on to work in movies, radio, and early television. He became well-known for his longevity despite an affinity for alcohol and cigars, and his miraculous career comeback at 79 years of age, arguably being more popular and well-known in his 80s and 90s than at any other point in his career.

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Burns in the 1950's.


He was born as Nathan Birnbaum to Louis and Dorothy Birnbaum, the ninth of twelve children, in New York City, New York.

Burns teamed with his second wife Gracie Allen as "Burns & Allen"; they built their routines and their television sitcom around situations where she said (and did) ditsy things and he made wry comments as asides to the audience, often while brandishing a cigar or golf club. Gracie retired due to poor health in 1958 and died in 1964.

After Allen's death, many considered Burns a "has been" until he co-starred with Walter Matthau in the 1975 movie adaptation of Neil Simon's hit play The Sunshine Boys. Matthau and Burns played feuding comics reunited for a television special. Burns had been lifelong friends with Jack Benny and Benny was originally slated to make the film, but after being diagnosed with cancer, he requested Burns get the role instead. Although he had not made a film since 1939 and had never really "acted" before, Burns won wide acclaim and an Academy Award for best supporting actor.

In 1977, Burns made another hit film Oh, God!, playing the title role opposite John Denver. The film inspired two sequels. Burns continued to be active well into his nineties, writing a number of books and appearing in films and television.

Burns remained deeply devoted to Allen after she passed away. He never re-married, and though he developed a running joke of being a sexy senior citizen (he was often seen in the company of beautiful young women), he was never crude and his devotion to his wife was unquestioned up until his death. On his relationships, he said, "I'd go out with women my age, but there are no women my age."

Burns had long planned to celebrate his 100th birthday by performing at the London Palladium. However, in 1994, Burns was badly injured in a fall and his health steadily declined. He died forty three days after his 100th birthday in 1996. Burns faced death very bravely; he often said that in a way he was looking forward to it. He believed he would be reunited with Gracie in Heaven.

Selected filmography

Radio series

  • The Robert Burns Panatella Show: 1932 - 1933 CBS

In their debut series, George and Gracie shared the bill with Guy Lombardo and his Orchestra. The pair launched themselves into national stardom with their first major publicity stunt, Gracie's ongoing search for her missing brother.

  • The White Owl Program: 1933 - 1934 CBS
  • The Adventures of Gracie: 1934 - 1935 CBS
  • The Campbell's Tomato Juice Program: 1935 - 1937 CBS
  • The Grape Nuts Program: 1937 - 1938 NBC
  • The Chesterfield Program: 1938 - 1939 CBS
  • The Hinds Honey and Almond Cream Program: 1939 - 1940 CBS

This series featured another wildly successful publicity stunt which had Gracie running for President of the United States.

Advertising a brand new product called "Spam". . . this show featured musical numbers by jazz great Artie Shaw.

  • The Swan Soap Show: 1941 - 1945 NBC, CBS

This series featured a radical format change, in that George and Gracie played themselves as a married couple for the first time, and the show became a full-fledged domestic situation comedy. This was George's response to a marked drop in ratings under the old "Flirtation Act" format.

  • Maxwell House Coffee Time: 1945 - 1949 NBC
  • The Amm-i-Dent Toothpaste Show: 1949 - 1950 CBS

TV series

Broadcast live every other week for the first two seasons, 26 episodes per year. Starting in the third season, all episodes were filmed and broadcast weekly, 40 episodes per year. There were 291 episodes created in all.

  • The George Burns Show: (1958 - 1959) NBC

An unsuccessful attempt to continue the format of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show without Gracie, the rest of the cast intact.

George plays narrator in this short-lived series, just as he had in The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, but with far less on-screen time, as the focus is on a young couple played by Connie Stevens and Ron Harper. Connie Stevens is, essentially, playing a version of Gracie's character.

  • George Burns Comedy Week: (1985) CBS

Another short-lived series, this time a weekly comedy anthology program whose only connecting thread was George's presence as host. He does not appear in any of the actual storylines. He was 89 years old when the series was filmed.

External links


de:George Burns


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