George Burns and his wife Gracie Allen worked together for over forty years as a successful comedy team that entertained film, radio, television, and vaudeville audiences around the globe.When asked how they met, Burns and Allen often joked that they met by accident. Allen supposedly mistook Burns for Billy Lorraine, another vaudeville performer, when she introduced herself to him and made the suggestion that they should collaborate.
As a comedy duo, Burns always played the straight man while Allen played a silly, vacuous woman whose convoluted logic often gave Burns a run for his money. The team starred in many commercially successful films, including 1929s Lambchops, 1932s Big Broadcast, and 1937s A Damsel in Distress.
It must have been extraordinarily difficult for Burns to continue on as an entertainer without his better half in tow. Join Facts Verse as we take a look at how Georgoe Burns spent his final years without Gracie Allen.
They Were Destined To Be Together
It couldn’t be more clear why George and Gracie were drawn together. For one thing, both grew up performing. Gracie was an Irish-Catholic girl from California. She made her stage debut when she was just three years old, performing folk dances with her sister.
George, born Nathan Birnbaum, was the ninth of 12 children. When he was 7, he began harmonizing with an act called The Pee-Wee Quartet in bars and clubs in New York’s Lower East Side.
For many years, George struggled to find success, but eventually, his efforts paid off after meeting Gracie and forming a comedy team. Together, with Gracie as the funny one, they struck gold. Originally, George was the one who was making all the wisecracks in their routine, but after noticing how enamored the audience was with Gracie, he decided that it would probably be best if they shook things up by reversing roles. From then on out, he gave Gracie all of the funny lines.
Usually, the kinds of jokes Gracie would tell would involve some kind of peculiar logic. She would tell George all sorts of nutty things. On one occasion, she informed him that she had shortened all of the electric cables on their appliances so that they could save on their electric bill. Simply put, her character wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box. If there was some kind of award someone could receive for being the biggest ditz, she’d no doubt win it in a heartbeat.
But despite being a world-class airhead, Gracie played her part with a sense of innocent authenticity that made audiences fall in love with her. She delivered her lines, no matter how absurd, as if they were totally sane. No matter how ridiculous the things that would come out of her mouth, she always seemed to believe that they made perfect sense. And that’s precisely what made her and Burns’ chemistry so brilliant! How could you not fall head over heels for Gracie and her long-suffering husband?
Their audiences weren’t the only ones to fall under Gracie’s spell. When she first met Burns, she was actually still engaged to another man, but that didn’t stop George from falling hard for her. According to Cheryl Blythe and Susan Sackett, co-authors of the book Say Goodnight, Gracie! The Story of George Burns and Gracie Allen, George was very patient with his proposals. In time, Gracie agreed to marry him.
The year that they tied the knot, 1926, was also the year that they scored a three-year contract with a vaudeville theater chain. George proved to be an excellent promoter and businessman. He knew what to do off-stage while Gracie knew what to do on stage. In addition to taking charge of the business side of things, George was also in charge of handling all of their act’s writing.
They made their debut on radio in 1929, which coincidentally was the same year that they began doing film shorts. In 1950, their long-running and much-beloved radio series made the jump to television.
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Bruns and Allen Had Their Fair Share Of Troubles
Despite how it might look from the outside looking in, Burns and Allen’s life together wasn’t all laughs. Gracie desperately wanted to be a parent, but unfortunately, she could not conceive. Eventually, they decided to stop trying to make one on their own and instead they adopted two children. As a family the Burns were incredibly happy. George and Gracie absolutely doted on Ronald and Sandra from the day that they came home with them. Ronnie eventually even became a regular on their TV series.
Another challenge that made things difficult for Gracie in particular was her severe stage fright. Even though she had years of experience performing in front of crowds, she couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that she would get whenever she was under the blazing studio lights. Eventually, she even requested that the red light on the live camera be turned off because it made her feel so nervous.
Although she felt very self-conscious and shy standing in front of live studio audiences, Gracie stuck with it for decades, for George’s sake. In 1958, however, she was forced to enter into retirement after her health began to deteriorate.
Gracie suffered from a congenital heart condition which she kept trying to ignore until she started having intense migraines. George was absolutely miserable without his partner by his side, but Gracie was overjoyed to finally have some time for herself to be a normal person. She could sleep whenever she felt like it, go out shopping without having to worry about filming schedules, and visit her grandchildren as she pleased.
Without Gracie in his act, George created a solo routine and began running his TV production company. Regrettably, he also took this new opportunity for independence and used it for nefarious purposes.
Despite considering Gracie the love of his life, George went outside his marriage and cheated on her. Gracie discovered his infidelity after their maid found a condom that George had dropped and left it on a dresser where she ended up seeing it. Knowing that Gracie would have surely left him if he tried to play it off as some kind of misunderstanding, George owned up to it and apologized by purchasing Gracie a $750 silver centerpiece and a $10,000 broach she had been wanting. After giving her the pin, she accepted his apology, and they never talked about it again.
Gracie passed away from a sudden heart attack in 1964. She had been upstairs watching TV while George was in the den working on a script. After discovering that she was in need of medical attention, George rushed Gracie to the hospital, where she died later that night.
Following Gracie’s death, George was grief-stricken. At her funeral, he had to be supported by his good friend Jack Benny and his son, and for months he was plagued with insomnia.
After taking a much-needed break from entertaining, George returned to his nightclub act. He experienced a career resurgence beginning in 1975 after winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for her performance in The Sunshine Boys.
Religiously, he would visit Gracie’s grave once a month to talk to her, and the only way he was able to break his insomnia was by returning to sleeping in the bed they once shared together.
George never ended up retiring. In his later years, he dated many younger women, but never remarried. He ended up passing away 49 days after his 100th birthday in 1996 and was laid to rest beside Gracie.
Their tombstone appropriately reads ‘Gracie Allen & George Burns, Together Again’.
Did you know that Gracie Allen died more than 3 decades before her husband George Allen? And, if you’re a fan of Burns and Allen, what do you think were some of their best moments together? Let us know in the comments section down below.
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