I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, February 9, 2018
Remembering George Burns
Nathan Birnbaum was
born on January 20, 1896 in New York City. He began his career singing harmony
with other 6 and 7 year olds while making candy in a basement shop. People
came down to listen, tossing coins when they finished. Nathan
decided it was showbiz for him from there on out. He began billing himself at
George Burns – George was his brother’s name, who was glad to lend it out. And Burns came from the Burns Brothers
Coal Company whose trucks George would steal coal from to heat their home.
with several girls but the chemistry just wasn’t there. One partner was Hanna Siegel
whom George married so that they could go on tour together. When the tour ended
after six months, they divorced, having never consummated the marriage.
Grace Allen grew up in San Francisco but started in Vaudeville in 1909
with her sisters as “The Four Colleens,” a dance act. And then George met
Gracie. It was 1923 when
Allen met Burns met at a vaudeville theatre in Newark. This time the chemistry was seismic.
Billed as Burns and Allen, the two
played off each other masterfully with Allen as the “Dumb Dora” character, and Burns as her
straight man. Gracie Allen was so witty she ramped up the illogical logic
patter to a level all audiences appreciated. The two became a long-running team
with Burns writing their comedy, and Allen delivering lines with perfect
They married in
1926, and continued in Vaudeville until they launched their own radio show in
1932. Their characters were single, but when the audience found out the two were actually married, demand increased that the show reflect it. During the last
1930s, the couple also did several comedic films.
In 1941, The Burns and Allen Show adapted a
situational comedy approach, complete with supporting actors. With the rising interest in
television, The George Burns and Gracie
Allen Show debuted on the CBS Television Network in 1950. The show
now featured famous actors as guests, and playing local characters. Burns loved talking to
the audience during the program, telling jokes and offering amusing asides
about the other performers. The show lasted until 1958 when Gracie retired due
to health reasons.
Gracie Allen died in
1964 of a heart attack. Burns was bereft, but friends convinced him that work was
the only answer. He toured nightclubs and performed at theatre
venues around the country. Then, in 1974, his best friend, Jack Benny was dying of pancreatic
cancer. Benny requested Burns take over his part in a film called The Sunshine Boys. Benny died a few week later. A broken-hearted
Burns stepped into the role, playing opposite Walter Matthau. Burns received an
Academy Award for best Supporting Actor in the comedy. At the ago of 80, Burns
was the oldest person to win an Oscar. With his newfound fame firmly in place,
he ushered in a comedy film career for the later part of the century.
In 1977, Burns
played opposite of John Denver in Oh,
God! The film inspired two sequels, Oh,
God! Book II, and Oh, God! You Devil where
Burns played both roles of God and the Devil.
Burns went on to
make appear on The Muppet Show, and starred
in three more films: Just You and Me, Kid, Going in Style
and 18 Again! Burns continued to do regular
stand up gigs at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, where he had a lifetime contract.
George Burns died on
March 9, 1996 – 49 days after turning 100. He was interred in a mausoleum at
Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale California next to his comedic
and life partner, Gracie Allen. Their epitaph reads: "Gracie Allen (1902–1964)
& George Burns (1896–1996)-Together Again." George felt that Gracie should
be given top billing this time.