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About George Burns George Burns (January 20, 1896 - March 9, 1996) was a legendary American vaudeville comedian who went on to work in movies, radio, and early television. 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. After her death in 1964, he continued to perform and in 1975, after an almost forty year absence from the screen, he co-starred with Walter Matthau in Neil Simon's hit comedy The Sunshine Boys. In an amazing accomplishment, Burns won a best supporting actor Oscar. He and Jessica Tandy are still the two oldest people to win Academy Awards. Burns is probably best remembered for playing the title role in the 1977 film Oh, God! and its sequels (1980 and 1984).

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." His pet name for her was "Googie," which he inscribed on her tombstone.

About Gracie Allen Actress, singer, comedienne. Born Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen, on July 26, 1905, in San Francisco, California, the daughter of Edward Allen, an entertainer, and Margaret Darragh. When only three years old, Gracie made her stage debut with her father, a local entertainer. She was educated at the Star of the Sea Convent, a Catholic girls' school, but left school at the age of fourteen to permanently join her father and three older sisters on the stage. Soon, the Allen sisters signed with the Larry Reilly Company, which began to feature Gracie's Irish songs and dancing. After several seasons of touring, she quit the troupe in a dispute over billing. Unhappy with her stage career, she enrolled in a secretarial school.

While attending school in 1922, Allen visited backstage at the Union Theater in Union Hill, New Jersey. She had learned from friends that the comedy team of George Burns and William Lorraine would soon break up, and Lorraine would need another partner. Mistaking Burns for Lorraine, she inquired about forming a team. After three days Burns confessed his true identity, but Gracie vowed to give the act a chance.

The new team of Burns and Allen opened at the Hill Street Theater in Newark, New Jersey. Recognizing that Allen was a natural comedienne, Burns rewrote their sketches to give her the witty lines and assumed for himself a secondary role. The performances relied heavily on Allen's singing and dancing talents and always concluded with Allen dancing an exuberant Irish jig. After three years of traveling together, Burns and Allen married on January 7, 1926, in Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1926 Burns developed a routine entitled Lamb Chops, which played at the Jefferson Theater in New York City. Then the Keith Theater chain signed them to a five-year contract: Burns and Allen had reached top billing in vaudeville. While performing on European stages for Keith, the couple made their radio debut over the British Broadcasting Corporation's network. The new medium seemed tailored to their intimate style of comedy. By the late 1920's, Burns and Allen were one of the most popular acts in the United States. Toward the end of 1930, they appeared for nine weeks at New York's Palace Theater, headlining a program billed as marking vaudeville's end. Several weeks later, Eddie Cantor asked Allen to be a guest on his radio program. Her popularity with listeners prompted invitations from other radio shows, and soon the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) offered Burns and Allen a contract. On the night of February 15, 1932, they joined Guy Lombardo's musical variety show. Within a year, Lombardo had been reduced to a supporting role on The Burns and Allen Comedy Show.

The switch to radio required major changes in the Burns and Allen style. n the late 1930's their radio program was ranked as one of the top three shows in the United States; an estimated 45 million people listened to their show each week. Burns and Allen were always affiliated with CBS, except in 1937 when they moved to NBC. Over the years, the show was sponsored by a number of companies: Robert Burns Cigars, Lever Brothers, Maxwell House Coffee, Campbell Soup, Grape Nuts, General Foods, and Swan Soap. Domestic humor was the staple of Burns and Allen. A typical example was the search in 1933 for Gracie's "lost brother." During the hunt, she visited all major radio programs and urged the public to help seek out her elusive relative. Gracie's real brother, George Allen, a San Francisco accountant, was forced to go into seclusion until the gag was terminated.

Occasionally Burns and Allen departed from their usual format. In 1940, for instance, Allen decided to run for president as the candidate of the Surprise party. She declared her political philosophy to be the avoidance of overconfidence. "I realize," she said, "that the President of today is merely the postage stamp of tomorrow." Early in the 1930's, Burns and Allen took up residence in Beverly Hills, California. Their domestic life was happy and tranquil. In the middle of the decade, they adopted two children. During these years, they also starred in a number of feature films for Paramount Studios, including The Big Broadcast (1932), Six of a Kind (1934), and College Holiday (1936). But motion pictures were a distant second to their weekly radio program.

In October 1950, Burns and Allen moved to television. Their popularity continued but Allen began to tire of the character she had played for so many years. In 1958 she retired from show business, while Burns pursued an independent career. On August 27, 1964, Allen died of a heart attack in Los Angeles.

From the 1920's to the 1950's, Allen stood at center stage as one of America's favorite female entertainers. She and Burns pioneered in the development of the domestic situation comedy. She always played the role of a zany woman who had found happiness through pleasant insanity. Her appeal rested upon an ability to convince an audience that in reality she was indeed the scatterbrained character she portrayed. She was, in reality, an intelligent woman who guided her career and influenced her husband's. Gracie Allen died of natural causes in 1964.

About Harry Von Zell Harry von Zell was born July 11, 1906 in Indianapolis, Indiana He acted in supporting roles for films at MGM, Paranount and Columbia. On radio, his voice was heard in commercials for detergent and a concentrated milk product which led to his best known role, as himself on "The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show," sponsored by that same concentrated milk product.

When tv and movie roles, as well as commercial voiceovers dwindled, Von Zell went into Garbo-like seclusion. He died of cancer on November 21, 1981

The Four Harry Mortons! Character actor Fred Clark, who starred in "I Sailed With An All Female Crew" (mid sixties B film) was only one of three actors who played Harry Morton. Clark played Gracie's next door neighbor from 1951 to 1953. $64,000 Dollar quizmaster Hal March played Harry Morton during the show's first season in 1950. John Brown played only the first few episodes in '51 until to become girl crazy sailor Clark took over. But the most memorable Harry Morton player was Larry Keating who replaced Clark and stood solid until the series end in 1958 (a few episodes ran in '59 pushed around various fill in slots at CBS). Keaton's Harry Morton was the more eloquently educated next door neighbor who gave a sharp contrast to Gracie's dim witted character.


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