Mostly Credited As: George Burns
Sometimes Credited As: George N. Burns
Birth Name: Nathan Birnbaum
Date Of Birth: January 20, 1896 (Age 100)
Country Of Birth: USA
Birth Place: New York City, New York
Date Of Death: March 09, 1996
Cause Of Death: Natural Causes (Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, CA)
Height: 5' 7" (1.7 m)
Both performing vaudevillians from childhood, neither achieved particular distinction in their overcrowded field until teaming in 1922. The mentally nimble Burns initially fired off all the jokes, but as the act evolved it became apparent that Allen's scatterbrained magpie antics got better laughs, so Burns wisely adopted the pose of straight man. Like many vaudeville stalwarts, they broke into movies with the coming of sound, recreating their popular stage routines in short subjects (notably 1929'sLamb Chops After several such efforts, Burns and Allen were signed by Paramount to play comedy support in many of the studio's musicals and comedies, beginning with The Big Broadcast (1932) and including International House, College Humor (both 1933), We're Not Dressing, Six of a Kind, Many Happy Returns (all 1934), Love in Bloom, The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1935), College Holiday, The Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936), and College Swing (1938). Their best screen moments came at RKO, getting to sing and dance-charmingly-with Fred Astaire in A Damsel in Distress (1937). At MGM they backed up Eleanor Powell in Honolulu (1939).
Gracie appeared without George in The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939, with Warren William as detective Philo Vance), Mr. and Mrs. North (1941, perfectly cast as the charming madcap of Frances and Richard Lockridge's murder mystery), and Two Girls and a Sailor (1944). They continued to work together on radio and TV. "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" enjoyed an eight-year run (1950-58) on CBS, after which time Gracie retired and George continued solo for another season. She died from cancer six years later. The still vital Burns subsequently starred in the TV series "Wendy and Me" (1964-65) and "George Burns Comedy Week" (1985). Off the big screen for many years, Burns made a triumphant return in The Sunshine Boys (1975), winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a crotchety vaudeville star reunited with his slightly addled partner Walter Matthau. He followed this triumph with an even more endearing performance, as the Deity Himself (albeit a cigarsmoking, golf-hatted one) inOh, God! (1977), along with its less enchanting sequels, Oh God! Book II (1980), andOh, God! You Devil (1984). He has also appeared in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Movie Movie (both 1978), Just You and Me, Kid (1979), Going in Style (also 1979, a standout as one of three elderly New Yorkers who rob a bank to relieve their boredom), and 18 Again! (1988). He has written a handful of books reminiscing about his life with Gracie and his adventures in show business. The ever-youthful comedian is booked to play the London Palladium on his 100th birthday.
Copyright © 1994 Leonard Maltin