Archive for March 27th, 2018

by John Greco

 Burns and Allen were never as popular as the I Love Lucy gang, then again, who was? However, in many ways, they were ahead of their time, much more than Lucy and all the other sitcoms of the day. Like so many early TV performers, Burns and Allen’s came to the home screen after a successful run on radio. They met in 1922 during their vaudeville days and began performing together with George writing most of the act. In 1926, the couple married. At first, they were just another act on the circuit. According to Burns, they were generally the fourth billed act in an eight-act show. Middle of the road.

It all began to change in the 1930’s when they entered the world of movies. Their first films were shorts (Pulling a Bone, Fit to be Tied) eventually moving on to feature films, mostly in supporting roles (The Big Broadcast, College Humor, We’re Not Dressing). The comedy team also began doing radio. Their first regular show was called The Adventures of Gracie which in 1937 would evolve into The Burns and Allen Show.  The radio show was broadcast until 1950 when George and Gracie transitioned to television.

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show debuted on October 12th, 1950. The show was originally broadcast live every other week. It was not until the fall of 1952 they switched to a filmed format and weekly. The show moved from its Thursday slot to Mondays joining I Love Lucy making it the first must-see TV night.

Watching I Love Lucy, and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show after each other reveal some interesting differences. Both Gracie and Lucy could be called wacky and scheming. However, I think it would be more accurate to call Gracie eccentric. Gracie’s thinking had a logic, an odd, in her own world logic, but she always managed to explain her rationale and in some inexplicable, bizarre way it made sense when coming out of her mouth…sort of.  The frightening part is when you sometimes found yourself agreeing with her thinking. Other times you just have to accept her. After all, Gracie is Gracie. Here are a couple of examples:

There’s one episode where Gracie and Blanche, portrayed by Bea Benaderet,[1] are at a luncheonette. Blanche tells Gracie she just bought a couple of books and made some homemade grape juice as a birthday gift for her husband’s 85-year-old uncle. He’s 85, and he still doesn’t use glasses, she adds. Gracie ponders this, and responds that Harry’s uncle must be a lot like her Uncle Harvey; he doesn’t use glasses either, he doesn’t even use a corkscrew. He opens bottles with his teeth! Blanche stares at her in complete puzzlement. Harry Von Zell soon shows up and makes the mistake of asking the ladies what they are up too. Gracie informs him Blanche is sending her uncle a homemade bottle of grape juice.  “Well, I am really sending some books. Carl Sandberg’s Lincoln and the collected works of George Bernard Shaw,” Blanche adds.

“Well, that’s something he can sink his teeth into,” Harry says.

[1] Bea Benaderet had an amazingly long career. She appeared as a semi-regular or regular in the following shows:

Mr. Magoo (Mother Magoo), Peter Loves Mary, Top Cat, The Flintstones (Betty Rubble among others), Green Acres (Kate Bradley), The Beverly Hillbillies (Cousin Pearl Bodine), Petticoat Junction (Kate Bradley). She died in 1968 at the young age of 62.

Gracie response, “it will be easy for him because he’s has been opening bottles with them for 85 years.”

Bewildered, Harry looks at Blanche with a look that says “help!”

Blanche surrenders. She jumps up and tells Harry to sit down, and Gracie will explain it all as she exits the luncheonette laughing.

In an episode called Gracie Goes to a Psychiatrist for Blanche’s Dream, Blanche informs Gracie she has been having the same dream for five nights now, and she is going to go to a psychiatrist to see what it means. Later, she tells Gracie she is going to cancel the appointment, but Gracie decides to keep it.

At the office, after confirming the appointment, the reception tells Gracie to take a magazine and sit down. “No thanks,” she responds, “I rather sit in a chair.” The perplexed receptionist hurries to get the doctor. At first, the doctor sees nothing wrong with Gracie, that is until she explains how she had to return some pencils because the eraser and the led were on the wrong ends. He tells her she better lie down on the couch. Gracie’s responds, “I’d rather sit because when I sit, I can see what I’m saying.” The perplexed doctor tells his receptionist to cancel his next two appointments!

He begins to ask Gracie a series of questions.

“About your parents. Did they enjoy good health?”

“Oh, they loved it.”

“I guess it would be useless to ask if there was any schizophrenia or paranoia in your family?”

“No, just boys and girls.”

“So, you had brothers and sisters?”

“No, I was too young. My mother had them.”

The doctor, still under the impression Gracie is Blanche tells his receptionist to call Harry Morgan informing him “his wife” is in a very delicate condition. This, of course, leads a series of other incidents and misunderstandings including Blanche and Harry thinking the other is the sick one.

George, of course, is always trying to make sense of Gracie’s thinking as well as her scheming, Lucy like plans. His big advantage was his ability to break the fourth wall. George spent a lot of time in his study, above the garage, where he would talk straight to the audience. In later seasons, George watched via his      unique television set that at least in the 1950’s mysteriously could view everything that went on. Today, of course, with all the technology we have in our lives, George could plant cameras secretly all over the house to watch and listen to Gracie’s shenanigans. But back in the 1950’s, it was just plain surreal. It was that surrealistic quality and the sharp writing as well as the charms eluded by the actors that made the show stand aside from all the rest.

The show ended in 1958 after Gracie Allen retired, but that was not quite the end. George attempted to continue the show with a revised format. The George Burns Show premiered in the fall of 1958. Most of the same cast and characters, except for Gracie, were in the new show. George worked for a producer with Blanche as his secretary and Harry Morton as his accountant. Without Gracie, who is only mentioned, the show failed and was canceled after one season.

There was one more shot during the 1964-65 season with a show called, Wendy and Me. During the 1950’s and early 1960’s Gracie experienced a series of heart problems. She suffered a massive heart attack in 1964, just one month before the show premiered. Connie Stevens was Wendy, a pseudo-Gracie, with George playing “Me.” The show lasted one season. Without Gracie, it wasn’t the same.


[1] Bea Benaderet had an amazingly long career. She appeared as a semi-regular or regular in the following shows:

Mr. Magoo (Mother Magoo), Peter Loves Mary, Top Cat, The Flintstones (Betty Rubble among others), Green Acres (Kate Bradley), The Beverly Hillbillies (Cousin Pearl Bodine), Petticoat Junction (Kate Bradley). She died in 1968 at the young age of 62.

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