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GEORGE BURNS


Dothery
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Okay, so there's nothing going on about George Burns. I just like to talk about him, and he has been in some movies.

 

When he died, a friend of mine who lived quite near him left a tribute at the gatepost outside his house. A giant cigar tied to a plant with a white flower, and a note that said "Thanks, George ... one for the road."

 

 

His songs were of course the things people loved toward the end of his life. He could get up there and start (accompanied by the guy who could play in his key). He could sing the song, racing himself in the beginning "There was a fellow down in Yonkers who wrote a song one day ..." then slowing down for the middle, telling the story in rhythm, and finally dropping the last line as he walked off the stage. It never failed to kill the people.

 

 

He told about his surefire method of getting an ovation for every song as he started the first line, by beginning it with the same verse:

 

 

"There was a fellow down in Yonkers who wrote a song one day

and it made a great big hit and everybody came to hear it played

How could it miss ...

How could it miss ...

When the chorus goes like this:

 

 

And then you can sing any song you want and get a standing ovation."

 

 

I'm going to drop my favorite name (Milburn Stone) and tell you what he said about George. He said George had the most phenomenal memory he had ever encountered. You could be talking to him and say goodbye and thirty years later you could run into him and he'd pick up the conversation right where you left it off. He never forgot anything, places, times, subjects.

 

 

My favorite of his songs:

 

A SWEET YOUNG THING

George Burns

 

A sweet young thing was jilted by her husband

He left her and went his merry way

With tearful eyes she wrote a final letter

In which her broken heart had this to say:

 

'I'm returning every present that you gave me

I'm sending back each letter that you wrote

And every sweet memento that we cherished

The locket that I wore around my throat;

Enclosed you'll find the mortgage on the house, dear;

That I'm fair, you must admit is true;

I'm returning everything except the baby ...

That's the one thing that I didn't get from you!"

 

George taught me a great lesson. He wrote that if you had trouble going to sleep, you should sit up and determine NOT to go to sleep, no matter what happened. Surround yourself with all the things you can think of to keep you awake.

 

 

Guaranteed to put you out in five minutes.

 

 

Good story about George and Jack Benny. They went to a club for lunch where they used to meet often, paying the check by turns. One day George urged Jack to have the bread and butter with his lunch. Jack said Mary didn't like him to have the bread and butter. George said, "Oh, go on; have the bread and butter." "No," said Jack, "Mary just wouldn't like it." George finally wore him down and Jack decided to have the bread and butter. At the end of the meal the waiter brought the check. George said to give it to Jack. Jack said it wasn't his turn to pay; it was George's turn. George said, "If you don't pay the check, I'll tell Mary you had the bread and butter."

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I fondly remember seeing George make his many appearances on talk shows back in the 60's/70's. His songs were always entertaining, you have a gem written here. They say George could always get Benny to crack up, poor Jack never stood a chance.

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Back when George was teamed with Gracie Allen he seemed to be relatively overlooked as a talent. His role was straight man and anchor to her daffiness, and there used to be a lot of jokes about his "lack of talent" worked into their television show. Still, he had a successful production company (which produced "Mr. Ed"!) and he knew a lot about jokes, what would work and what wouldn't. As an actor he "blossomed" later in his life and I really liked him in *Oh, God*... When I saw Gracie Allen in *Mr. and Mrs. North*, without George to work off of in this movie her zany character was just grating and annoying.

 

All this being said, I'm much more of a Gracie Allen fan but I respect George's own contributions. :)

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George was a graceful guy. Seems strange to use that word to describe him, but he was. Gracie had been badly burned as a child ... a pot of scalding water had fallen on her arm ... and she was scarred, so that she never wore short sleeves. One day she said to him, "You've always been so nice about the scar on my arm; you never mentioned it." He said, "That's okay." Then after a minute he asked, "Which one is it?"

 

He was the brains of the act, of course, and Gracie always recognized it. He had never been successful without her, but he remained very savvy about show business. When he talked about it, he said the big thing he had going for him was that he knew how to get on and how to get off. That's critical.

 

One of his best lines was, "I said, 'Gracie, how's your brother?' And she talked for thirty-eight years."

 

I saw him once telling about his nickname for her, "Googie." He said one night she said to him, "George, say something funny to me." He said, "Googie." She laughed. It stuck. He always called her that. "Googie," pronounced like "cookie." He was at the mausoleum, touching her tomb, saying, "I'll see you soon, Googie."

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> {quote:title=Dothery wrote:}{quote}

>

> I'm going to drop my favorite name (Milburn Stone)

>

OK, since you dropped Milburn Stone and I can't remember if I ever asked you, do you know why the theatre at Cecil College, a two year school in Cecil County MD is named the MILBURN STONE THEATRE? I know that means he probably left them money, but my question is why? I can't find a connection between Mr. Stone and the school and/or area.

 

Back to George Burns: several of the shorts he and Gracie made were good and showed how inventive he could be. One was simply him explaining where the camera was and telling Gracie if she just talked for a certain amount of time they'd make X number of dollars.

 

 

So she did and when the time was up he just cut her off and announced they had made their money. End of short.

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Interestingly, while George applied a lot of intelligence behind the camera as well as in front, his brother Willie was one of the regular writers on "The Burns and Allen Show".

 

George grew up dirt poor in New York City. He tells a lot of funny stories of that time in his books... His books are fun reads. One of them, I remember, talked about his show biz friends that was particularly interesting (Is it called something like, "All My Best Friends"?).

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Also, here's some interesting trivia that just came to my mind.

 

There are two 'references' to Burns in two of the "Classic 39" episodes of The Honeymooners. One is that George and Gracie's adopted son Ronnie appeared in the episode "Young at Heart" as the boyfriend of one of the building tenants.

 

The other was a joke uttered by the character Ed Norton. Norton is doing a crossword puzzle where the answer is "gnat". Ralph tells Ed to spell it "nat" and Alice keeps insisting it's "gnat". Ed then says to Alice (paraphrasing), "I know a guy in the sewer who don't spell it with a 'g' - Nat Birnbaum!" Nat Birnbaum is George Burns' real name (I don't know if this joke was written as a specific reference to GB, but I always think of GB when I hear that line...)

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Thanks for that, Dothery, great stuff. I wish TV Land would show the old Burns and Allen shows, they are not only funny, they are models of a certain kind of philosophy and logic. I wish TCM would show We're Not Dressing, Six of a Kind, and a few of the other early Burns and Allen films.

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I've been waiting and hoping that some company would release the B&A shows on DVD, but unfortunately that still isn't the case. It's a little surprising to me, because even if it faded in popularity over the years, the show did run for 8 seasons...

 

I have a B&A DVD that is a compilation of some of their films, including Six of a Kind, which is my favorite. I think their show was funnier than their movies, but Six of a Kind stands out for me (can't miss with W.C. Fields and Alison Skipworth!)

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Gracie to George, on the old B&A TV show: "Mrs. Grosvenor told me that her husband said she could choose between having her face lifted and the Bahamas." So I said to her, "Why don't you start with your Bahamas, and if they turn out alright, you can have your face lifted, too!"

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OK, since you dropped Milburn Stone and I can't remember if I ever asked you, do you know why the theatre at Cecil College, a two year school in Cecil County MD is named the MILBURN STONE THEATRE? I know that means he probably left them money, but my question is why? I can't find a connection between Mr. Stone and the school and/or area.

 

 

The only connection I can think of is that Mil went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis for a time before joining a theatrical troupe. He said (part of his Navy shtick) that if he'd stayed in the Navy he might have made something of himself ...

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I've actually found some B&A DVDs at, of all places, the DOLLAR store. Old TV episodes. I agree that well packaged DVD sets of this hilarious show should be available. One of my fondest memories is when Nickelodeon, in it's early days, used to show these episodes. My youngest daughter, then about seven or eight years old, used to come out of her bedroom(when she was supposed to be sleeping) and sit a and watch them with me, then go back to bed. She LOVES Gracie to this day!

 

 

Burns was also a great storyteller. I have three of his books, and re-read them whenever possible. Very enjoyable reading.

 

 

Sepiatone

 

 

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Hi Sepiatone,

 

At one point I bought a packaged DVD B&A set but it was along the lines of what you describe - poor quality copies of their earliest shows (maybe they were kinescopes?).

 

That's a sweet story about your daughter. I can see the Gracie character appealing to children. :)

 

What I think makes the writing great on that show is that Gracie's "illogic" DOES make some kind of sense. That's why the audience laughs. She takes ideas from two or three different subjects and ties them together in a convoluted way and presents it all as a natural train of thought. And she delivers the lines with a straight face, as if she were any other intelligent person having a conversation.

 

While Gracie Allen might not have been an acting powerhouse she was brilliant at what she did. She had to struggle to memorize crazy lines every week and cultivate this persona of taking herself seriously. She really embodied the character when she was not like this in real life... She suffered a lot from migraines from the strain of her TV work every week.

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Good question - actually, no, it was George and his team of writers (which included his brother). George sometimes thought up bits for Gracie to do as well.

 

From what I read, though, Gracie was so burned out at the end of their television run that she left and never looked back. She died only 6 years later from heart trouble.

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> {quote:title=finance wrote:}{quote}I hear Cecil County----I think Cecil County Dragway.

I'm actually not that familiar. I live in Carroll County in the central part of the state. I drove past that college a lot last summer because my son worked at a Boy Scout camp up there.

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I love this thread. Being another one who grew up in the 60's/70's, I remember George from his tv appearances along with the other legends like Benny, Crosby, etc.

 

I remember being about 12 or so and being home and Channel 11 here in NY used to air the reruns. I had never actually seen one of the episodes and after doing so quickly ran upstairs to tell my mom about my new discovery. Of course she already knew about the show. Since that time George Burns has always been a fave. I sure was rooting for him to make 100 so that he could do the show he was booked to do on that date ...according to him. Anyone know if it was true?

 

Every time I see one of those Vitaphone (isn't that what they're called?) shorts with old Vaudeville acts I get to wishing I could ask George about them b/c no doubt he knew many if not all of those acts.

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