The Kennedy Center

George Burns


George Burns
(actor/comedian, born January 20, 1896, New York, New York; died March 9, 1996)

Few indeed are the actors who've had such success playing God that they were asked to reprise it not once but twice. George Burns, whose early career with Gracie Allen was already a treasure, delighted a new generation of audiences in his later years.

Born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City, he started his career as a singer in a children's vaudeville quartet, later adding roller skating and dance teaching to his talents. In 1923 he met Gracie Allen, with whom he formed the Burns and Allen comedy team. They were married three years later and costarred on the radio from 1932 to 1950, making a smooth transition to television in 1950 through Gracie's retirement in 1958. Burns and Allen appeared in numerous films, especially during the 1930s

Joe Franklin in his Encyclopedia of Comedians comments on Burns' trademark cigar and his "ancient vaudeville songs delivered in his own style, making all the lyrics sound like one word. His inability to carry a tune was impeccable, and was always a source of vilification--which of course, Burns pretended not to understand."

In 1975, after being absent some 35 years, Burns made a triumphant screen comeback with his Oscar-winning performance in The Sunshine Boys. In 1977 he played the title role in Oh, God! Oh, God! Book II appeared in 1980 and Oh, God ! You, Devil! in 1985. A self proclaimed expert on youth, Burns wrote books including How to Live to be One Hundred or More (1983) and Dr. Burns' Prescription for Happiness (1985).

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