|Born||in New York City, New York, USA|
|Died||in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA (natural causes)|
|Birth Name||Nathan Birnbaum|
Smiling Frankie Davis
|Height||5' 7" (1.7 m)|
Mini Bio (1)
George Burns was an American actor, comedian, singer, and published author. He formed a comedy duo with his wife Gracie Allen (1895-1964), and typically played the straight man to her zany roles. Following her death, Burns started appearing as a solo performer. He once won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and continued performing until his 90s. He lived to be a centenarian, was viewed as an "elder statesman" in the field of comedy.
Burns was born under the name "Nathan Birnbaum" in 1896, and was nicknamed "Nattie" by his family. His father was Eliezer "Louis" Birnbaum (1855-1903), a coat presser who also served a substitute cantor at a local synagogue in New York City. His mother was Hadassah "Dorah" Bluth (1857-1927), a homemaker. Both parents were Jewish immigrants, originally from the small town of Kolbuszowa in Austrian Galicia (currently part of Poland). Kolbuszowa had a large Jewish population until World War II, when the German occupation forces in Poland relocated the local Jews to a ghetto in Rzeszów.
The Birnbaums were a large family, and Burns had 11 siblings. He was the 9th eldest of the Birnbaum Children. In 1903, Louis Birnbaum caught influenza and died, during an ongoing influenza epidemic. Orphaned when 7-years-old, Burns had to work to financially support his family. He variously shined shoes, run errands, selling newspapers, and worked as a syrup maker in a local candy shop.
Burns liked to sing while working, and practiced singing harmony with three co-workers of similar age. They were discovered by letter carrier Lou Farley, who gave them the idea to perform singing in exchange for payment. The four children soon started performing as the "Pee-Wee Quartet", singing in brothels, ferryboats, saloons, and street corners. They put their hats down for donations from their audience, though their audience was not always generous. In Burns' words: "Sometimes the customers threw something in the hats. Sometimes they took something out of the hats. Sometimes they took the hats."
Burns started smoking cigars c. 1910, when 14-years-old. It became a lifelong habit for him. Burns' performing career was briefly interrupted in 1917, when he was drafted for service in World I. He eventually failed his physical exams, due to his poor eyesight.
By the early 1920s, he adopted the stage name "George Burns", though he told several different stories of why he chose the name. He supposedly named himself after then-famous baseball player George Henry Burns (1897-1978), or the also famous baseball player George Joseph Burns (1889-1966). In another version, he named himself after his brother Izzy "George" Birnbaum, and took the last name "Burns" in honor of Burns Brothers Coal Company.
Burns performed dance routines with various female partners, until he eventually married his most recent partner Gracie Allen in 1926. Burns made his film debut in the comedy short film "Lambchops" (1929), which was distributed by Vitaphone. The film simply recorded one of Burns and Allen's comedy routines from vaudeville.
Burns made his feature film debut in a supporting role of the musical comedy "The Big Broadcast" (1932). He appeared regularly in films throughout the 1930s, with his last film role for several years appearing in the musical film "Honolulu" (1939). Burns was reportedly considered for leading role in "Road to Singapore" (1940), but the studio replaced him with Bob Hope (1903-2003).
Burns and Allen started appearing as comic relief for a radio show featuring bandleader Guy Lombardo (1902-1977). By February 1932, they received their own sketch comedy radio show. The couple portrayed younger singles, until the show was retooled in 1941 and started featuring them as a married couple. By the fall of 1941, the show had evolved into a situational comedy about married life. Burns and Allen's supporting cast included notable voice actors Mel Blanc, Bea Benaderet, and Hal March.
The radio show finally ended in 1949, reworked into the popular television show "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show" (1950-1958). Allen would typically play the "illogical" housewife, while Burns played the straight man and broke the fourth wall to speak to the audience. The couple formed the production company McCadden Corporation to help produce the show.
Allen developed heart problems during the 1950s, and by the late 1950s was unable to put up the energy needed for the show. She fully retired in 1958. The show was briefly retooled to "The George Burns Show" (1958-1959), but Burns comedic style was not as popular as that of his wife. The new show was canceled due to low ratings.
Following Allen's death in 1964, Burns attempted a television comeback by creating the sitcom "Wendy and Me" (1964-1965) about the life of a younger married couple. The lead roles were reserved for Ron Harper and Connie Stevens, while Burns had a supporting role as their landlord. He also performed as the show's narrator.
As a television producer, Burns produced the military comedy "No Time for Sergeants", and the sitcom "Mona McCluskey". As an actor, he mostly appeared in theaters and nightclubs. Burns had a career comeback with the comedy film "The Sunshine Boys" (1975), his first film appearance since World War II. He played faded vaudevillian Al Lewis, who has a difficult relationship with his former partner Willy Clark (played by Walter Matthau). The role was met with critical success, and Burns won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. At age 80, Burns was the oldest Oscar winner at the time. His record was broken by Jessica Tandy in 1989.
Burns had his greatest film success playing God in the comedy film "Oh, God!" (1977). The film 51 million dollars at the domestic box office, and was one of the greatest hits of 1977. Burns returned to the role in the sequels "Oh, God! Book II" (1980) and "Oh, God! You Devil" (1984). He had a double role as both God and the Devil in the last film.
Burns had several other film roles until the 1990s. His most notable films in this period were the musical comedy "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (1978), the comedy film "Just You and Me, Kid" (1979), the caper film "Going in Style" (1979), and the fantasy-comedy "18 Again!" (1988). The last of the four featured him as a grandfather who exchanges souls with his grandson.
Burns' last film role was a bit part in the mystery film "Radioland Murders" (1994), which was a box office flop. In July 1994, Burns fell in his bathtub and underwent surgery to remove fluid in his skull. He survived, but his health never fully recovered. He was forced to retire from acting and stand-up comedy.
On January 20, 1996, Burns celebrated his 100th birthday, but was in poor health and had to cancel a pre-arranged comeback performance. In March 1996, he suffered from cardiac arrest and died. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, next to Gracie Allen.
- IMDb Mini Biography By: Dimos I
|Gracie Allen||(7 January 1926 - 27 August 1964) ( her death) ( 2 children)|
|Hannah Siegel||(5 September 1917 - 1918) ( divorced)|
Trade Mark (4)
Personal Quotes (55)