When George Burns won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1976, he was, at 80, the oldest actor so honored. The role which won him this award was “The Sunshine Boys”, one which had been intended for his dear friend, Jack Benny. When Benny wasn’t well enough to take the part, George Burns stepped in.
Born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City on 20 January 1806, George Burns enjoyed a career in the entertainment field which spanned more than 75 years, covering everything from vaudeville to radio to television and motion pictures. His father, a substitute cantor, died when Burns was 7. The boy was soon entertaining the locals with his singing, or dancing- he was the consummate performer from a very young age. And he was performing almost until his death at age 100 in 1996.
Burns was one of those entertainers who was able to keep re-inventing himself. At various times in his life he was a comedian, actor, and writer. He met and married Gracie Allen in 1926, a match which also existed in their performing career. They became a team on the vaudeville stage with Burns acting straight man for his wisecracking wife. He was a gifted writer and created much of the material for their act.
The duo was a success, Burns and Allen became a popular name in the theatrical world. In the thirties, they were doing live theatre, comic shorts and motion pictures. For many years, they had a highly rated radio show, and they carried this success to television. Gracie Allen made the decision to retire in 1958, but Burns carried on with his work as a standup comic and on television. He played Me in the short-lived television series, “Wendy and Me”. Movie goers will remember his role as God in several movies, the most famous being “Oh, God” with John Denver.
In addition to his work as a performer, George Burns was the author of ten books, many dealing with his life in the entertainment field. He also had a successful song on the charts, “I Wish I was 18 Again.” Go to YouTube, do a search for George Burns and you’ll be able to hear it.
Loved by so many for so many years, George Burns made his cigar an essential accessory, his wry wit a valuable asset.
There is a website devoted to George Burns, www.georgeburns.com which provides a few photos and a contact e-mail address for the site.