George Burns (Naftaly — later Nathan — Birnbaum) was born in New York City on this date in 1896 to a family that had immigrated from what is now southeastern Poland. He quit school in the fourth grade to become an entertainer. Burns’ vaudeville career was floundering until he met Gracie Allen in 1923 (they would marry in 1926) and started playing the cigar-smoking straight man to her silly, literal-minded woman — an act that they shined to brilliance, first on The Burns and Allen Show on radio and then on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show on television (1950-58). Allen passed away in 1964, and Burns’ career ebbed until he replaced his dying friend Jack Benny in the 1976 film version of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, for which Burns won an Oscar at age 80. He then played God in a series of popular film comedies (Oh, God! and its sequels), wrote philosophical books, and became America’s favorite old man until his death at age 100.

“Too bad that all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxicabs and cutting hair.” —George Burns

Watch the pilot episode of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, first broadcast on CBS-TV live on October 12, 1950.