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January 20: George Burns

Lawrence Bush
January 20, 2010

George and GracieGeorge Burns (Nathan Birnbaum) was born in New York City on this day in 1896. He quit school in the fourth grade to be an entertainer. His vaudeville career was floundering until he met Gracie Allen in 1923 (they married in 1926) and started playing the cigar-smoking straight man to her silly, literal-minded woman — an act that they shined to brilliance in “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show” on television from 1950 to 1958. Gracie passed away in 1964, and Burns’ career ebbed until he replaced his dying friend Jack Benny in the 1976 film 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, wrote philosophical books, and became America’s favorite old man until his death at age 100.
“First of all, you’ve got to have talent. Then you’ve got to marry her, like I did.” — George Burns
Watch the pilot episode of “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” first broadcast on CBS-TV live on October 12, 1950.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.