George Burns (b. Nathan Birnbaum, 20 January 1896, New York City, New York, USA, d. 9 March 1996, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA) and Gracie Allen (b. Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen, 26 July 1902, San Francisco, California, USA, d. 27 August 1964, Hollywood, California, USA). A child performer in vaudeville, Burns met Allen in the early 20s. She too had performed from childhood. They formed a double act, marrying in January 1926. Successful on stage, they transferred well to radio, television and films. Burns’ phlegmatic acceptance of Allen’s scatterbrained character was the basis for gag-strewn routines. Among their films are The Big Broadcast (1932, with Bing Crosby and Kate Smith), International House (1933, with W.C. Fields and Cab Calloway), Six Of A Kind (1934, with Fields), We’re Not Dressing (1934, with Crosby and Ethel Merman), Love In Bloom (1935), Big Broadcast Of Broadway (1935, with Merman and Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson), Big Broadcast Of Broadway (1937, with Jack Benny), A Damsel In Distress (1937, with Fred Astaire), College Swing (1938, with Bob Hope and Martha Raye), and Honolulu (1939). Without Burns, Allen appeared in The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1939), Mr. And Mrs. North (1942) and Two Girls And A Sailor (1944), playing piano while Lena Horne sings ‘Paper Doll’.
A decade after Allen’s death, Burns returned to films in The Sunshine Boys (1975), winning the Best Actor Oscar, and Oh, God! (1977, with John Denver). He had some cameo roles and also narrated films, but more starring roles came with Just You And Me, Kid and Going In Style (both 1979), the latter an entertaining caper with Art Carney. Two sequels, Oh, God! Book II (1980) and Oh, God! You Devil (1984) underlined the one-joke basis of their predecessor. Burns’ final film, he was now 92, was 18 Again! (1988). He performed his stage act into his late nineties, popping out a stream of dry one-liners, his timing unimpaired by age, punctuating the gags with his ever-present cigar. He had a long-standing booking with a Las Vegas casino to perform on his 100th birthday but when that day came he was too frail to fulfil the engagement and died six weeks later. The comedy of Burns and Allen was timeless, as can be seen from their film appearances.