Burns and Allen. Little more need be said to conjure up a comic and comfortable image of a cigar-puffing straight man and his delightfully ditsy partner. They go together like love and marriage, show and business.
George Burns (Nathan "Nattie" Birnbaum, born in New York, 1896) and his wife Gracie (Grace "Googie" Allen, born in San Francisco, 1906) were married for 38 years and worked together in vaudeville, radio, television and movies their entire mutual lives. She retired from the "Burns and Allen" TV show after its June 4, 1958, showing and died of heart disease in 1964.In a virtual history of mass entertainment, they did vaudeville, a national radio show for 19 years, then a television reprise for eight more - a comic couple who brought joy to generations and continue to do so in TV reruns.
It's rare not only to find entertainment couples happily - yes, happily - married for that long, but to survive generations of changing taste and technology at the same time is astounding indeed.
This book is something of a last will and testament to the woman, wife, mother, partner that Burns loved, multifold.
Some of it is familiar to readers of Burns' previous books, but this is more personal, has more substance and a better focus - Gracie.
It is the comprehensive Burns and Allen routine, now between covers. It is written with candor and love, love of Gracie and of the show business Burns always knew; it is written with nostalgia, in straight lines and punchlines. This is the ever-adorable and adored Gracie Allen, whose logic was always illogical but incontrovertible. Hard-working, she was smart enough to be the dumbest woman in show business, Burns writes.
"Gracie was my partner in our act, my best friend, my wife and my lover, and the mother of our two children. We were a team, both on and off the stage. Our relationship was simple: I fed her straight lines and she fed me. . . .
"For 40 years my act consisted of one joke. Then she died."
He writes, "She was Gracie and I hung around." But in saying so, he belittles his own talent (which was far from only marrying Gracie). Now 92, Burns, who wrote much of the team's material, has had some 20 years of entertainment success without his "better half."
This is an autobiography (with acknowledged writing help from David Fisher) of an inseparable couple, a New York Orthodox Jew and a petite California Irish Catholic, from their meeting in vaudeville through marriage and two adopted children, to show business friendships in radio, television and movies.
An extra treat is Jack Benny and the anecdotes of practical jokes only the rarest of friends play on each other.
Yes, it's a funny book, often a very funny book. But it's warm and touching, as well, and unusually candid in its details, from Gracie's migraines and heart problems to Burns' once-and-only one-night affair. And a "finish" that's the most moving of all.