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George Burns and Gracie Allen Remembered

Aired July 4, 2003 - 21:00   ET


GEORGE BURNS, ACTOR: Sing this: She can carry a gun, but as any mother's son.

LARRY KING, HOST (singing): She can carry a gun, but as any mother's son.

BURNS: Sing it again.

KING: Well, she can carry a gun, but as any mother's son.

BURNS: You just sang my part.


KING: Tonight, comedy titan George Burns. He spent nearly a century entertaining us, much of it with his wife Gracie.

ALLEN: Here.

BURNS: What was that?

ALLEN: One for the road.

KING: Remembering the genius of George Burns and Gracie Allen with their son Ronnie Burns.

Joining us, George's good friend, comedienne Phyllis Diller; one of his comedy partners, Carol Channing; comedy great, Alan King, another long time friend; and Larry Gelbart, the man who wrote the award-winning screen play "Oh, God" for George.

Lots of laughs, next. A very special edition of Larry King live.

KING: What a panel we have assembled, Ronnie, his son, who is working on a photo essay book that we hope will soon be published.

Phyllis Diller, the great comedienne and a good friend of the late George Burns.

Carol Channing, who partnered with George on stage, and did Emmy winning TV comedy with him, author of her own memoir, "Just Lucky, I Guess."

And Alan King, the comedian and long time friend of George, and Allen comes to us from our studios in New York.

And the great Larry Gelbart, that's the only word to describe him -- the award-winning writer of radio, TV, stage and movies, friend of George's, wrote the screen play for "Oh, God," which is one of the funniest films ever made.

What kind of father was he, Ronnie?

RONNIE BURNS, SON OF GEORGE BURNS: He was great. They both were. He was obviously in love with show business. And they worked very hard. And his whole life was that and beyond that he loved bridge.

KING: And he died at 100.

R. BURNS: A hundred years old, 45 days.

KING: He said he'd make it, right?

R. BURNS: Oh, yes, that is what kept him alive after he had to retire, was the fact that he wanted to make his 100th birthday.

KING: And for a long time he -- George was the straight man to Gracie, right?

R. BURNS: No, no, it started out where she did all of the straight lines, he did the comedy, and it didn't work. And so they changed it around, and you've got to remember, my mother was only 17 years old then. And then when they changed that around, the whole thing worked and they went on from there.


ALLEN: Cheers.

BURNS: What was that?

ALLEN: A chaser.

BURNS: It's water.

ALLEN: Certainly, I drink about seven or eight chasers, and then I do my drinking.


KING: We'll also talk about -- you'll be seeing lots of clips tonight, but first I want to get a read from everybody. Alan King, why did we, the collective "we", love George so much?

ALAN KING, FRIEND OF GEORGE BURNS: Because he was -- first of all, I loved him because besides being a great monologist, and the best straight man ever, he looked and reminded me of my father.

And until the last weeks that I saw George, I always kissed him when I'd meet him. I saw him in a restaurant, I kissed him, and he was seated with a young lady, and he said Allen, "I don't know what it is, this young lady don't excite me, but one kiss from you, and boom."

KING: Phyllis Diller, why did we love him?

PHYLLIS DILLER, COMEDIENNE: God, I adored him for many reasons -- he was a martini man.

KING: But why did the public love him?

DILLER: Well, because he was just funny and pleasant, darling. You got a real great vibe out of this man, even through the tube.

KING: Totally in control, wasn't that part of it, too?

A. KING: And he was, indeed. George -- everybody loves a story, and George was a consummate story-teller.


BURNS: I came from New York City. Until I was 17, I thought to milk a cow, you had to put it on its back so the cream would come to the top.

We didn't have any trees or grass in that neighborhood. The only green things we ever saw were the tops of pool tables.

Of course, getting up at 4 in the morning to get the milk wouldn't be new to me. I did that when I was a kid. Always got up at 4 to take the milk in off the from doorstep. I had to, if not, our neighbor, who was paying for it, would be me to it.


CAROL CHANNING, GRACIE'S REPLACEMENT IN ACT WITH GEORGE: I think he was a bloody genius. I do. And you know why, Larry? Because he had dyslexia, that's my theory. And he couldn't -- he had to follow his animal instinct.

KING: And he had dyslexia?

CHANNING: He had dyslexia. And he had people read him books and all, and yet he wrote seven books.


KING: You sit down with a writer...

BURNS: I talk. I just talk.

KING: And he puts it all together?

BURNS: He puts it all together and makes it sound like I'm writing it. I can't spell. I only went to the fourth grade in school. I was 8 years old, I was in show business. I was singing with the Pee-Wee Quartet.

KING: How could you get out of school in the fourth grade? BURNS: Played hookey.

KING: Didn't they come get you?

BURNS: No, they were glad I left school. See, I read in the paper that Caruso used to eat a lot of garlic, and it made his voice good. And I wanted to be a singer, so I ate a lot of garlic. When I played hookey from school, my teacher wrote a letter of thanks to my mother.


CHANNING: He had to go on feelings, animal instinct. And I said, "George, are you aware of your sex appeal?"

He said, "Oh, yes. I feel it."

I said, "Do you know those girls..."

He said, "Oh, yes."

Those young girls run down the center aisle. They want a hug and they want a kiss, and he said, "I can feel it starting."

I said, "Why is it stronger now, George, when you're 98?" At the time I asked him.

And he said, "Because it's a surprise. People don't expect it."

KING: When your mother died, she was how old?

R. BURNS: 58.

KING: Very young.

R. BURNS: Very, very young.

KING: Was it sudden?

R. BURNS: Yes. Well, in those days you had a bad heart there was very little they could do about it. Today you can do a lot. And nobody really knew how bad it was until towards the end. And he never knew.

KING: No, it was a shock?

R. BURNS: It was quite a shock. And her heart just exploded, it just -- it was terrible.

KING: How long were they married?

R. BURNS: 36 years.

KING: Did he have a rough time handling it?

R. BURNS: Oh, yes. KING: Alan King, what made them a great comedy duo?

A. KING: Well, I know you're talking about Gracie, and I was privileged to have met and had dinner at the home.

But when I think of the great duo, forgive me, it was Benny and Burns. Jack Benny, I never thought of Jack Benny without thinking about George or vice versa. They were -- It was a romance. He loved Jack, as much -- I guess, after Gracie, I guess, it was Jack Benny.

I was privileged to sit with them, and what he did to Benny, he buried him. He did things -- the first thing he ever said to me I was at real amazed (ph). I was 17 years old, and the week before George Jessel came in to see me, and I met with him and he said, "You're the best monologist I've ever seen since Matthew Bernard."

And I was so excited, and I went to the Friar's Club and I remember asking Ted Lewis, and everybody. I said, "Tell me about Matthew Bernard," and they said I never heard of them.

And then one night Jack and Mary and George and Gracie came in and they invited me to the table and I looked at George Burns and I said, "Could you tell me about Matthew Bernard?"

And George said, "I guess you saw Jessel lately."

KING: And George told me he went into Jack's room after Jack Benny died.


KING: Was his a sudden death?

BURNS: It was sudden for me, yes. I was there the night he died, and Mary came down, and she says, "Jack just died."

And I says, "I'm going up to see him."

She says, "You can't go up, the doctor says let nobody come up."

I said, "Mary, I know Jack Benny longer than the doctor. I'm going up." And I went up.

And there was Jack Benny with this hands this way, and his head on the side. He looked like he just told a joke and was starting to laugh, and he was gone.

BURNS: Gracie, say hello.



R. BURNS: There was nobody closer, really than Jack Benny and George Burns. They knew each other for God knows how long. Fifty years. KING: He had two tragic losses.

R. BURNS: Yes, one right after another.

KING: Did he talk about Benny a lot?

DILLER: Well, you know, Benny had him in his thrall. If you just said, "Jack Benny," he's start laughing.

KING: George would laugh.


KING: George can make Jack Benny fall down? >

DILLER: They were for each other.

KING: It was mutual.

DILLER: God, they loved each other.


KING: True or false, that you could say "hello" and Jack Benny fell down laughing. Did you have the ability to make him laugh?

BURNS: Yes, if you told Jack Benny a joke, he wouldn't laugh. Because he kept from laughing. But if you told Jack Benny at the spur of the moment if something happened that would make him laugh.

Like he came in the club, and I said, "Hello, Jack."

He said, "I didn't sleep last night."

And I said, "That's no answer to hello."

"I didn't sleep last night."

I said, "How did you sleep the night before?"

He said, "The night before I slept great."

I said, "Sleep every other night."


KING: What was he like to work with, Carol?

CHANNING: He thought it was so wonderful if I got a laugh. And I said, "George, I never worked with anybody as unselfish as you."

He said, "You forget, Carol, I wrote the line."

KING: We'll be right back with our panel discussing the late -- he would have been 107 -- George Burns, don't go away.


BURNS: The first time I met Jack Benny, he took me to a rent party. There were about 40 people and we all chipped in and we paid the rent. At the finish of the party, I said, "Come on, Jack, let's go."

He said, "Go where? I live here."



BURNS: Gracie, say good night.

ALLEN: Good night.

BURN: Good night.

KING: Gracie was a great light comedienne...

BURNS: Gracie was a great actress. The whole world thought she was dumb, but not Gracie. Gracie thought she was smart. When Gracie said these strange things, if you didn't understand it, she felt sorry for you.

And Gracie never told a joke. She explained it to you.

Like, I came home, I said, "What are we having for dinner?"

And she says, "Roast beef, I just put two roasts in the oven, a big one and a little one."

And I said, "Why?"

And she said, "Why? Because when the little one burns, that means the big one is done."

Gracie was great.


KING: All right. Ron, her son, what was she like really?

R. BURNS: Mother was the one that really took over the house and the home. She was the one that ordered -- you know, she made out the weekly menu. She took care of all of the help; she did everything.

And my dad ran the studio and the office and wrote the scripts and took care of the show business part.

And was amazing was that, with taking care of all of that, she also had -- and she spent a lot of time studying her lines, because although the character was around, she had been doing it for so many years, but to try to make it believable, and that was the hard part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: When you leave, would you mail this letter to me? It's for my mother.

BURNS: Oh, surely, Gracie. Gracie, there's no stamp on this.

ALLEN: That's all right, there's nothing inside.

I forgot to ask Madge what she's wearing tonight.

BURNS: Wait a minute. Gracie, you're sending your mother an empty envelope?

ALLEN: Yes, it's just to cheer her up. You know, no news is good news.


R. BURNS: She's trying to make the most crazy things that he made her say and do, to make it believable, like my Dad just said, so the audience, they had to believe that she really did that, that she believed in it.

KING: So in effect, Allen, his statement that she was a great actress is correct?

GELBART: Yes. She was a great actress. She was obviously a brilliant woman. She was no one's fool, and George knew about it. And George, you know that George told me that when they were in vaudeville, and they put air conditioning into theaters at the beginning were air cooled at rehearsal, George used to take a cigar and blow the smoke and made sure that the smoke went away from Gracie. He said if the smoke went in Gracie's face, the audience would hate him.


BURNS: Without Gracie, you wouldn't be interviewing me. Gracie made it all. From 7 to 8 to 27, I was a failure.


DILLER: You know what impressed me? He was 94 years in the business. Ninety-four years!!


BURNS: Thanks for that standing ovation, but it worries me.

As a rule, an entertainer gets a standing ovation at the end of the show. You were afraid I wouldn't be around that long.


GELBART: You never knew with George whether it was a Matthew Bernard or an actual fact he was telling you, you know?

You remember Sid Dorfman...

DILLER: Oh, yes.

GELBART: He was on the staff of the "Burns and Allen Show."

KING: That's right.

GELBART: Sid gave his notice one day and George dismissed everybody and he said, "Sid, I can't tell you what your leaving means. It's not just like a writer quitting, it is like one of my own children."

And Sid had a very low threshold for sentimental sentimentality. He put his had down.

And George went on about losing his family member and losing this precious addition to his life. And Sid is looking down. And George said, "Sid, if you don't look at me I can't work."

A. KING: Larry?

KING: Yes, Allen.

A. KING: I take a moment, Benny -- of all of the stories, and I have so many, but one story about the relationship between Benny and Burns...

KING: We can go all over the board tonight. Go.


Governor Warren, who then became, of course, Supreme Court justice, gave a party in Los Angeles at his home for a great Russian singer, an opera singer with a name like Madam Rosencarveachov (ph), and he invited everybody in Hollywood, the cream, to come.

And Benny and Burns were invited, and they were sitting at Hillcrest, and Benny, you know, was so excited -- everything excited Jack Benny -- and he would go in the steam room and say, "Did you ever see such towels?"

And George would say, "Look at this nut, he gets excited about towels."

Benny said to Burns, "We'll go to the party for Madam Rosencarveachov (ph) together. I'll pick you up, or you'll pick me up."

And Burns said, you know with that face, said, "I'm not going."

And Benny said, "Why?" a

And he said, "I'm not going." He said, "Well, I'm just not going." He said, "Jack, you're going to embarrass me."

And Jack got very upset, he said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I know what's going to happen after dinner. Governor Warren is going to come out and say, 'Now, ladies and gentlemen, Madam Russiankinkinschnire,' and then," he said, "Jack, you're going to start laughing and embarrass everybody in the room, particularly me, because I'm your best friend."

And Jack said, "Are you kidding me?" He was very upset.

The night of the party, everybody is sitting around, and Governor Warren said, "Ladies and gentlemen, Madam Rosencarveachov (ph)," and she opened her month and Benny fell right on the floor.


KING: How close were you?

BURN: He was my closest friend. He was my closest friend.

And the things that make -- Jack -- you explain that to me, you're in show business all your life, and we're sitting and talking once and he starts to laugh.

I said, "What are you laughing at, I'm not saying anything."

And he said, "But you're not saying it on purpose."

KING: He has the best timing of all?

BURNS: Yes. A quiet riot, Jack Benny.


KING: George was born Nathan Birnbaum in New York City on January 20, the ninth of 12 children. He entered show business as a member of the Pee-Wee Quartet in 1903. He forms a comedy act with Gracie Allen in 1923; he marries her in Cleveland on January 7, 1926.

In '58 she retires. Six years later she dies. George takes over for Benny in "The Sunshine Boys," wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar. And George dies March 9, 1996, seven weeks after his 100th birthday.

We'll be right back.


BURNS: I went to Jack Benny's house, and there were about 200 people at the party. And Jack Benny calls me aside and he says, "George, the party isn't moving."

And I says, "The party is moving fine, everybody is drinking, everybody's talking."

And he got very angry. And he says, "I'm in show business. I know if a party moves. This party isn't moving."

To have a little fun, I said, Well, why don't you go upstairs and take off your pants and come down in your shorts with Mary's hat on and play the violin."

And he said, "Do you think that make it move?"

And I said, "Of course."

So he went upstairs and I told everybody, Jack is coming down in his shorts with Mary's hat on playing the violin. Don't pay any attention."

Down came Jack with the violin. Nobody looked at him.

He fell down on the floor, started to laugh. He says, "George, now the party is moving."




BURNS: I used to do a little dance routine here, but I sold it to Gregory Hines.

In vaudeville, you could be canceled after the first show. I was always canceled. I played the Folly Federal in Brooklyn, and I was doing a single then. I was rehearsing my music at 10 in the morning, and the manager heard me rehearsing and canceled me. I was the only act in show business that was canceled before we opened.

(singing) I'm happy to say I'm living today in these gold ol', in these ad ol', in these good ol', bad ol' days.


KING: When did the singing thing start that George was a singer?

DILLER: He didn't really sing.

KING: I know. He used to do it on radio.

GELBART: It was like Jack Benny loved the violin.

KING: But Jack could play the violin.

GELBART: But George could sing a little.


KING: Were you always a singer?

BURNS: I love to sing.

KING: I used to listen to your radio show and I used love the singing parts. Those were some of my favorite parts.

BURNS: I used to make syrup for a candy store in the basement, chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and you put it in bottles. And we kids, we would sing, making syrup.

And there was a letter-carrier, his name was Lou, and he wanted the whole world to sing harmony. He came down, he saw four kids, he goes, "Sing in harmony." And I was singing pretty good.

One day I look up, this was in the basement. There was about eight or ten people up there, and they threw a couple of pennies, and we stopped making syrup and went into show business. We sang in yards, on ferry boats, in street corners, passed around the hats, and sometimes they put something in our hats, sometimes they took our hats.

KING: Did you give the group a name?

BURNS: The Pee-Wee Quartet we called ourselves.

KING: And what part of the four part harmony were you?

BURNS: I was the tenor.

KING: You were a tenor?

BURNS: A tenor.

(singing) Good night, little girl, good night. I hope that you get home all right. The martinis were fine, and you kissed divine but I thought by midnight you'd surely be mine. I was wrong, little girl, I was wrong. Run along, little girl, run along. If I couldn't win you with all the gin that's in you, good night, little girl.

(speaking) Isn't that a good song?


KING: Allen, you called him a brilliant monologist, yet it always seems he was working off people, whether that was Carol Channing, or Ann Margaret or Gracie Allen.

Why do you call him a brilliant monologist?

A. KING: Because he could do more with less words, with a line, with a pause. He just used to look at that cigar, and every time I smoke a cigar, I think of George.

He once said to me -- Benny called him Nat, all his old friends called him Nat.

KING: Really?

A. KING: And I said what can I call you? He said Mr. Burns.


BURNS: My mother, she said -- she called me Natty. And she says, "You know, Natty, you come from a nice family."

And I said, "I do?"

And she said, "All of your seven sisters were married virgins."

I said, "Mama, the reason they were married virgins is because they weren't very pretty."

And my mother said, "Pass the salt."


KING: What was Nat based on?

R. BURNS: Nathan Birnbaum.

KING: Oh, Nathan Birnbaum. And his old friends called him...

R. BURNS: They called him Natty. And mother was "Googie." That was her nickname.

KING: Was George a social guy around town?

DILLER: Very social.

KING: Would you see him at...

DILLER: All the parties.

KING: ... big restaurants?

DILLER: His pianist of many years would be there, and he would get up and entertain and sing and do all sorts of things. And he had an affair with a Texas girl, didn't he...

R. BURNS: Yes, beautiful, beautiful...

KING: Wait a minute. Hold it, what happened. This is after Gracie died?

DILLER: Of course.


KING: Would you remarry?

BURNS: No. Never. No chance.

KING: Did anyone come close?

BURNS: Yes. I went around with a little girl, Cathy Carr in Dallas, and she wanted to get married, but I was 50 years older than she was, so I told her to get married.

I'm doing better with 18-year-old girls now than I did when I was 18. Look, I'd go out with women my age, but there are no women my age.


KING: I interviewed George twice, but I had breakfast with him once at Hillcrest lunch, and the lunch was for 12:15.

And a friend was there, and me, and the friend said, "George will walk in at exactly 12:15. He will read the menu top to bottom carefully. The waiter will come over, he will look at the menu. He will order a tomato juice, a tomato soup and a martini."

Every day, he'll take you through the whole thing, and I'm looking at him, "what's good," "tomato soup, martini." And this was a little strange.

R. BURNS: He was what's known as a creature of habit.

KING: No kidding.

R. BURNS: Since I ever knew him. Everything, and if you changed it on him, he would be furious. It would really throw him off. I mean, even leaving the driveway and turning the wrong way got him all upset.

KING: What was his cause of death?

R. BURNS: OK. Arlette went up to give him his food one night, dinner.

KING: He was living with her?

R. BURNS: This was the house.

KING: I'm sorry.

R. BURNS: This was the cook.

She goes up to give him the dinner and said, "You don't look too good, do you feel all right?" Because he never complained about anything.

And he says, "No, I'm fine."

So she came back up to pick up the dinner, you know, the tray, and she said, "Are you sure you feel all right?"

And he says, "No, I don't feel so good." He had a 24-hour nurse then. So he goes to sleep, 4:30 in the morning, the nurse calls downstairs and says, "Something is wrong. He is starting to have that gurgle thing."

And so she called Danny, who was the butler. He was up at their other house, he had a day off. He came down, they called me about 7:30, I got over there, and he was in a coma. And he had probably been in a coma since 4:30 when she noticed the thing. And he died from a heart that pounded over 100 years. I mean, it's just, that's it. But he died, let's say, in this sleep.

KING: A peaceful death?

R. BURNS: Oh, yes, oh, yes.

KING: Did he have much illnesses?

R. BURNS: no.

KING: I asked him if he ever had arthritis, and he said he was the first one to ever get it.

R. BURNS: He only was in the hospital twice, I think, for a hernia and it scared the hell out of him.

KING: We'll reintroduce our panel and come back with lots more about the inimitable George Burns, how he is missed. Don't go away.


BURNS: I was married before Gracie.

KING: Before Gracie?

BURNS: I was married for 26 weeks. I was married to -- I did a dancing act and I was booked for 26 weeks in this small town. And this girl was a very Orthodox Jewish girl and we had 26 weeks booked.

She was about 17 years old and I was about 21. And her mother and father wouldn't let me take her on the road unless I married her. Well, I wasn't going to cancel 26 weeks, so I married her.

And we played for 26 weeks. But I never slept with her. We slept with a sheet in between the room because it was cheaper than taking two rooms. And she went around with another fellow, Al Klein, whom she later on married. And he used to come to visit us. Al Klein...

KING: You were kind of ahead of your time. It was like a menage a trois.

BURNS: So when Klein would come up, he'd take my place in bed and I'd take his room.

KING: Did you get legally divorced?

BURNS: After 26 weeks, we got divorced. I had to wait 26 weeks. I loved show business more than I did the girl.




ALLEN: If I were Blanche Morton, I would break every dish in the house. You know, I'm glad you're not like him. You wouldn't take another girl to the Macomb (ph) Ball. BURNS: Of course not.

What was that for?

ALLEN: In case you do.

BURNS: I'll see you later.

ALLEN: Oh, dear. And don't forget to put on your topcoat, it is getting chilly out.

BURNS: All right. Good-bye dear.

ALLEN: Good-bye.

Oh, and George.



KING: We're back on this very special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, a salute to George Burns. Our guests or Ronnie Burns, son of the late George and Gracie. He worked with them on the "Burns and Allen" show, hoping to get a photo essay book on them published, The Burns and Allen scrapbook. We hope it along with him.

Phyllis Diller, the famed comedienne, good friend of George Burns. Carol Channing, another great legends in show business who partnered with George on stage and did the Emmy winning TV comedy special with him, author of her own memoir "Just Lucky, I guess". In New York is Alan King. My opinion, the monologist, long time friend of George Burns and fellow abbot of the Friars Club.

I was lucky enough to be abbot in LA. He is abbot in New York. So the Kings are abbots. And Larry Gelbart, the award winning writer for radio, TV, stage and movies, friend of George Burns. He wrote the Oscar nominated screenplay for "Oh, God" which starred George Burns, and before the break, Robert was telling about his 100th birthday party.

R. BURNS: On his 100th birthday we're at the house, we are in his bedroom, and guess who we're watching. We're watching you.

GELBART: George is a remarkable man, and I'm so happy he is with us today on his 100th birthday. I'm speaking to you, George. I am so happy that you are with me, with all of us, and I want to ...

KING: He is watching. Look right in there.

GELBART: I can see him with the cigar. I didn't bring mine with me because I wanted one of yours. He smokes the worst cigars I have ever ...

R. BURNS: He was watching you interviewing Milton Berle on the 100th birthday. And he had his ice cream, a little puff on his cigar, and then, back to bed. Because, you know, at that age, all they want to do ...

KING: Was he thrilled with what they were saying about him?

R. BURNS: Oh, yes. O yes.

KING: Because Milton was euphoric, I think.

R. BURNS: Oh, yes. But he was -- I think he was excited about the whole thing. The 100th birthday..

KING: He knew, Allen, he would be 100, didn't he?

GELBART: Oh, yes. He willed it.

A. KING: Well, I remember -- you know, his famous line, everyone used to say to him, when are you going to retire? And he says, to what? The saddest thing, when I was driving in the car when the radio -- came across the radio that Jack Benny that died. And with all due respects, I didn't call marry Livingston. The first call I made was to George Burns.

I remember pulling into a gas station and I got George on the phone and I said, you know, my deepest feelings, and I went on and on and on, and I didn't cry when I heard that Jack had died. And then George said to me, it is going to be very lonely. Wow!! The tears poured down. It was just the most beautiful thing I ever heard.

KING: They were that close, huh?

R. BURNS: Very, very close.

KING: Talk every day?

R. BURNS: Oh, they spoke every day at the club. That is where they met. Oh, yes.

KING: At Hillcrest.

R. BURNS: At Hillcrest.

KING: You can see the "George Burns and Gracie Allen" show every sun morning at 9:00 a.m. on TV Land. What's it like to tune them in?

GELBART: I don't think people appreciate how original ...

KING: Explain that, Larry.

GELBART: Well, it was very early television, you know. There weren't many footprints in the snow. You could do things and be sure that someone hadn't done it the night before ...


ALLEN: You don't know what it is to be friendly with a woman for 12 years.

BURNS: Oh, yes, I do, I've been friendly with a woman for 25 years. She is very sweet.

ALLEN: Oh. Well, even if she is, you shouldn't complement her in front of me.

BURNS: Gracie, I meant that for you.

ALLEN: Oh, thank you.


KING: When did he come up with the idea of talking to the camera?

GELBART: Well, that was in television.

KING: But it was his idea?

R. BURNS: Oh, yes.


CHANNING: You remember, you saw "Death Of A Salesman" and there was something in "Death Of A Salesman" and he said, I just got a brilliant idea. I remember that.


KING: Now your television show always talked to you -- your radio show.

BURNS: Made it up.

KING: You would go out of skit.

BURNS: That's right ...

KING: ... and talk to your audience. Was that a device?

BURNS: My talent was off the stage. I was able to think of the things and Gracie was able to do them. That's what made us a ...


KING: And then you would tell us what is happening?


You know, if Harry von Zell would stop playing around and get married, this thing would never have happened to him. Well, I'm not worried because I'm sure my writers will be able to get him out of the situation.

KING: You walked out of the living room. The scene was ...

BURNS: I also had a television set upstairs in the library. When Gracie was planning things to do to me, I used to watch her on television. And our sponsor said, you can't do that. It is out of reality. I says, I am going to do it. He says, then you will have to get a new sponsor. I said, well then, we'll get one. But they kept us and the television gimmick was a riot.

It is addressed to Roger Baker, Seattle, from Mrs. George Burns?

Put that aside, I'm coming down to get it. That's my new gray suit. Put that aside.


R. BURNS: He loved his audience, too. He really loved his audience.

KING: Did he smoke good cigars?



R. BURNS: The cheapest cigar in the world.

GELBART: Terrible. With little plastic holders.



KING: How many cigars do you smoke a day?

BURNS: I smoke between 10 and 20 cigars a day.

KING: That's a big swing.

BURNS: Well, at my age, I have to hold onto something. And I also drink three or four martinis a day.

KING: That's the truth?

BURNS: Yes. And I don't eat spinach.


BURNS: There you are.


BURNS: That what keeps me alive.

KING: But now, you say you don't inhale the cigar, but George ...

BURNS: I don't.

KING: Yes, but some part has got to ...

BURNS: No. It is driving you crazy, not me.

KING: No, no, no, no. I like the smell, oddly enough. And you told me this is a domestic cigar?

BURNS: Yes. These are three for a dollar. El Productos. See, a good cigar is well-packed. If I paid $3 or $4 for a cigar, first I'd sleep with it.

KING: You can afford it, George.


BURNS: Let me tell you something about a good cigar. A good cigar is well-packed. And I smoke ...

KING: I noticed the ash fall.

BURNS: I smoke on the stage, and if you've got a well-packed cigar, the cigar, it goes out. And if the cigar goes out three or four times on the stage, the audience goes out, too, and this doesn't go out.

KING: So you -- this is both a prop and a ...

BURNS: A prop. When they laugh, I smoke. When they stop laughing, I talk. Are they laughing now.

KING: Yes.

BURNS: Then I'll smoke.


A. KING: You can't prepare for an evening like this, but I remember working Tahoe. The next -- I was following Sammy Davis, Jr. George was working across the street -- or opening across -- but, anyway, the last night of Sammy Davis, I sat in the booth with George Burns. When Sammy Davis knew that George Burns was in the audience, he gave a performance, he played the drums, he hung from the chandeliers, he did impressions, you know, John Wilkes Booth. I mean, you cannot imagine what Sammy did on that stage.

And I'm sitting with George, and when it was all over, standing ovations. He looked at me and he said, that's the greatest entertainer I have ever seen in my life, and then he made it with two beats, and then he said except Jolson.

GELBART: Jolson.


BURNS: Al Jolson came from a Jewish family. His father was a cantor. There was a guy went out on the stage, blackened up, and sang, I got a mammy in Alabami, and made the people cry. He's got a mammy in Alabami.

KING: You seem offended, George?

BURNS: No, no. I mean, that's how great he was. He convinced that audience he had a mammy in Alabami.


KING: Was he a bad guy?

BURNS: Not to me.

KING: Because he had a bad reputation.

BURNS: Well I did the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Jolson was a tough guy. He always had the water in his dressing room. You never wanted to hear another act be a hit. You know, don't know.

KING: That's true?

BURNS: Yes. That's true.

KING: So he shouldn't hear applause or laughter ...

BURNS: He never heard applause or laughter or anything. The water ran. And then he walked on the stage. And I used to meet him at the club, and I told him. I said, Joli, I says, I seen everybody. I says, you're the greatest entertainer I've ever seen in my life, and I complimented him.

And he says to me, George, he says, even if they don't allow sturgeon in California. Do you love sturgeon, and I said I love sturgeon. And he said, I send for $200 worth of sturgeon every month from Barney Greenglass (ph). You want sturgeon for lunch? And I said, sure. Well, I had sturgeon like two or three times a week. I kept complimenting Jolson. I got so I liked sturgeon better than I did Jolson.


KING: Jolson was that great?

GELBART: For years I heard -- everybody heard ....

CHANNING: He tried to hard toward the end to tell you the truth -- that the last show on Broadway he tried to hard because he had to come up to being Jolson.


KING: ... doing the George Burns show on Broadway. Are they not?

GELBART: Say good night, Gracie.

KING: With ...

R. BURNS: With Frank Gorshin. KING: Yes, have you seen it?

R. BURNS: Oh yes. I went to the opening.

KING: We'll ask about that. I assume Alan King is -- we will be right back with more. Don't go away.


BURNS: Gracie and I were playing in Denver, and we were number three, we were just playing the big time, but a small act. And Jolson was playing in Bonbow in Denver. We got two tickets. We ran over to see Jolson, never took off our makeup. We got there about 9 -10 -- 10 minutes after 9, no Jolson. 9:30, no Jolson, Quarter to 10, people applauding.

Finally Jolson walked on the stage full of snow. It was snowing in Denver. He told the audience he went to a party and got carried away. He was talking. He was sorry that he's late. He said, do you mind if I put on my makeup here instead of going back. He stripped from his waist up, put on a black face, did about 20 minutes of the show and then said, wait a minute. You know what happens, the horse wins the race, the fellow gets the girl. Do you want to see that, or you want me to entertain you.

They all says, entertain us. He brought all of the girls on the stage, and he says, you girls that have dates, go about your business. Three or four girls left. He says, the rest sit down on the floor. He entertained the audience until 1:00 and the morning. Gave out candy, too.

At 1:00 in the morning, he says I'm taking off my makeup, and I am going next door in the restaurant. There's a piano in there. I'll bring out a piano, and I'll sing you songs. Everybody ran out of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There was nobody like him.




King: Were you a ladies' man early?

BURNS: No. I was never -- even when I married Gracie, I was never a great lover.

KING: You were not.

BURNS: No. I ...

KING: How did this image come about?

BURNS: I made Gracie laugh. I made Gracie laugh. I had a sense of humor. After you're married 25 years and you get in bed with your wife, it is easy to make her laugh, and I made Gracie laugh. KING: In other words, this image of George Burns sexy ...


BURNS: No. no, no, no. I didn't ...

KING: You admitting here ...

BURNS: ... need any women when I was young. I could do it myself.


KING: That's pretty funny. Allen, did you see Gorshin do him on Broadway?

A. KING: Yes. Brilliant. Brilliantly.

KING: Did he have him down?

A. KING: Oh, yes. Perfect. But more than that, just besides the impression, there is a great humanity that Frank brings to the stage, into the performance.


FRANK GORSHIN: What made it so original was that is she acted as if everything she said made perfect sense. She said she put salt in the pepper shaker and pepper in the salt shaker so if she made a mistake she would be right.


KING: Like the show, Ronnie?

R. BURNS: Oh, I loved it. It was great. And I will tell you what. Frank -- when the show opens, the curtain goes up, there is a cloud of smoke, and Frank walks out and he goes, well hello there. And I swear it was him, my dad.

KING: Looks like him ...

R. BURNS: Oh, really like him.

GELBART: The size and everything.

R. BURNS: Yes.

KING: About the movie, "Oh, God" he was not the first choice was he? Mel Brooks was the..

GELBART: I wanted Mel to play god, but Mel didn't was the demotion.

KING: Mel turned it down?

GELBART: Yes. I wanted Mel and Woody to play the two parts.

CHANNING: Oh, that would have been ...

KING: And how did you come up with George, and how did -- I mean ...

GELBART: I just suggested him and somebody followed up. I guess Jerry Weintraub, who produced ...

KING: He was perfect, was he not?

GELBART: Perfect.

KING: The courtroom scene ...

GELBART: So help me, me.

KING: So help me, me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

BURNS: So help me, me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So help you, you?

BURNS: If it pleases the court and even if it doesn't please the court, I'm god, your honor.


KING: How good an actor was he, Allen?


A. KING: He was a beautiful actor, but you know, he once said to me -- we were at a party, and you know George loved to sing, but Jack Warner would get up. He was the -- Jack Warner was a bad singer. I mean, you can't believe it. And George Burns turned to me and said, he would rather sing a bad song than make a good picture.

GELBART: You know, his whole life was a monologue. What a good monologist he was. I mean, he just -- every thing he said just seemed like a routine.


BURNS: I brought him a girl once. Gertha DeFore (ph),

KING: Gertha DeFore (ph)?

BURNS: I was 14 years old. She was 16. And she wore lipstick. In those days, if you wore lipstick in those days you were a prostitute. She not only had on lipstick, she had a beauty mark here, too. Made it even worse.

KING: Ashanda (ph).

BURNS: Ashanda (ph). So I brought her home and I said to my mother, I want you to meet my sweetheart, Gertha DeFore. My mother said to Gertha, are you Jewish, Gertha? And Gertha said, no. She says do you understand Jewish? And Gertha said, no. She says, do you understand George? And Gertha says, no. And in Jewish, my mother turned around to me and she said, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) which means, go to hell. And she turned around to Gertha, and she said, I just told my son what a charming girl you are.


R. BURNS: He wanted to be known as a humorist. Not as a standup or anything. He wanted ...

KING: Like Mark Twain.

R. BURNS: That is what he wanted to be known as.

CHANNING: Do you know he used to get in on Gracie's side of the bed after Gracie died, and he said, I couldn't get through. And he said, when I couldn't make it through the day without Gracie, I would just come -- take off his suit, go and get on Gracie's side of the bed. And he told Lynn when Alfred died, don't go away from his favorite chair. Sit in it. It will envelope you and you'll be much better off.

KING: Is he buried next to Gracie?

R. BURNS: Yes. Right in the -- It is ...


R. BURNS: Crypt. Yes. One against the other.

KING: When he went to see Gracie, would he spend an -- what would he talk about?

R. BURNS: Oh, I ...

CHANNING: He said, Gracie laughs a lot.

R. BURNS: He used to say, well, she hasn't answered me yet.


KING: Do you still go to Gracie's grave? Is that true?

BURNS: Every month I go to see Gracie.

KING: And you talk to her?

BURNS: I talk to her. I'll tell her that I've done a show again. I will tell her we got some -- sometimes I tell her a joke. She doesn't laugh, she heard it before.

Hi Googie.

ED BRADLEY, 60 MINUTES: What do you call her?

BURNS: Googie.

BRADLEY: Googie?

BURNS: Googie, yes. This is Ed Bradley, we're going to be on "60 Minutes". We're working together again. Yes.

BRADLEY: You always talk to her when you come here?

BURNS: Yes, I talk to her all of the time. I hope she hears me. If she doesn't -- it makes me feel good.


R. BURNS: Mother passed away, he really -- and they were so together, he used that and he would talk to her as a sounding board.

KING: Sounding board. We we'll be right back.


ALLEN: H'orderve?

BURNS: Thank you.

ALLEN: Now, what are you two talking about?

BURNS: Well, Mr. Ferguson here was telling me about the high cost of living.

MR. FERGUSON: Yes. I was saying that money doesn't go as far as it used to.

ALLEN: Well, that depends on how far you want it to go. Now, the last time I went to San Francisco, I took along some money, and it went just as far as I did.

MR. FERGUSON: I don't know whether you've noticed it or not, but this hostess is nuttier than a fruit cake. Who is she?

BURNS: She is my wife.



ALLEN: Where is our marriage license, I want to see it.

BURNS: Don't you remember, Gracie, our a marriage license was in a trunk, and the trunk was burnt in Vancouver. But I'll be glad to get you a duplicate. ALLEN: You want a trunk. That won't prove we're married.

BURNS: Come on, Gracie ...

ALLEN: That's right, call me Gracie. Everybody calls me Gracie.

BURNS: What's wrong with that.

ALLEN: If we were really married, they would call me Mrs. Burns.


KING: You can see the "George Burns and Gracie Allen" show every Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. on TVLand. What is the legacy, Allen?

A. KING: Oh, forever. Thank goodness for television re-runs.

KING: Was he a friend of Groucho's?

R. BURNS: Well, yes, but it wasn't as close -- there was a roundtable group ...

KING: They had a roundtable, but that just for lunch.

R. BURNS: Just for lunch. But I will tell you who -- of the Marx brothers. who he really, really liked was Harpo.


KING: Did you like Groucho?

BURNS: I liked Harpo. I tell you why. Harpo -- I liked Groucho. I have been -- I never danced with Groucho. But I like Harpo and Susan. They adopted four kids. And I said to Harpo and Susan, how many kids you going to adopt. They said as many windows as we have in the house. So when we leave, we want a kid waving to us from each window. You know, they were charming people.


R. BURNS: Loved Harpo.

KING: Who actually spoke.

R. BURNS: Yes.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments and tribute to George Burns. Don't go away.


BURNS: Let me ask you something.


BURNS: How long you doing the show?

CARSON: It will be

BURNS: ... 39 ...


CARSON: When we finish next May, it will be almost 30 years.

BURNS: Thirty years. I've been on your show for 30 years.

CARSON: That's right.

BURNS: Before that I'd been on the Jack Parr show.

CARSON: That's right.

BURNS: Before that, I have been on the Fred --

CARSON: Steve Allen.

BURNS: Steve Allen.

CARSON: Right.

BURNS: All you guys -- all leaving and I'm the only one left.



KING: I want to thank you all for this delightful hour. We will always remember George Burns, and I consider it an honor just to have been in his presence and to have been able to interview him. Ronnie Burns, Phyllis Diller, Carol Channing, Alan King, Larry Gelbart, George would have been 107.

GELBART: Happy Birthday, George.

KING: Happy Birthday, George.

CHANNING: Happy Birthday.

KING: Thanks for joining us, an good night.


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