Normally, when I deliberately write about multiple people from the same place, I will try to have an image with both of them and duplicate it. I used the same image for quite some time for my M*A*S*H tribute, for example. I can’t do that for George and Gracie, however. The sad fact is, Gracie died 32 years before George. And his career continued almost that entire time. He was working to within a few weeks of his death at age 100, and he remained committed to Gracie’s memory the whole time.
He got his start as Nathan Birnbaum so long ago that, yes, the name change was to hide his Jewish heritage from audiences. And in fact so long ago that, at age seven, he was singing with some other boys while working as a syrup-maker in a candy factory. He was helping to support his family after the young death of his father in an influenza epidemic. He and some other boys at the factory sang in a quartet together, which eventually led to a vaudeville career, as a comedian, singer, and dancer.
Gracie was actually his second wife; he married one of his dance partners because her mother wouldn’t let them tour together unless they were married. They divorced again as soon as the tour was over. That was May 1918. In 1926, he married Gracie Allen and stayed with her. He stayed with her for the rest of her life, though he did once have a brief affair. He was so racked with guilt that he gave her a ring and a silver centerpiece, thinking she didn’t know why. Years later, he overheard her telling a friend that she wished George would have another affair, as she could use a new centerpiece.
He started his career singing, not what he’s currently known for. It must have been interesting to get onto The Muppet Show and actually use that. He was by then probably a bit old for the dancing. It’s also true that, after Gracie’s death, he had to get back into the habit of telling jokes. While she was alive, she got all the jokes because the audience laughed at her anyway, and he wasn’t inclined to fight it. In a way, it made him the perfect Muppet Show guest, because he knew when and where to just let the madness happen. Gracie was practically part Muppet that way.
Probably even by the time my mom was aware of pop culture, George Burns had always been there and presumably always would. Literally everyone pretty much took it for granted that he’d live to be a hundred; I forget how old he was when he booked his hundredth birthday gig, but it was years before. He was, sadly, in health too poor to let him attend the celebration, but he was still alive. He’d been making money as a sassy old man for decades at that point.