One of the defining series of the nascent medium of television, this Sitcom
debuted in 1950 when it was transferred from CBS Radio to CBS Television. The main setting of the series was the Beverly Hills home of comedians George Burns
and Gracie Allen, who stared as versions of themselves
. The main supporting characters in the series were their next-door neighbors, Blanche and Harry Morton; the show's announcers, Bill Goodwin (first season) and Harry Von Zell (subsequent seasons, 1951-58); and their real-life adopted son, Ronnie.
Burns and Allen had been a comedy team since 1922, in the waning days of vaudeville. Their act was fairly simple. George, the straight man, would ask Gracie a question. Gracie, who was one of the best practitioners of Irish bull
in show business history, would give a rambling, mind-twisting answer that could only be described as "illogical logic." George would then calmly ask for clarification, and Gracie would go off on another riff.
In the 1930s and 40s, they made several feature films and short subjects, but focused mainly on their radio series. During their sixteen years on radio, their characters evolved from a flighty dating couple (although they had married in 1926) to a solid married couple by the time the TV series was in development in 1949. The radio series had also expanded their characters' world. No longer was it just the two of them talking to each other. They began interacting with other characters. This was important because, as their characters matured, it seemed that George was the only one capable of following Gracie's train of thought. This eventually limited the impact of their routines.
In a typical radio episode, Gracie sent George to the post office to mail a very heavy package. George got bumped out of line several times and ended up having to go to the back of the line each time. After a few hours, he finally mailed the package. When he got home, he found out that the package was actually a box of rocks. Gracie was sending them to a neighbor who was building a rock garden. A neighbor whom Gracie had talked to while George was at the post office.
In a famous stunt on their radio series, Gracie ran for president in 1940 on the "Surprise Party" ticket, predating by 28 years the run made by Pat Paulson of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
As popular and well-written as the radio series was, their comedy routines were improved by the addition of video. Although Burns and Allen were not physical comedians, there was something wonderful about seeing the placid, patient look on George's face as he listened to one of Gracie's spiels; Gracie's wide-eyed, full-throttle intensity; the worried expression on Blanche's face with regards to Gracie; Harry Morton's annoyance with everyone, especially Gracie; and Harry Von Zell's befuddlement in general.
And with the transition to TV came the leap from mere absurdist humor to the occasional all-out foray into Surrealism
. Where else could you hear one character ask why some situation was occurring, only to be told by George that that was all the writers could come up with that week? Or see a character change actors in the middle of a scene? (Although Roseanne
came close with the two Beckys.)
The series ended in 1958 when Gracie was weakened after having a couple of mild heart attacks. She died six years later at the age of 69. (In a footnote that seems typical of this couple, Gracie's birth certificate had been lost in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. People thought she was younger than George, but the 1900 U.S. Census data showed that she was actually six months older.)
When asked in an interview what the secret of her character was, Gracie said that her character thoroughly believed that she
was the smart one and that it was everybody else who was out of whack.
This work provides examples of:
- After Show: After Gracie retired from showbusiness following a minor heart attack, George tried to go it alone (with the supporting cast intact) in The George Burns Show; but it wasn't the same and only lasted one season.
- Aren't You Forgetting Someone?: One episode ends with George Burns calling up a guest star playing a General in the episode. The guest star drops character, saying about what an honor it is to appear on the show and goes on to say how professional everyone is, naming each person one by one ... except for George.
: Say, in next week's show we have an opening for a Lawyer, are you working?
Actor: Why,no...no I'm not.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Gracie does not reply "Goodnight, Gracie" to George's "Say goodnight, Gracie."
- Big Eater: Harry Morton
Von Zell: Oh, I'm sorry...I seem to always arrive just as Mr Morton is sitting down to eat.
Blanche: Mr Von Zell, if you came in at 4 in the morning you could make that very same statement.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: And then some! George Burns did some crazy things on this show that have rarely (if ever) been replicated.
- Not only does George speak to the audience, he has a tv in his den that lets him watch the characters in their scenes without him!
- In the first two seasons of the series, the show looked like an odd hybrid of a radio show and a stage play. Because TV was still new and experimental — not to mention live — Burns and his production partners decided to broadcast the show from an actual theater where a mockup of a house had been built on stage. The house set looked like an artillery shell had hit it, wiping out the fourth wall and one corner of the house. Rather than watch scenes of the show on the TV set in his office — that wouldn't start until the show was shot on film starting in the 1952-53 season — George would lean against the proscenium arch and comment directly to the theater audience about the goings-on inside the house. See for yourself. Here's a sample episode titled "Rumba Lessons" that aired on December 28, 1950.
- In the first episode of the 1953-54 season — in what may have been the most extreme breaking of the fourth wall in history — Fred Clark (who played Harry Morton) left the series in part because he had demanded a higher salary. Literally! He left the series about twenty minutes into the episode. As Blanche was about to express her displeasure with a gift Harry had given her by hitting him with a vase, George stopped the action, turned to the audience and told them that Clark was leaving the series. Clark exited, replacement actor Harry Keating entered, and the action resumed.
- In the episode "Appearences Are Deceiving" the story takes place upstairs as George is downstairs answering fan mail for his book. He says, "I don't mind the writers writing me out of tonight's story so much, I just wish they'd send someone to let me know what's going on." Cue Harry Morton storming in to talk to George. However once Harry starts throwing around his trademark three dollar words, George says "Fellas, you sent the wrong guy, I still don't know what's going on!"
- Closet Shuffle: In the episode "Silky Thompson; Gracie Writes 'My Life with George Burns'", Gangster Silky Thompson is hidden in the closet to avoid the police. Just then Harry Morton comes in looking to hide from a man he sold a swamp to.
Gracie: That's a shame, Harry. Had you come only a minute sooner you could have had a nice spacious closet, now you'll have to make do with the bedroom upstairs.
George: Make a reservation next time!
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Three guesses, no hints
- Cross Over: With The Jack Benny Program. Jack and George were lifelong friends and appeared on each others shows often. In one episode George gets Jack on his special television which Jack lampshades with "You're not watching me on your silly TV are you? I'm not on until Sunday Night!". After Jack then starts to quote his appearence fee George shuts off the tv! In another episode George threatens Von Zell by pondering, "I wonder what Don Wilson (Jack's announcer) is doing next year..."
- The Danza: Harry Von Zell (as well as the Burns family).
- Harry Mandoza as Mandoza the Great.
- The Ditz: Gracie could be the poster girl for the trope.
- End of Episode Silliness: George Burns has said he had the greatest job in the world. All he needed to do was ask "So Gracie, what's new with your Uncle Charlie" and sit back and react while Gracie spoke for three minutes.
- Fourth Wall Observer: George, of course.
- Game Show Appearance: While hypnotized into being the smartest woman alive, Gracie appears (and wins) on an Expy of The $64,000 Question.
- Genre Savvy: Sometimes people try to out think Gracie. Doesn't work too well.
Man #1: I can't wait to get home and sit by the fireplace. My dog at my feet, smoking a pipe, reading the paper.
Man #2: (After a pause) Mrs Allen....aren't you going to ask him why he lets his dog smoke a pipe?
Gracie Allen: Heavens, no! (The men nod and go back to what they were doing) After all, if his dog is smart enough to read the paper, why shouldn't he be allowed to smoke a pipe?
- George Jetson Job Security: George Burns fired his announcer Harry Von Zell so often that 'Harry, You're fired.' could almost be considered a Catch Phrase.
Harry Morton: You seem to understand George's psychological make up.
Harry Von Zell: Well you don't get fired 3 or 4 times a day without getting to know the man.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: The Man sells Gracie some travel tickets.
- How We Got Here: One Christmas Episode starts out with George talking to us from a jail cell on Christmas Eve, then goes into the story of how he got there.
- Hypno Fool: In one two part episode, Gracie bumps into a Hypnotist who later hypnotizes her into being the smartest woman alive. Later, as George tries to reverse the situation, Blanche is accidently turned into 'the old Gracie Allen'.
- Jury Duty: One episode subverts the troupe by having both Blanche and Harry happy at the prospect of her being called (Blanche looking foward to do her civic duty, and Harry looking foward to the free time and non-burned food he'll get with her gone).
- Light Is Not Good: The one time in her career that Gracie froze on stage came during a dress rehearsal of the pilot episode. She happened to be looking at one of the cameras when the red tally light came on. Startled, she froze until it went off. George had the technical director remove the tally lights from all of the cameras.
- Marathon Running: On Dec 31 2011/Jan 1st 2012 Digital channel Antenna TV ran "Night of 2012 Laughs" a 20 hour marathon of The Burns And Allen Show alternating with The Jack Benny Program.
- Antenna TV would go on to repeat the stunt on Dec 31 2012/Jan 1st 2013.
- One-Hour Work Week: George
- One Steve Limit: Subverted with Harry Morton and Harry Von Zell.
- Of course this helps Gracie mistake someone talking about one Harry for the other Harry.
- Only Sane Man: George Burns, and less often, Ronnie Burns.
- The Other Darrin: Four actors played Harry Morton. One of them got switched in the middle of a scene!
- Product Placement: Episodes sponsored by Carnation Evaporated Milk.
- In one episode Blanche says she should use A1 Sauce instead of perfume behind her ears to get Harry's attention. Not likely a paid placement, but still odd that she didn't just say 'steak sauce' instead of the brand name.
- In the episode "Harry Morton's Cocktail Party", Gracie becomes a bookstore salesclerk to help sales of George's real life book I Love Her, That's Why!. As with everything else this is lampshaded by George.
George Burns: (to the audience) Remember last week when my publisher Simon and Shulster suggested I show a copy of my book I Love Her, That's Why! on the show to help sales, and I thought it was a bad idea? (He holds up a copy of the book) I still do.
- Real-Life Relative: George Burns, Gracie Allen and son Ronnie.
- William Burns was one of the show's writers. In one episode after George has a Gracie-like conversation on the phone with an unnamed show writer, he hangs up and says to the audience "I'd fire him, but he's my brother."
- Running Gag: Gracie has a closet full of hats of visitors who come into the house, take off their hat, and get confused by Gracie so much they leave without it.
- Gracie's loopy logic and even loopier relatives.
- George's singing ability (or lack of same).
- George more or less riding Gracie's coattails in their act and tv/radio shows.
- Satchel Switcheroo: In the episode "A Paris Creation", the trope is invoked with two briefcases marked G.B. - one belonging to George and the other a nuclear scientist. Of course, as with everything else on the show, George is aware of the switch and lampshades it heavily to the audience.
- Self-Deprecation: George happily agrees with his friends and neighbors that he'd be nowhere without Gracie.
George: I don't need a financial advisor. 20 years ago I took $2 and made an investment that's paid out a million times over since. (Pause, puff on cigar) I bought a marrage licence.
- Sheldon Leonard: Guest starred in one episode Gangster Silky Thompson.
Silky Thompson: I came all this way to blow a Dame's brains out and someone's beaten me to it!
- Signing Off Catch Phrase:
Gracie: [tells some bizaare non-sequitor story]
George: Say goodnight, Gracie.
- Spiritual Successor: Seinfeld. While many reviewers compare his show with I Love Lucy (a show of which both the fake and real Jerrys seem proud to say they've never watched an episode), Jerry Seinfeld has said that he and Larry David were trying for a "Burns and Allen Show feeling".
- Story Arc: The Mortons and Burns' go to New York to promote George's (real life) book I Love Her, That's Why.. While there, a few of the episodes deal with Ronnie wanting to be a dramatic actor instead of a comic following in his parent's footsteps.
- Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Harry Morton.
- Too Dumb to Fool: Gracie, who could confuse the sharpest con artist.
- TV Genius: Harry Morton.
- TV Guide: The episode "The Burns and Mortons Go To NY" has a subplot about George and Gracie making the cover.
- Uncanny Family Resemblance: Blanche and her Mother.
: See, everyone has a happy ending in this episode. Especially Blanche — She gets two checks this week, one for playing herself and one for playing her Mother. Come to think of it, I don't get a happy ending....I have to pay her!
- You Look Familiar: Joeseph Kerns (Mr Wilson on Dennis the Menace) appears in at least three episodes as different characters...a ballet promoter, an agent for the artist Gracie hires to paint George's portrait, and as a door-to-door salesman mistaken for a Personal Business Planner.
- In the episode "Gracie Gives Wedding in Payment of a Favor", Robbie Burns guest stars as a groom before appearing in his later regular role as ... Robbie Burns.
- As noted above Howard McNair (aka Floyd the Barber) played Gracie's cousin in one episode and a plumber in another pair of episodes.
"Say Goodnight, Gracie." "Goodnight."