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                             ISRAEL
                              FAXX

Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Jan. 19, 1996 V4, #10
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Happy Birthday George Burns

By Alan Silverman (VOA-Los Angeles)

Entertainer George Burns will be 100 Saturday. He began in vaudeville at the turn of the century and continued into the 1990s: George Burns knew only one way to deal with growing older; he made jokes about it:

"People are always saying to me: "George, when are you going to retire?" Who would support my mother and father?" (Laughter)

Physically frail, especially after injuries from a fall at home, Burns was finally forced to end his performing days in 1994. Still, he kept up his writing -- "A Hundred Years - A Hundred Stories," his 10th book, is in stores to mark the comedian's centennial; his daily routine also includes bridge-playing, a martini cocktail with lunch and, of course, the ever-present cigar:

"I smoke between 15 and 20 cigars a day. At my age, I have to hold on to something."

He was born Nathan Birnbaum Jan. 20, 1896, one of 12 children in a hard-working but poor Jewish family on New York's Lower East Side. He was five years old when his father died; reminiscing years later, Burns was convinced the deeply-religious man would have disapproved of his son's career choice:

"I started in show business when I was eight years old with three other kids. We called ourselves the "Peewee Quartet." We went on ferry boats and street yards and we sang; we passed around our hats. Sometimes they would throw something into the hats... And sometimes they would take our hats. We lost a lot of hats." (Laughter)

At age 13, he left street-corner singing... and school for the stage as a singing, joking roller skater. In 1922 Burns joined up with fellow vaudevillian Gracie Allen; they married in 1926 and, as pioneers in the new medium of radio, "Burns and Allen" became America's best-known, and most-loved, comedy couple:

"I have been in show business practically all of my life. We were on radio for 19 years, Gracie and I, and television for eight years. Then Gracie retired and I went into show business. I was retired when I worked with Gracie. I did nothing. I said to Gracie 'How is your brother?' and she talked for 40 years."

Burns: What about Willie?
Allen: Well, he broke his back.
Burns: How did he do that?
Allen: Well, because he is left-handed.
Burns: He broke his back because he is left-handed? Allen: Well, you see, what happened was he had a donut in his right-hand pocket and when he went to take it out with his left hand, he broke his back. (Laughter)

They were almost constantly together, onstage, on the air and on screen, until Gracie Allen died in 1964. Continuing as a solo performer, George Burns became a movie star in his 70s, headlining with Walter Matthau as a cantankerous pair of aging vaudeville performers, "The Sunshine Boys."

Burns: "Knock, knock, knock."
Matthau: "Enter!"
Burns: "What do you mean 'enter?' What happened to 'come in?'" Matthau: "It's the same thing -- enter or come in; what is the

difference, as long as you are in?"

Burns: The difference is we have done this sketch 11,000 times and you always said come in. Suddenly today it is enter. Why today, after all these years, do you suddenly change it to enter?
Matthau: "I'm trying to freshen up the act." Burns: "Who asked you to freshen up the act."

The performance earned burns his first Academy Award and he went on to star in a string of film comedies. He was 81 when Carl Reiner directed him in "Oh God."

His fragile health forced Burns to cancel a planned 100th birthday performance in Las Vegas; instead, there's a gala Beverly Hills salute to his career and generous contributions to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Author and performer Steve Allen, a longtime friend, says that is most fitting: "I admire him so much as a human being. He is, to use a very simple term, a 'good guy.' If the public likes your singing, trombone playing or comedy, they want to believe you are a wonderful person. Some of us are, some of us are not. George is not only one of the funniest people around, he is a dear person. I have never heard him say anything critical about anybody; I have never heard him involved with anything negative. He is just a sweetheart."

Carl Reiner believes George Burns was most comfortable on stage in front of an audience: "He lived to work as an entertainer and he blessed every day that he had a job...that he had a booking."

"I'll be around a long time. I don't believe in dying. I'm booked."

"I tell you something: I would rather be a failure in something that I love to do, than be successful in something that I hate," Burns explained.

George Burns, hailed as a "national treasure," 100 years old Jan. 20.

Burns: "Gracie, say goodnight."
Allen: "Good night."
Burns: "Good night." (Applause)

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