The husband and wife comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen repeated their success in vaudeville, film and radio with a show perfectly suited to the new medium of television.
The premise was very simple: The couple played themselves; husband and wife entertainers living in Southern California. George played straight man to wife Gracie, whose outlook on life was more than a bit off-centre, confusing not only George but their friends and anyone who confronted the good-meaning but scatterbrained Gracie. As George liked to explain it, Gracie "makes sense in an illogical sort of way." But like any good sitcom, a few simple explanations at the end straightened out the understandings.
What made 'Burns & Allen' so fun to watch was the way Burns broke television's "fourth wall" by telling jokes to the audience and explaining what will likely happen with Gracie's latest scheme. (In later seasons, George would comment on the action by watching the television set in his den--much like home viewers were doing).
The show also successfully incorporated the sponsor's product, Carnation Milk, in the plot, thanks to announcer Bill Goodwin, who was replaced by Harry Von Zell for much of the show's run. (In the middle of each episode, Goodwin/Von Zell would enter, and ever-so-subtly discuss the latest recipe using Carnation Evaporated Milk.) Also adding spice to George and Gracie's life was lively neighbour Blanche Morton (played by the versatile Bea Benaderet, who would go on to star in Petticoat Junction and provide the voice of Betty Rubble on The Flintstones.) Her long-suffering husband Harry was portrayed by four different actors (Hal March, John Brown, Fred Clark and finally Larry Keating) during the show's run.
The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show premiered in 1950 on CBS; it was done live every other week from New York. Beginning in 1952, the show aired weekly, filmed from Hollywood. While never a smash in the league of I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners, Burns & Allen drew a large and loyal audience. It was also only the seond sitcom to be imported to Great Britain from the USA following Amos 'n' Andy whilst just pipping I Love Lucy.
The show ended in 1958 (although in the UK 132 episodes aired, finishing in 1961), when Gracie Allen retired from show business. She suffered a heart attack in 1961 and died three years later. Following Gracie's retirement, George Burns (born Nathan Burnbaum in January 1896) tried his own sitcom (with most of the cast from the old show); it lasted only one season. Burns did have one more television success, though not as a sitcom star: He was an investor in the show about a talking horse named Mr. Ed.
Published on December 18th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.