Burns & Allen
Vaudeville’s greatest comedy duo
Excerpts from the American Vaudeville Museum:
George Burns and Gracie Allen were the most popular comic duo of the 20th century in vaudeville, radio, film and television. Before they found each other, neither had found tremendous success and for eight years after they formed their act, they were only passably popular. Gradually, Burns realized that Allen was getting more laughs asking the straight lines than he was with the punch lines and their roles were reversed.
The Burns & Allen routine graced a number of films where their act was expanded to include a soft shoe dance or Irish jig from Allen. From 1929 on, they were considered sure-fire comedy both in short films and as additions to feature films with the likes of Fred Astaire. Allen had an extraordinary ability to remember huge amounts of dialogue which she could repeat without messing up so much as a syllable. This played out successfully on their immensely popular radio show and later their CBS television show.
Over time, however, and with her health failing due to a heart condition, Allen retired in 1958. She would pass away in 1964 leaving Burns floundering for a short while. Gradually, Burns became a superstar all over again as the world’s oldest stand-up comedian until his passing in 1996. He worked all the way until the end.
For more on George Burns and Gracie Allen visit: https://vaudeville.sites.arizona.edu/node/22