Things That Are Nice: Day 6

George Burns and Gracie Allen did vaudeville together in the 1920s, movies in the '30s, radio in the '40s, and television (above) in the '50s. They were married for almost all of it. The duo originally cast George as the daffy one and Gracie as the straight man, but the audience wouldn't stop laughing at Gracie's lines -- so they swapped, and had an instant hit.

It takes a remarkable amount of intelligence to be the kind of "dumb blonde" Grace portrayed on screen. The art of what George called "illogical logic" involves knowing what people expect you to say, figuring out why they expect that, and then swapping it out for something that technically fits all of the requirements of the correct answer in context, except that it is complete nonsense. Gracie evidently did it off the cuff, in person. She was on tour and engaged to another performer when George went head over heels for her and tried to woo her away. He inadvertently won her over by making her cry at a party. She figured she couldn't possibly be so upset over something so silly unless she really loved him.

George stepped out on Gracie only once, in their nearly forty-year marriage, and he felt so horrible about it he never did it again. He didn't tell her -- he thought it would just make things worse -- but Gracie overheard him telling someone else, and he made it up to her with gifts, including a centerpiece she'd been eyeing for the dining room. Years later, she commented to one of her friends, "I wish George would cheat on me again. I could use a new centerpiece."

Burns & Allen performed together for more than three decades, until Gracie decided she was tired of television, and retired in 1958. She passed away in 1964. George kept ticking until the ripe old age of 100, performing as a comedian and cheerful lech well into his 90s. Admittedly, he was a better dancer when he was younger. Who isn't? You have to be pretty good to keep up with Fred Astaire.


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