A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of July, Solar Year 2018
The Dock of the Bay
July 26, 1895 was the birthdate of American comedian Gracie Allen.
Gracie Allen, born in San Francisco, made her first appearance on stage at the age of three and was given her first role on the radio by Eddie Cantor. She attended the Star of the Sea Convent School, at which time she became a talented dancer. She soon began performing Irish folk dances with her three sisters, billed as “The Four Colleens”. In 1909, Allen joined her sister as a vaudeville performer.
At a vaudeville performance in 1923 in Union City, New Jersey, Gracie Allen met George Burns, a vaudeville performer who usually did a comedy routine and a dance with a girl partner. The two immediately launched a new partnership called “Burns and Allen” with Gracie playing the role of the ‘straight man’ and George delivering the punchlines as the comedian. Burns knew something was wrong when the audience ignored his jokes but snickered at Gracie’s questions. Burns cannily flipped the act around.
Gracie Allen’s part was known in vaudeville as a “Dumb Dora” act, named after a very early film of the same name that featured a scatterbrained female protagonist, but her “illogical logic” style was several cuts above the Dumb Dora stereotype. She and George Burns took the act on the road, gradually building a following. The act was so consistently dependable that vaudeville bookers elevated them to the more secure “standard act” status, and finally to the Palace Theater in New York. After three years together, Gracie Allen married Burns in Cleveland, Ohio in January of 1926.
In the fall of 1949, Jack Benny convinced Gracie Allen and George Burns to join him in the move to the CBS network. The “Burns and Allen” radio show, which had run from the early 1930s, became part of the CBS lineup and a year later a television program. They played themselves, as television stars, bewildering the guest stars and their neighbors, Harry and Blanche Morton, with Gracie Allen’s illogical logic. Each show began with a brief monologue by George Burns about Gracie’s activities on that day. Audiences continued to love Allen’s character, who combined the traits of naivete, zaniness, and total innocence.
Gracie Allen retired in 1958 due to her health. She fought a long battle with heart disease, ultimately dying of a heart attack in Hollywood on August 27, 1964, at the age of 69. Her remains are interred in a crypt at the Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Glendale, California.
Gracie Allen Quotes: “I was so surprised at being born that I didn’t speak for a year and a half.”
“I read a book twice as fast as anybody else. First, I read the beginning, and then I read the ending, and then I start in the middle and read toward whatever end I like best.”
“You speak it the same way you speak English, you just use different words.”