Monday, February 19, 2018

George Burns and My Appreciation Thereof

George Burns.  It's a name that, when you hear it and think of comedy, you not only think of a golden age of television but a time when good humor was pure humor - sometimes with a little innuendo, but not much.  You think of the greatest love story that ever was: George Burns and Gracie Allen, who were also a funny duo!  You even think of George's best friend, Jack Benny.

My first experience with George Burns was "Fit to be Tied" which appeared on a TV network at some point in my childhood, and for some reason I found it very, very funny.  At least when George moved to the ties counter, and then to the magazine counter.  Of course, I later learned about the Burns and Allen Show where I truly got to learn their humor, and mostly his.  George Burns was the epitome of the "straight man," who would not make fun of his beloved Gracie, but support her through the hilarity.

There are tons of movie stars and musicians that, if I tend to say how I first learned about them, I will say I first experienced them through The Muppet Show.  I, of course, paid close attention to one particular episode.

There was even a George Burns action figure!

Now, my love of classic television led me to love many of these comedians.  Of course, I loved The Three Stooges, the duos of Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello, and groups like The Marx Brothers.  I loved Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, and George Burns (by the way, three of those appeared on The Muppet Show and I was lucky to get autographed photos of them).

I was thrilled when Joan Benny finished her father's book and it was released as "Sunday Nights at 7 by Jack Benny."  It was a neat book that told his life story.  Joan added her bit, and their dialogue was separated by her text being in normal font, and his text being printed in bold font.

Then, one night, I had a dream:
There was this huge gala that was going on.  I saw all these movie stars in this giant, black granite building.  We were all in ties and tuxes, the women were in beautiful ball gowns.  One whole giant wall was a solid, thick piece of glass that separated our party from the ocean in which we could see giant fish, whales, sharks, and more.  Away from the tables where we were dining was a high, high set of stairs that led up to a balcony on which was a library of books.
As I walked back to my table, I noticed the people I was sitting with: Bob Hope, Jack Benny, George Burns, and Milton Berle.
So, of course, I begin telling Jack Benny that I appreciate his book and asked him to sign it.  George Burns tells me, "If you want to read a really good book, get my book 'Say Goodnight Gracie.'"  He agrees to sign it if I get it and bring it back to him.  I immediately run up the stairs and start looking through the books to find the title I need...and...then...
BRRT! BRRT! BRRT!  The stupid alarm goes off.
I wake, look online, and immediately buy the book George told me I needed.

For George's 100th birthday, he was planning a stand-up act (with a life-time contract!) in Las Vegas.  I wanted to go see him, and I planned on getting tickets eventually.  But, it wasn't to be.  His concert was cancelled due to his having had a heart attack.  I wouldn't get to see George Burns on stage.

Would I?

February 2018, a great show comes to Memphis' Halloran Theater.  It stars Alan Safier in "Say Goodnight Gracie" by Rupert Holmes.  Waiting in anxious anticipation for the program to start wondering how this will be.

I was thrilled to walk in and see art by Al Hirschfeld!

A dimly lit stage, a low fog across the floor, and into view comes the shadowed silhouette of a man.  Not actor Alan Safier, but there is George Burns!  Look, voice, humor - it's all there.  I'd finally gotten my chance to see George Burns!  Spectacular performance, great story - everything you could hope for.

Now, I'm not one to weep openly in public (right-) but this was such a moving experience to see a person resurrected this way.  From the moment of stepping out into the fog, George Burns was alive and well - mostly!  I don't want to give too much away, but as he makes his way to the front and center of the stage, and a bright light shines on him, George asks, "Who're you?  Oh, God!"  And in those first few moments, the voice was also that of George's, and I was taken back to a golden time of American comedy.

George continues to review his story and discusses his meeting with Gracie Allen (of course, the majority of his story IS Gracie), the short film shown above was one of the first times he told her to "say goodbye."  He discussed his dear friends Jack Benny and wife Mary, two others who I dearly love.

There was a little bit of singing, but not full songs.  More in the vein of, "So, we did this song 'Sweet Adeline, my sweet Adeline...' and, boy, we sang it great!"  That's not from the show, but an idea of how the singing would go.  Though, you can buy a full CD of songs that were covered by George and Gracie on Mr. Safier's website (see below).

So, the show is over, the life has been reviewed, and George Burns wanders off into the bright light.  There I am, being the guy who doesn't cry in public (right-) and there among the huge crowd, everyone standing and applauding Mr. Safier's performance as George Burns.

The BEST George Burns since...George Burns.

After the show was a meet and greet where you could get a CD (unfortunately, I had no cash).  But, you can order it from his website!

So, this was my quick story about me and George Burns.


Remember the weird dream above?  Well, Jack Benny had passed away long before I had realized I could get autographs from folks whose work I loved; but, I did get busy and start reaching out to the rest of them.  George Burns' autograph is above.  Here are Bob Hope and Milton Berle's autographed photos.  I guess they were too busy to personalize it like George did.

Always a class act, that George.

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