George Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on January 20, 1896 in New York City, the ninth of 12 children born to Jewish immigrants who had come to the United States from Romania. Burns was a member of the First Roumanian-American congregation, the Orthodox synagogue where Red Buttons sang in the choir and Edward G. Robinson became a bar mitzvah.
Burns had a long career as a comedian, actor, and writer. He was one of the few entertainers whose career successfully spanned vaudeville, film, radio, and television. His arched eyebrow and cigar-smoke punctuation became familiar trademarks for over three-quarters of a century.
One of his career highlights was The Burns and Allen show, in which he co-starred with his wife, Gracie Allen. 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, as was Burns' understated straight man.
The twosome worked tirelessly on the road, building a following, as well as a reputation for being a reliable "disappointment act" (one that could fill in for another act on short notice). Burns and Allen were so consistently dependable that vaudeville bookers elevated them to the more secure "standard act" status, and finally to the vaudevillian's dream: the Palace Theatre in New York.
In 1976, twelve years after Gracie died, George appeared in a television special in which he revived one of the Burns and Allen routines with comedian Madeline Kahn.
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