Friday, September 14, 2012

"Gracie - A Love Story" by George Burns (1988)

What can be said about a book that is so good I have read it three times since it was released in 1988? The book is a love story; just as the title states; but it is also a history of vaudeville, as well as a bare display of the humor and affection which Mr. Burns’ clearly held for  both his wife, as well as their craft.

Married for almost 40 years to a woman whose age he did not know; her birth certificate was destroyed in the San Francisco Earthquake; Mr. Burns only really discovered himself when he met the tiny, five foot tall, 100 pound Gracie. She was at least 10 years his junior, and he was all of 27 at the time.

In a way, they were the perfect couple for their time. Life was new to them, and radio was new to the world. Just as they were learning how to live, the medium of radio was doing the same. And as the medium grew, so did Burns and Allen. Successfully wooing his rival for Gracie’s affections wasn’t easy; but he did it just the same. When she fell ill out west on a vaudeville tour with George, he made sure she never received his flowers or calls, sort of “salting the shaft” you might say. Call it what you like, he got the girl.

From radio the two moved on to do several movies, many with other stars in productions like Broadway melody of 1932, which was their first big film. And who can forget them with W.C. Fields in “The Big Broadcast of 1936”? That is still one of my favorite films to watch when I am feeling down.

The book serves as a tribute by Mr. Burns to his wife, who died at the age of 58 years old from a heart condition. But along the way, she ran for President on the Surprise Party Ticket against Roosevelt in 1940, launched a nationwide search for her brother; who really did exist and was not missing; and generally surpassed the standard for the “Dumb Dora” type of actress, while still preserving her own artistic integrity. As George Burns points out, she never threw a pie, nor took one in the face for a laugh. She got her laughs as being the soul of the nation. They came to love her through her appearance on radio, in movies, and still later, in their own living rooms as Gracie and Allen explored the limits of a new medium called television.
Written in 1988, when George Burns didn’t know he had another dozen years to go, he kept us laughing right up until the end, but never forgot his beginnings. Each time he would plan to do a new show; or make a movie; he would go to the cemetery where Gracie was buried and talk to her about it. If the vibes were right, he’d do it. One of the greatest love stories to ever come out of Hollywood, this book is a loving tribute to a woman who was so much more than she appeared to be. And when you find out just who she truly was, you will love her all the more. Oh, by the way, George Burns wasn’t half bad himself. It’s just that he was twice as good with Gracie. I hope he’s puffing on his cigar. (Read this book and then you will understand that last line.)

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