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The Ultimate Cigar Aficionado

Ninety-eight-year-old George Burns shares memories of his life.
Arthur Marx
From the Print Edition:
George Burns, Winter 94/95

(continued from page 4)

Another of Gracie's character lines that George was crazy about was something she said on one of their radio shows. She was saying that a person should stick to his guns no matter how much opposition or ridicule he meets. "They all laughed at Joan of Arc," said Gracie, "but she didn't care. She went right ahead and built it."

Burns and Allen worked together, growing more and more successful with their Dumb Dora act and establishing a reputation for themselves until they wound up playing the Palace, the fulfillment of every vaudevillian's dream. With success came love, and George and Gracie were married on January 7, 1926, in Cleveland.

Here I interrupt George's story, by asking, "did you know that my father used to date Gracie before the two of you were married?"

"No I didn't. Where did you hear such a thing?"

I told him that my mother had told me. She had been my Uncle Zeppo's dancing partner in the Marx Brothers' first successful vaudeville act, "Home Again." Zeppo liked my mother and took her to dinner one night at Luchow's, a well-known German restaurant in Manhattan. Zeppo introduced her to my father, who was sitting at a table having dinner with a young actress named Gracie Allen.

"Gracie never told me about that," says George with a faraway look in his eyes. "I'll just have to ask her about it the next time I see her."

George is referring to the monthly visits he pays to the vault at Forest Lawn cemetery where his late wife is entombed in the wall. Once a month--ever since Gracie died following a heart attack in 1964--Burns gets into his Cadillac limousine and instructs Conrad, his six-foot-six-inch chauffeur to drive him to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. There in the entombment chamber he sits on a marble bench in front of Gracie's vault and lights a cigar. (In the entombment chamber he doesn't have to worry about polluting the air with secondhand smoke. "Who can object?" he quips.) Then he says a little prayer and tells Gracie everything he's done in the past month.

Burns believes that's the least he can do for her, because without any question in his mind, the biggest turning point in his life was when he met Gracie Allen.

"Until Gracie came along I was going no place. No matter whatI tried the audience disliked it. I got so used to being disliked I thought I was doing well. I didn't know what failure was. How could I? I never had any success to compare it to.

"But the good things for me started with Gracie and for the next 38 years they only got better. It wasn't a marriage we had to work at. I made her laugh, and when she was around I was happy. And then one day she wasn't around anymore. It still doesn't seem right that she went so young and that I have been given so many years to spend without her."


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