George Burns and Gracie Allen started their screen career with the only contract of its kind with the Paramount Studios.
In January 1931, they signed with Paramount to star in short subjects and to play on the stages of Publix Theatres when not before the cameras. Today, they are playing parts in their feature motion pictures with radio and screen talent.
Burns was born in New York; Miss Allen was born in San Francisco. Both went on the stage while children. Miss Allen’s father was a song and dance man, and she made her first public appearance at the age of three and a half, when she danced at entertainments in San Francisco.
When she was thirteen and fourteen years of age, she spent the summer vacation months from school doing a single act in vaudeville around San Francisco. With her three older sisters, she next formed the vaudeville team of the Allen Sisters. Eventually, this led them to Larry Reilly’s Company, where Miss Allen became a featured player of Irish colleen parts.
After several seasons with the Reilly Company, during which time she became the headline attraction, Miss Allen left the show because she was refused billing. But jobs proved hard to obtain, so she decided to give up the stage and entered a secretarial school to train for the post of a stenographer.
With a friend, she went to Union Hill, New Jersey, where her friend was trying out an act. Back stage, she met George Burns, then doing a song and dance act with Billy Lorraine as Burns and Lorraine. After meeting Miss Allen, Burns dissolved his partnership with Lorraine and teamed with Miss Allen.
Since he had written the act, he made himself the comedian. Miss Allen asked the questions, and he gave the funny answers. However, he admits today, she was the natural comedienne and at the first show everyone laughed at her questions and one of his answers. After the show, he switched parts and has been playing “straight” ever since.
After four years as a team, Burns and Allen signed a unique contract with RKO theatres. It was for six years straight. With this contract signed, they were married.
On one of their European engagements, they made their radio debut, appearing for fifteen weeks for the British Broadcasting Company [BBC].
During the last part of 1930, Burns and Allen made their film debut in short subjects for Paramount. When their RKO contract was completed on January 8th, Burns and Allen signed their film-stage agreement with Paramount on January 9, 1931.
The last nine weeks of their RKO contract, they played at the Palace Theatre in New York. Without missing a day, they then started four weeks at the Paramount, then moved to Brooklyn for two weeks and took one week of rest before playing the next week at the Capitol. This gave them a record of seventeen out of eighteen consecutive weeks in vaudeville on Broadway.
While at the Palace, Eddie Cantor, who was on the same bill, asked Miss Allen to do five minutes with him on his Chase and Sanborn radio hour. She did, and was so well liked that Columbia Broadcasting Company signed Burns and Allen as radio stars.