George Burns: Life with Gracie Allen (1936)

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Peace at any price, pleads Gracie Allen’s spouse

What a woman! What a world! What a headache! Moans husband of “dizzy” actress

“There is one thing worse than being alone — that is being alone with Gracie Allen,” wails her husband George Burns. But perhaps that statement should not be taken too literally, for they are happily married and have two children.

by George Burns

There is one thing worse than being alone — that is being alone with Gracie Allen. Fortunately, that has never happened to me for any long period — otherwise I would be completely demented, instead of merely frisking around the ragged edges of insanity. It might sound funny to you, but I actually envy a man when I hear him complain that he’s had a bad day. He is implying that some of his days are good — but with Gracie, my days are all the same. All the same, yet hardly what you would call monotonous.

Just let me take you through a day with Gracie and you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, breakfast is always thrilling, and it certainly starts the day with a bang. For instance, let’s say that I couldn’t find my shaving brush in the bathroom. Why worry? It turns up in my omelette. I ask for sugar in my coffee, but Gracie says that I have had enough sugar for the day. She put three lumps in my bath water. Then we discuss the news something like this: “George, why do they print ‘Monday, July 6th, 1936’ on this paper?”

I explain that it’s because this happens to be Monday, July 6th, 1936, and Gracie counters with “Well, wouldn’t you think they could find something a little newsier than that for the front page?”

I used to think that getting away from home and going down to the office would bring a brief respite from Gracie’s whims, but that’s just like trying to get rid of fleas by trading dogs. You end up with the same fleas but a different dog. And, while Gracie is very seldom present at the office, her presence is always deeply felt.

Every mail, in addition to fan letters, brings inquiries from the poor, puzzled people who have come in contact with Gracie the say before. An ice company wants me to verify her order for two thousand pounds of ice cakes to be dumped into our swimming pool every day at noon — a pet store writes that they are very sorry but they cannot send the six dozen feathered goldfish she wanted as there are no feathered goldfish and they told her so at the time. A liquor store drops a reminder that they are still holding the five gallons of “bulk” gin she paid for and said that she would send her daddy down to act as a container for. The only hitch there, is that the police are still holding her daddy as a “filler” for a cell in the jail.

After handling Gracie’s “Business Correspondence” with maybe a few hand-to-hand encounters with some of her tradesmen, lunch time can’t come too soon for me. It might be a breathing spell for me, but it seldom is. I usually run into Gracie. As I approach the entrance to the Brown Derby restaurant, I note that the crowd of juvenile autograph seekers lingering at the portals, suddenly comes to life. Cries of recognition greet me, but my thrill at this evidence of popularity vanishes when I learn that Gracie has paved the way for me with promises that I will do a song and dance number for them — or show them card tricks. Once day, in a moment of generosity, she told the kids that I would pass out five dollar bills to them.

With luncheon out of the way and Gracie maneuvered out of the Brown Derby, I have nothing left to worry about except an appointment to go shopping with her. Gracie has told me very emphatically that I am to meet her at a certain shop on Wilshire at 3 o’clock. Making due allowances for her mental processes, I figure it out that she doesn’t mean a shop on Wilshire at 8 o’clock; she means a shop on Sunset at 4 o’clock. So I go to a shop on Hollywood Boulevard at 5 o’clock — and there she is waiting for me!

Once you get Gracie into a store, you have very little trouble with her. She loves to shop and is very cool-headed about her bargaining, except that she always gets a little rattled if the shop girls recognize her — and the shop girls always recognize her. Now the only difference between the “rattled Gracie Allen” and the “normal Gracie Allen” is that the normal Gracie Allen is nuts — and the rattle Gracie Allen is nuts plus ten percent! So nothing can happen — and it does.

To hide her embarrassment, Gracie immediately marches over to a counter where they’re selling silk hosiery, let’s say. After looking the hosiery over and asking the dazzled salesgirl the price, she tells the girl she wants some red flannel slippers and a blue bathing cap. Of course, the salesgirl knows Gracie is nuts, so to show she’s all right, she wraps up three different sized stockings, writes out a sales slip for a set of military hair brushes, charges her for a two-pants suit and then directs her to the Exchange Desk where she can trade the socks for a waffle iron.

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>> The Burns & Allen story (1936)

After reading “The Children’s Hour,” it’s easy to see that Henry W Longfellow didn’t have any Gracie Allen mixed up with his children. The “hour” that I spend each day with our little daughter Sandra and our little boy Ronnie, is so skillfully balled up by Gracie that even Mr Longfellow would have found it an inspiration for headaches and “DTs” and not poetry. Now I don’t blame Sandra and Ronnie. They’re still too young to realize that their mother is a bit dizzy.

Nearly every evening Gracie has some hilarious new game for the kiddies and even though the game is never chess, I am just a pawn. For instance, let’s say it’s going to be Blind Man’s Bluff… at least, Gracie’s interpretation of it. First she blindfolds my eyes and then, before turning me loose to grope for the kiddies, she turns me around eight hundred times just to make it more exciting. Of course, it’s very hard for me to find the kids because while I stumble and fall over furniture, Gracie hustles the kids off to bed.

I’ll never forget one night when I kissed little Ronnie good-night after he’d been tucked in his crib. I couldn’t help noticing a very worried look on Ronnie’s face and as I started to leave the nursery, he whimpered a little and then burst out with a terrifying “QUACK QUACK QUACK!” I rushed back to his bedside and he seemed calm and quiet again… but as I again started to leave, he resumed the loud, frantic quacking. As he now seemed to be in some sort of violent convulsions, I threw off the bedclothes and discovered that Gracie had stuffed a live duck under the covers with him. Now you may think that was silly of her, but Gracie had a reason. Those contraptions with which small children are fastened into bed are called “Snuggle-duckies,” so Gracie very logically reasoned that Ronnie’s Snuggle-duckie wouldn’t work unless he had a ducky to snuggle.

Usually after Sandra and Ronnie are in bed, their troubles with Gracie are over, but mine aren’t. That’s when Gracie begins to plan out their futures. If they really turn out the way Gracie often plans, we might as well start embroidering straight jackets for them right now. For instance, she spends hours babbling to me about whether Ronnie will make a better burglar or a business man when he grows up. Gracie would really prefer having Ronnie a business man but she says she doesn’t want her family to think he’s a failure. I don’t know what she has in mind for Sandra, but so far it looks as though Sandy will grow up to be a ventriloquist’s dummy. Anyone would, under the circumstances. Gracie holds Sandra on her lap and asks her questions by the hour and answers them all before Sandra has a chance to say anything. One day Sandra beat her to the punch and gave the right answer to a question and poor Gracie has been worried about it ever since.

Gracie never tires of teaching the kids how to do things. One night she got them out of bed at 11:30 to instruct them in moonlight fishing. I found them out by the swimming pool and Gracie was patiently showing them how to fasten a slab of toast covered with melted cheese on the fish hook. When I asked her where she got that idea that Welsh rarebit was good bait, she said, “George, what else would fish eat at this time of night? They’ve probably just returned from theaters and concerts so they don’t want a heavy meal.”

And so it goes! Day after day and headache after headache!

After a much less harrowing day than mine, the average man goes home expecting a little peace and quiet. I just go home. Usually, if there is time before dinner and if Gracie hasn’t given my swimming trunks to some sweet old lady who looked lonely, I go for a swim — if Gracie hasn’t had the pool drained and filled with sawdust so her brother will feel more at home lying around in it.

Dinner is a matter of course. Whether we have dinner at home or are invited out, by dinner time nothing tastes good to me but aspirin. If all the aspirin tablets I’ve taken since I’ve known Gracie were laid end to end, I’d still have to take them — and I’d still have a headache. I wish you could spend an evening at home with us. A quiet evening at home for me, is just like a quiet afternoon in a boiler factory — only longer.

Now I’m not saying it’s Gracie’s fault. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say the days would be nicer without Gracie around — but I’d like awfully well to try a few days with Gracie, without me around! One day of peace and quiet is all I ask — I’d give a lot for it! In fact, I’d give my right arm for it — and I’d be glad to go along with the arm just for the ride.

How did Burns & Allen get their start? Find out here!


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