The Great Old Radio Shows – The Burns and Allen Show – Success Finds George & Gracie
George and Gracie first inherited their old radio show in 1934. For two years they had made regular appearances on The Guy Lombardo Show, but when Lombardo moved from CBS to NBC, George and Gracie stayed and took over the show. The show was named The Adventures of Gracie Allen until September 30, 1936 when the show’s name was changed to The Burns and Allen Show.
The problem with a new radio show, as many vaudevillians discovered, was the constant need for new and fresh material. An act could exist for years in vaudeville with 60 minutes of material. On the radio the same audience would be back week after week.
George later summed it up nicely: “On one show we had done half our act; we still had half an act left and twenty years to fill.” The show was a hit. George explained why: “Women understood Gracie. Men thought they were married to her.
And everyone knew someone just like her.”
When it came to the radio, and later television, Gracie suffered stage fright. The first year they were on the air, Gracie refused to have a studio audience, even insisting the windows to the studio be blocked. When she finally did consent to allow an audience in, the stage crew installed footlights on the stage which brightened the stage and darkened the audience. The audience was requested not to laugh or applaud. They even gave Gracie an oversized microphone she could hide behind.
While Gracie was content to merely act, George was the creative force behind the scenes. His sense of rhythm was spot on and he simply knew what was funny and what was best for Gracie.
The show remained in New York City for the next five years.
In 1939, however, the movies were calling George and Gracie and they made the move to Hollywood.
Interestingly, for the first eight years of the show George and Gracie did not play a married couple. Instead, the show revolved around the romantic escapades of each of them individually. These flirtation routines had been the backbone of their vaudeville act.
When the show started slipping in the ratings, George knew they were doing something wrong. After giving it a great deal of thought, he decided that he and Gracie were too old to be playing young single people. After all, they had been married in real life since 1926 – some 16 years!
One night while laying in bed, he reportedly woke Gracie up and told her that he was changing the format of the show. He wanted them to play themselves, as a married couple. One night in 1942, George simply introduced the show by stating that he and Gracie had been married in real life for 16 years, they had two wonderful children, and from then on the show was going to be about them as a married couple.
By the way, I cannot find a copy of that episode, nor do I know the exact date – only that it happened before October, 1942. If you happen to have a copy of this old time radio episode, or have any additional information, please let me know.
Once the transition was made on the air, the ratings took off again, and George and Gracie’s old radio show became one of the favorites of all the old time radio shows. In fact it was popular for another decade until it moved to television.
Unlike other of the great old radio shows, Burns and Allen did not appear simultaneously on TV and Radio. Gracie did not want the commitment of doing both.
George would later reflect that the radio shows were the favorite part of his career. He said that “Radio was a place where performers who could do nothing but talk, could talk.”
If you would like to hear several selections of The Burns and Allen old radio show, you will find several of them on my blog.