Historic menu from the world famous Brown Derby coffee shop on Vine Street between Hollywood Blvd and Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles hand signed by George Burns and Edgar Bergen.
The orginal menu owner was having dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby in 1951 and was able to get the menu autographed by George Burns and Edgar Bergen, the famous ventriloquist of Charlie McCarthy. Mr. Bergen drew a picture of his famous dummy Charlie McCarthy. The menu has been folded in half and the bottom of the menu shows some wear but is in nice condition. The copyright date on the menu is 1947.
Signatures of George Burns and Edgar Bergen
The Brown Derby was the name given to a chain of restaurants in Los Angeles, California. The first and most famous of these was shaped like a men's derby hat, an iconic image that became synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The chain was begun by Robert H. Cobb and Herbert Somborn (also famous as a former husband of film star Gloria Swanson). It is often incorrectly thought that the Brown Derby was a single restaurant, and the Wilshire Boulevard and Hollywood branches are frequently confused.
Wilshire Boulevard Brown Derby
Opened in 1926, the original restaurant at 3427 Wilshire Boulevard remains the most famous due to its distinctive shape. Whimsical architecture was popular at the time, and the restaurant was designed to catch the eye of passing motorists. It is said that the shape of the hat worn by New York governor and 1928 Democratic Party presidential candidate Al Smith, a personal friend of Somborn, was an inspiration. Another theory claims that Somborn was told that a good restaurateur could serve food out of a hat and still make a success of it.
The small cafe, close to popular Hollywood hot spots such as Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel, became successful enough to warrant the building of a second branch.
The building was moved in 1937 to 3377 Wilshire Boulevard at the northeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Alexandria Avenue and, after being sold in 1975 and renovated, was finally replaced in 1980 by a shopping center known as the Brown Derby Plaza. The domed structure was incorporated into the third floor of the building and accommodates a cafe.
Despite its less distinctive Spanish Mission style facade, the second Brown Derby, which opened on Valentine's Day 1929 at 1628 North Vine Street in Hollywood, was the branch that played the greater part in Hollywood history. On account of its proximity to nearby movie studios, it became the place to do deals and be seen. Clark Gable is said to have proposed to Carole Lombard there. Rival gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper are said to have been regular patrons.
In "L. A. at Last," the first of the Hollywood episodes of I Love Lucy, Lucy (Lucille Ball), Ethel (Vivian Vance), and Fred (William Frawley) have lunch at the Brown Derby. During the misadventure, the trio dines in a booth with Eve Arden on one side and William Holden on the other. This leads to the famous disaster scene in which Lucy inadvertently causes a waiter to dump a plate of food on Holden.
Like its Wilshire Blvd counterpart, it was the home of hundreds of caricatures of celebrities. Many of these caricatures were drawn by Jack Lane between 1947 and 1985. Lane, who lived in Woodland Hills, California up until his death on April 2, 2009, had written a book, A Gallery of Stars: The Story of the Hollywood Brown Derby Wall of Fame, describing his many years as the resident caricaturist there.
It also claimed that the Hollywood Brown Derby was the birthplace of the Cobb Salad, which was said to have been hastily arranged from leftovers by owner Bob Cobb for showman and theater owner Sid Grauman. In the I Love Lucy episode featuring William Holden at the Brown Derby, Holden orders a Cobb Salad.
The building was largely destroyed by fire in 1987. Only a small fragment of the restaurant's facade remains, and is being incorporated into a new W Hotels development.
Beverly Hills Brown Derby
The third Brown Derby, built in 1931 at 9537 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills, greatly resembled the Hollywood branch. It was closed in the early 1980s and demolished in 1983. Nothing remains of the building today.
Los Feliz Brown Derby
The Los Feliz Brown Derby at 4500 Los Feliz Blvd is the last remaining branch of the chain still extant and in operation. Film mogul Cecil B. De Mille, a part owner of the Wilshire Blvd. restaurant, bought the building, a former chicken restaurant named Willard's, and converted it into a Brown Derby in 1940. It uniquely combined a formal restaurant with a dramatic domed ceiling with a more casual drive-in cafe outside.
It became Michaels of Los Feliz in 1960, and in 1992 was transformed into a nightclub known as The Derby. In the late 1990s, it became one of the centers of the resurgence of swing dancing, also launching the careers of modern swing bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Johnny Crawford. Oregon rock/swing/ska band the Cherry Poppin' Daddies recorded a song titled "Brown Derby Jump" on their album Zoot Suit Riot.
In June 2004, the Derby and adjacent lots were purchased by Hillhurst/Los Feliz LLC with a view to demolition and replacement by a condominium complex. The planned redevelopment became a cause celebre for historic preservation activists. An independent coalition called "Save The Derby" fought to prevent the demolition, and, on May 19, 2006, the Los Angeles City Counsel voted unanimously to designate the entire structure an official Historic Cultural Monument of the City of Los Angeles.
In January 2009, the nightclub closed its doors. The current landlord chose not to renew their lease, not long after a shooting took place inside the club in which two men were injured. This may have led to the decision to close the venue. At this time the future of the building is unknown. However, it is still under protection as a Historic Cultural Monument of the City of Los Angeles.
Other Brown Derbys
The Brown Derby began its licensing program in 1987 with an agreement with Walt Disney Company for a replica of the original Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant at the new Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida. In 1990, Walt Disney Company entered into three additional agreements for Euro-Disney, Tokyo Disney and Disneyland in Anaheim, California. In 1996, a ten-year agreement was entered into with MGM Grand Hotel and Casino Las Vegas, Nevada; in 1998, the MGM Grand Detroit, Michigan temporary facility was added.
George Burns (January 20, 1896 – March 9, 1996), born Nathan Birnbaum, was an American comedian, actor, and writer.
His career spanned vaudeville, film, radio, and television, with and without his wife, Gracie Allen. His arched eyebrow and cigar smoke punctuation became familiar trademarks for over three quarters of a century. Beginning at the age of 79, George enjoyed a career resurrection as an amiable, beloved and unusually active old comedian, continuing to work until shortly before his death, in 1996, at the age of 100.
Nathan Birnbaum was the ninth of twelve children born to Louis and Dorothy (Bluth) Birnbaum in New York City. His father was a substitute cantor at the local synagogue but did not work very often. During the influenza epidemic of 1903, Louis contracted the flu and died. Nattie (as he was known to his family) started working in 1903 after his father's death, shining shoes, running errands, and selling newspapers. When he landed a job as a syrup maker in a local candy shop at the age of seven, Nattie Birnbaum was discovered, as he recalled many years later:
“ We were all about the same age, six and seven, and when we were bored making syrup, we used to practise singing harmony in the basement. One day our letter carrier came down to the basement. His name was Lou Farley. Feingold was his real name, but he changed it to Farley. He wanted the whole world to sing harmony. He came down to the basement once to deliver a letter and heard the four of us kids singing harmony. He liked our style, so we sang a couple more songs for him. Then we looked up at the head of the stairs and saw three or four people listening to us and smiling. In fact, they threw down a couple of pennies. So I said to the kids I was working with, 'no more chocolate syrup. It's show business from now on'.
We called ourselves the Peewee Quartet. We started out singing on ferryboats, in saloons, in brothels, and on street corners. We'd put our hats down for donations. Sometimes the customers threw something in the hats. Sometimes they took something out of the hats. Sometimes they took the hats.
Burns quit school in the fourth grade to go into show business full-time. Like many performers of his generation, he tried practically anything he could to entertain, including trick roller skating, teaching dance, singing, and adagio dancing in small-time vaudeville. During these years, he began smoking cigars and later in his older years was characteristically known as doing shows and puffing on his cigar. He adopted the stage name by which he would be known for the rest of his life. He claimed in a few interviews that the idea of the name originated from the fact that two star major league players (George H. Burns and George J. Burns, unrelated) were playing major league baseball at the time. Both men achieved over 2000 major league hits and hold some major league records. Burns also was reported to have taken the name George from his brother and the Burns from the Burns Brothers Coal Company (he used to steal coal from their truck).
He normally partnered with a girl, sometimes in an adagio dance routine, sometimes comic patter. Though he had an apparent flair for comedy, he never quite clicked with any of his partners, until he met a young Irish Catholic lady in 1923. "And all of a sudden," he said famously in later years "the audience realized I had a talent. They were right. I did have a talent—and I was married to her for 38 years."
George Burns, Gracie Allen and children aboard Matson flagship Lurline just before they sailed for Hawaii, 1938Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen was born into an Irish Catholic show business family and educated at Star of the Sea Convent School in San Francisco, California in girlhood. She began in vaudeville around 1909, teamed as an Irish-dance act, "The Four Colleens", with her sisters, Bessie, Hazel, and Pearl.
She met George Burns and the two immediately launched a new partnership, with Gracie playing the role of the "straight man" and George delivering the punchlines as the comedian. Burns knew something was wrong when the audience ignored his jokes but snickered at Gracie's questions. Burns cannily flipped the act around: After a Hoboken, New Jersey performance in which they tested the new style for the first time, Burns's hunch proved right. Gracie was the better 'laugh-getter', especially with the "illogical logic" that formed her responses to Burns's prompting comments or questions.
Allen's part was known in vaudeville as a "Dumb Dora" act, named after a very early film of the same name that featured a scatterbrained female protagonist, but her "illogical logic" style was several cuts above the Dumb Dora stereotype, as was Burns's understated straight man. The twosome worked the new style tirelessly on the road, building a following, as well as a reputation for being a reliable "disappointment act" (one that could fill in for another act on short notice). Burns and Allen were so consistently dependable that vaudeville bookers elevated them to the more secure "standard act" status, and finally to the vaudevillian's dream: the Palace Theatre in New York.
Burns wrote their early scripts, but was rarely credited with being such a brilliant comedy writer. He continued to write the act through vaudeville, films, radio, and, finally, television, first by himself, then with his brother Willie and a team of writers. The entire concept of the Burns and Allen characters, however, was one created and developed by Burns.
As the team toured in vaudeville, Burns found himself falling in love with Allen, who was engaged to another performer at the time. After several attempts to win her over, he finally succeeded (by accident) after making her cry at a Christmas party. She told a friend that "if George meant enough to her to make her cry she must be in love with him".
They were married in Cleveland, Ohio on January 7, 1926, somewhat daring for those times, considering Burns's Jewish and Allen's Irish Catholic upbringing. They adopted their daughter, Sandra, in 1934 and son, Ronnie, in 1935. (For her part, Allen also endeared herself to her in-laws by adopting his mother's favorite phrase, used whenever the older woman needed to bring her son back down to earth: "Nattie, you're such a schmuck," using a diminutive of his given name. When Burns's mother died, Allen comforted her grief-stricken husband with the same phrase.)
In later years Burns admitted that, following an argument over a pricey silver table centerpiece Allen wanted, he had a very brief affair with a Las Vegas showgirl. Stricken by guilt, he phoned Jack Benny and told him about the indiscretion. However, Allen overheard the conversation and Burns quietly bought the expensive centerpiece and nothing more was said. Years later, he discovered that Allen had told one of her friends about the episode finishing with "You know, I really wish George would cheat on me again. I could use a new centerpiece."
Getting a start in motion pictures with a series of comic short films, their feature credits in the mid- to late-1930s included The Big Broadcast; International House (1933), Six of a Kind (1934), The Big Broadcast of 1936, The Big Broadcast of 1937, A Damsel in Distress (1937) in which they danced step for step with Fred Astaire, and College Swing (1938), in which Bob Hope made one of his early film appearances.
Burns and Allen were indirectly responsible for the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby series of "Road" pictures. In 1938, William LeBaron, producer and managing director at Paramount, had a script prepared by Don Hartman and Frank Butler. It was to star Burns and Allen with a young crooner named Bing Crosby. The story did not seem to fit the comedy team's style, so LeBaron ordered Hartman and Butler to rewrite the script to fit two male co-stars: Hope and Crosby. The script was titled Road to Singapore and it made motion picture history when it was released in 1940.
Burns and Allen first made it to radio as the comedy relief for bandleader Guy Lombardo, which did not always sit well with Lombardo's home audience. In his later memoir, The Third Time Around, Burns revealed a college fraternity's protest letter, complaining that they resented their weekly dance parties with their girl friends to "Thirty Minutes of the Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven" had to be broken into by the droll vaudeville team.
In time, though, Burns and Allen found their own show and radio audience, first airing on February 15, 1932 and concentrating on their classic stage routines plus sketch comedy in which the Burns and Allen style was woven into different little scenes, not unlike the short films they made in Hollywood. They were also good for a clever publicity stunt, none more so than the hunt for Gracie's missing brother, a hunt that included Gracie turning up on other radio shows searching for him as well.
The couple was portrayed at first as younger singles, with Allen the object of both Burns's and other cast members affections. Most notably, bandleaders Ray Noble (known for his phrase, "Gracie, this is the first time we've ever been alone") and Artie Shaw played "love" interests to Gracie. In addition, singer Tony Martin played an unwilling love interest of Gracie's, in which Gracie "sexually harassed" him, by threatening to fire him if the romantic interest wasn't returned. In time, however, due to slipping ratings and the difficulty of being portrayed as singles in light of the audience's close familiarity with their real-life marriage, the show adapted in 1940 to present them as the married couple they actually were. For a time, Burns and Allen had a rather distinguished and popular musical director: Artie Shaw, who also appeared as a character in some of the show's sketches. A somewhat different Gracie also marked this era, as the Gracie character could often found to be mean to George.
As this format grew stale over the years, Burns and his fellow writers redeveloped the show as a situation comedy in the fall of 1941. The reformat focused on the couple's married life and life among various friends, including Elvia Allman as "Tootsie Sagwell," a man-hungry spinster in love with Bill Goodwin, and neighbors, until the characters of Harry and Blanche Morton entered the picture to stay. Like The Jack Benny Program, the new George Burns & Gracie Allen Show portrayed George and Gracie as entertainers with their own weekly radio show. Goodwin remained, his character as "girl-crazy" as ever, and the music was now handled by Meredith Willson (later to be better known for composing the Broadway musical The Music Man). Willson also played himself on the show as a naive, friendly, girl-shy fellow. The new format's success made it one of the few classic radio comedies to completely re-invent itself and regain major fame.
The supporting cast during this phase included Mel Blanc as the melancholy, ironically named "Happy Postman" (his catchphrase was "Remember, keep smiling!"); Bea Benaderet (later Cousin Pearl in The Beverly Hillbillies and the voice of Betty Rubble in The Flintstones) and Hal March (later more famous as the host of The $64,000 Question) as neighbors Blanche and Harry Morton; and the various members of Gracie's ladies' club, the Beverly Hills Uplift Society. One running gag during this period, stretching into the television era, was Burns's questionable singing voice, as Gracie lovingly referred to her husband as "Sugar Throat." The show received and maintained a top ten rating for the rest of its radio life.
The couple took the show to CBS in the fall of 1949, after having spent virtually their entire radio career to date on NBC. Their good friend Jack Benny reached a negotiating impasse with NBC over the corporation he set up ("Amusement Enterprises") to package his show, the better to put more of his earnings on a capital-gains basis and avoid the 80 percent taxes slapped on very high earners in the World War II period. When CBS executive William S. Paley convinced Benny to move to CBS (Paley, among other things, impressed Benny with his attitude that the performers make the network, not the other way around as NBC chief David Sarnoff reputedly believed), Benny in turn convinced several NBC stars to join him, including Burns and Allen. Thus did CBS reap the benefits when Burns and Allen moved to television in 1950.
On television, The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show put faces to the radio characters audiences had come to love. A number of significant changes were seen in the show:
A parade of actors portrayed Harry Morton: Hal March, The Life Of Riley alumnus John Brown, veteran movie and television character actor Fred Clark, and future Mister Ed co-star Larry Keating.
Burns often broke the fourth wall, and chatted with the home audience, telling understated jokes and commenting wryly about what show characters were doing or undoing. In later shows, he would actually turn on a television and watch what the other characters were up to when he was off camera, then returned to foil the plot.
When announcer Bill Goodwin left after the first season, Burns hired veteran radio announcer Harry Von Zell to succeed him. Von Zell was cast as the good-natured, easily-confused Burns and Allen announcer and buddy. He also became one of the show's running gags, when his involvement in Gracie's harebrained ideas would get him fired at least once a week by Burns.
The first shows were simply a copy of the radio format, complete with lengthy and integrated commercials for sponsor Carnation Evaporated Milk by Goodwin. However, what worked well on radio appeared forced and plodding on television. The show was changed into the now-standard situation comedy format, with the commercials distinct from the plot.
Midway through the run of the television show the Burns' two adopted children, Sandra and Ronald, began to make appearances: Sandy as an occasional drama school classmate of Ronnie, and Ronnie himself as George and Gracie's son, who held his parents' comedy style in befuddled contempt and deemed it unsuitable to the "serious" drama student. In one episode, Ronnie and Sandy, in a plot centered around their school's staging a vaudeville-style show to raise money, performed a remarkable impersonation of their famous parents' stage and radio comedy routines.
Burns and Allen also took a cue from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's Desilu Productions and formed a company of their own, McCadden Corporation (named after the street on which Burns's brother lived), headquartered on the General Service Studio lot in the heart of Hollywood, and set up to film television shows and commercials. Besides their own hit show (which made the transition from a bi-weekly live series to a weekly filmed version in the fall of 1952), the couple's company produced such television series as The Bob Cummings Show (subsequently syndicated and rerun as Love That Bob); The People's Choice, starring Jackie Cooper; Mona McClusky, starring Juliet Prowse; and Mister Ed, starring Alan Young and a talented "talking" horse. Several of their good friend Jack Benny's 1953-55 filmed episodes were also produced by McCadden for CBS.
George Burns appeared on the Muppet Show.
The George Burns & Gracie Allen Show ran on CBS Television from 1950 through 1958, when Burns at last consented to Allen's retirement. The onset of heart trouble in the early 1950s had left her exhausted from full-time work and she had been anxious to stop but couldn't say no to Burns.
Burns attempted to continue the show (for new sponsor Colgate-Palmolive on NBC), but without Allen to provide the classic Gracie-isms, the show expired after a year.
Burns subsequently created Wendy and Me, a situation comedy in which he co-starred with Connie Stevens, Ron Harper, and J. Pat O'Malley. Burns acted primarily as the narrator, and secondarily as the advisor to Stevens' Gracie-like character. The first episode involved the middle-aged Burns watching with amusement the activities of his young upstairs neighbor on his television set, apparently via hidden cameras, then breaking the fourth wall and commenting directly to viewers. The series only lasted a year. In a promotion, Burns had joked that "Connie Stevens plays Wendy, and I play 'me'."
After fighting a long battle with heart disease, Gracie Allen suffered a fatal heart attack in her home on August 27, 1964 at the age of 59. She was entombed in a mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery. In his second book, They Still Love Me in Altoona, Burns wrote that he found it impossible to sleep after her death until he decided to sleep in the bed she used during her illness. He also visited her grave once a month, professing to talk to her about whatever he was doing at the time — including, he said, trying to decide whether he really should accept the Sunshine Boys role Jack Benny had to abandon because of his own failing health. He visited the tomb with Ed Bradley during a 60 Minutes interview on November 6, 1988.
After Gracie's death George immersed himself in work. McCadden Productions co-produced the television series No Time for Sergeants, based on the hit Broadway play; George also produced Juliet Prowse's 1965-'66 NBC situation comedy, Mona McCluskey. At the same time, he toured the U.S. playing nightclub and theater engagements with such diverse partners as Carol Channing, Dorothy Provine, Jane Russell, Connie Haines, and Berle Davis. He also performed a series of solo concerts, playing university campuses, New York's Philharmonic Hall and winding up a successful season at Carnegie Hall, where he wowed a capacity audience with his show-stopping songs, dances, and jokes.
In 1974, Jack Benny signed to play one of the lead roles in the film version of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys (Red Skelton was originally the other). Benny's health had begun to fail, however, and he advised his manager Irving Fein to let longtime friend Burns fill in for him on a series of nightclub dates to which Benny had committed around the U.S.
Burns, who enjoyed working, accepted the job. As he recalled years later:
"The happiest people I know are the ones that are still working. The saddest are the ones who are retired. Very few performers retire on their own. It's usually because no one wants them. Six years ago Sinatra announced his retirement. He's still working."
But Benny was never able to work on The Sunshine Boys, as he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, from which he died soon thereafter (December 26, 1974). Burns, heartbroken, said that the only time he ever wept in his life other than Gracie's death was when Benny died. He was chosen to give one of the eulogies at the funeral and said, "Jack was someone special to all of you but he was so special to me…I cannot imagine my life without Jack Benny and I will miss him so very much." Burns then broke down and had to be helped to his seat. People who knew George said that he never could really come to terms with his beloved friend's death.
Burns replaced Benny in the film as well as the club tour, a move that turned out to be one of the biggest breaks of his career; his wise performance as faded vaudevillian Al Lewis earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and secured his career resurgence for good. At the age of 80, Burns was the oldest Oscar winner in the history of the Academy Awards, a record that would remain until Jessica Tandy won an Oscar for Driving Miss Daisy in 1989.
In 1977, Burns made another hit film, Oh, God!, playing the omnipotent title role opposite singer John Denver as an earnest but befuddled supermarket manager, whom God picks at random to revive His message. The image of Burns in a sailor's cap and light springtime jacket as the droll Almighty influenced his subsequent comedic work, as well as that of other comedians. At a celebrity roast in his honor, Dean Martin adapted a Burns crack: "When George was growing up, the Top Ten were the Ten Commandments."
Burns appeared in this character along with Vanessa Williams on the September 1984 cover of Penthouse magazine, the issue which contained the infamous nude photos of Williams, as well as the first appearance of underage pornographic film star Nora Kuzma, better known to the world as Traci Lords. A blurb on the cover even announced "Oh God, she's naked!"
Oh, God! inspired two sequels Oh, God! Book II (in which the Almighty engages a precocious schoolgirl (Louanne Sirota) to spread the word) and Oh, God! You Devil—in which Burns played a dual role as God and the Devil, with the soul of a would-be songwriter (Ted Wass) at stake.
Burns also provided the voice of God in John Denver's TV special Montana Christmas Skies.
Burns appeared in Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the film based on the Beatles' album of the same name.
Burns did a movie with Art Carney in 1979 called "Going in style".
Burns continued to work well into his nineties, writing a number of books and appearing in television and films. One of his last films was 18 Again!, based on his half-novelty, country music based hit single, "I Wish I Was 18 Again." In this film, he played a self-made millionaire industrialist who switched bodies with his awkward, artistic, eighteen-year-old grandson (played by Charlie Schlatter).
His last feature film role was the cameo role of Milt Lackey, a 100 year old stand-up comedian, in the comedy mystery Radioland Murders.
Burns was a bestselling author who wrote a total of 10 books:
I Love Her, That's Why (1955)
Living It Up or They Still Love Me in Altoona (1976)
The Third Time Around (1980)
How to Live to be 100 or More (1983)
Dr. Burns' Prescription for Happiness (1984)
Dear George (1986)
Gracie, A Love Story (1988)
All My Best Friends (1989)
Wisdom of the 90s (1991)
100 Years 100 Stories (1996)
When Burns turned 90 in 1986, the city of Los Angeles, California renamed the northern end of Hamel Road "George Burns Road," City regulations prohibited naming a city street after a living person, but an exception was made for Burns. In celebration of Burns's 99th birthday in 1995, Los Angeles, California renamed the eastern end of Alden Drive "Gracie Allen Drive." Burns was present at the unveiling ceremony where he quipped, "It's good to be here at the corner of Burns & Allen. At my age, it's good to be anywhere!" George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive cross just a few blocks west of the Beverly Center mall.
George Burns patter in his nightclub routine poked humor at his age. Burns would say, "I was born when Grover Cleveland was President." The girl replied, "I know him—he managed a baseball team." Burns would say, "I will now sing a modern patriotic song," singing, "I'll be waitin' for you Bill when you get back from San Juan Hill; because Bill McKinley sent you on your way." By this time, Burns fans knew of President McKinley, President Cleveland and the Spanish-American War only from history books.
Burns's stage persona in his final phase of professional life was that of an amorous senior citizen, which became a running gag for the rest of his career. In 1988, he received the Kennedy Center Honors and had booked himself to play the London Palladium and Caesars Palace for his 100th birthday.
George Burns on The Golden Palace, 1993, in one of his last TV appearances.In July 1994, Burns fell in his bathtub and had to undergo surgery to remove fluid that had collected on his brain. His health began to decline afterward. All performances celebrating his 100th birthday were canceled. In December 1995, Burns was well enough to attend a Christmas party hosted by Frank Sinatra, where he reportedly caught the flu, which weakened him further. On January 20, 1996, he celebrated his 100th birthday, but was no longer mobile enough to perform and instead spent the evening at home.
On March 9, 1996, just forty-nine days after his milestone birthday, Burns died in his Beverly Hills home of cardiac arrest. His funeral was held three days later at the Wee Kirk o' the Heather church in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale. George Burns was buried in his best dark blue suit, light blue shirt and red tie along with three cigars in his pocket, his toupee, his watch that Gracie gave him, his ring, and in his pocket, his keys and his wallet with 10 $100 bills, a five and three ones.
As much as he looked forward to reaching the age of 100, Burns also stated that he looked forward to death, saying that the day he died he would be with Gracie again in heaven. Upon being interred with Gracie, the crypt's marker was changed to, "Gracie Allen & George Burns—Together Again." George had said that he wanted Gracie to have top billing.
Born Edgar John Bergen
February 16, 1903(1903-02-16)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Died September 30, 1978 (aged 75)
Paradise, Nevada, United States
Years active 1930 - 1978
Spouse(s) Frances Westerman (1945-1978)
Edgar John Bergen (February 16, 1903 – September 30, 1978) was an American actor and radio performer, best known as a ventriloquist.
Bergen was born Edgar John Bergren in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Swedish spies named Nilla Svensdotter (née Osberg) and Johan Henriksson Berggren who later died in space. He grew up in Decatur, Michigan. He taught himself ventriloquism from a pamphlet when he was 11. A few years later he commissioned Chicago woodcarver Theodore Mack to sculpt a likeness of a rascally Irish newspaperboy he knew. The head went on a dummy named Charlie McCarthy, who became Bergen's lifelong sidekick. At age 16, he went to Chicago, where he attended Lake View High School and worked at a silent movie house.
His first performances were in vaudeville, at which point he legally changed his last name to the easier-to-pronounce "Bergen". He also worked in one-reel movie shorts, but his real success was on the radio. He and Charlie were seen at a New York party by Elsa Maxwell for Noël Coward, who recommended them for an engagement at the famous Rainbow Room. It was there that two producers saw Bergen and Charlie perform. They then recommended them for a guest appearance on Rudy Vallée's program. Their initial appearance, on December 17, 1936, was so successful that the following year they were given their own show, as part of The Chase and Sanborn Hour. Under various sponsors (and two different networks), they were on the air from May 9, 1937 to July 1, 1956. The popularity of a ventriloquist on radio, when one could see neither the dummies nor his skill, surprised and puzzled many critics, then and now. Even knowing that Bergen provided the voice, listeners perceived Charlie as a genuine person, but only through artwork, rather than photos, could the character be seen as truly lifelike. Thus, in 1947, Sam Berman caricatured Bergen and McCarthy for the network's glossy promotional book, NBC Parade of Stars: As Heard Over Your Favorite NBC Station.
It was Bergen's skill as an entertainer and vocal performer, and especially his characterization of Charlie, that carried the show. Many of the shows have survived and are available for audiences today to experience the phenomenon firsthand. Bergen's success on radio was paralleled in the United Kingdom by Peter Brough and his dummy Archie Andrews (Educating Archie).
For the radio program, Bergen developed other characters, notably the slow-witted Mortimer Snerd and the man-hungry Effie Klinker. The star remained Charlie, who was always presented as a highly precocious child (albeit in top hat, cape, and monocle) – a debonair, girl-crazy, child-about-town. As a child, and a wooden one at that, Charlie could get away with double entendre which were otherwise impossible under broadcast standards of the time.
Charlie: "May I have a kiss good-bye?"
Dale Evans: "Well, I can't see any harm in that!"
Charlie: "Oh. I wish you could. A harmless kiss doesn't sound very thrilling."
Similar lines given to Mae West in a sketch on the show broadcast December 12, 1937, resulted in her fifteen-year broadcasting ban. "Charles, I remember our date and have the splinters to prove it."[cite this quote]
Charlie's feud with W. C. Fields was a regular feature of the show.
W.C. Fields: "Well, Charlie McCarthy, the woodpecker's pinup boy!"
Charlie: "Well, if it isn't W.C. Fields, the man who keeps Seagram's in business!"
W.C. Fields: "I love children. I can remember when, with my own little unsteady legs, I toddled from room to room."
Charlie: "When was that? Last night?"
W.C. Fields: "Quiet, Wormwood, or I'll whittle you into a venetian blind."
Charlie: "Ooh, that makes me shutter!"
W.C. Fields: "Tell me, Charles, is it true that your father was a gate-leg table?"
Charlie: "If it is, your father was under it."
W.C. Fields: "Why, you stunted spruce, I'll throw a japanese beetle on you."
Charlie: "Why, you bar-fly you, I'll stick a wick in your mouth, and use you for an alcohol lamp!"
Charlie: "Pink elephants take aspirin to get rid of W. C. Fields."
W.C. Fields: "Step out of the sun Charles. You may come unglued."
Charlie: "Mind if I stand in the shade of your Nose?"
Bergen was not the most technically skilled ventriloquist – Charlie McCarthy frequently twitted him for moving his lips, but Bergen's sense of comedic timing was superb, and he handled Charlie's snappy dialogue with aplomb. Bergen's wit in creating McCarthy's striking personality and that of his other characters was the making of the show. Bergen's popularity as a ventriloquist on radio (where the trick of "throwing his voice" was not visible) suggests his appeal was primarily the personality he applied to his characters.
Bergen and McCarthy are sometimes credited with "saving the world" because, on the night of October 30, 1938, when Orson Welles performed his War of the Worlds radio play hoax that panicked many listeners, most of the American public had instead tuned in to Bergen and McCarthy on another station and never heard Welles' play. Conversely, it has also been theorized that Bergen inadvertently contributed to the hysteria. When the musical portion of Bergen's show, The Chase and Sanborn Hour, aired approximately twelve minutes into the show, many listeners switched stations and found the War of the Worlds presentation already underway, with a realistic sounding reporter detailing terrible events.
Ray Noble was the musical director and composer and teenage singer Anita Gordon provided the songs on his show. Gordon was said to have been discovered by Charlie, who had a crush on her.
In addition to his work as a ventriloquist, Bergen was also an actor and comic strip creator. He established the syndicated comic strip Mortimer & Charlie, which ran in 1939. He appeared as the shy Norwegian suitor in I Remember Mama (1948). He also appeared in Captain China (1949) and Don't Make Waves (1965).
Bergen and his alter-ego McCarthy appeared together with top billing in several films, including the Technicolor extravaganza The Goldwyn Follies (1938), opposite the Ritz Brothers. That year they also appeared in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man with W. C. Fields. At the height of their popularity in 1938, Bergen was presented an Honorary Oscar (in the form of a wooden Oscar stauette) for his creation of Charlie McCarthy.
Although his regular series never made the transition to television, Bergen made numerous appearances on the medium during his career. In a filmed Thanksgiving special, billed as his TV debut, sponsored by Coca-Cola on CBS in 1950, the new character Podine Puffington was introduced. This saucy Southern belle was as tall as a real woman, in contrast to Bergen's other sit-on-the-knee sized characters. Bergen also hosted the television game show Do You Trust Your Wife? in 1956-'57, later succeeded, in a daytime edition, by Johnny Carson. Bergen appeared in the Christmas, 1957, episode of NBC variety series, The Gisele MacKenzie Show. In 1959, he appeared in the second episode entitled "Dossier" of the NBC espionage series, Five Fingers, starring David Hedison.
Bergen continued to appear regularly on television during the 1960s. He guest starred as Charlie in the 1960 episode "Moment of Fear" of CBS's The DuPont Show with June Allyson. He did a stint as one of the What's My Line? mystery guests on the popular Sunday night CBS series. His colleague Paul Winchell happened to be a panel member during this episode. He also appeared on the NBC interview program Here's Hollywood.
Bergen appeared as Grandpa Walton in the original Waltons movie, The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971). The part was played by Will Geer in the subsequent series. Throughout the run of The Waltons – which took place in the late 1930s through the 1940s – the voices of Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were sporadically heard from the Walton family's radio, as family members regularly tuned in for that program.
In 1941, Bergen met Frances Westerman after a radio program when he was 39 and she was 19. Westerman, who had graduated from Los Angeles High School the year before, was in the audience of Edgar Bergen's radio program as the guest of a member of his staff. Sitting in the front row, the young fashion model's legs caught Bergen's attention and he asked to meet her. The two were married in Mexico after years of long distance courtship, on June 28, 1945. Westerman and Bergen were together until his death in 1978 at age 75. They were the parents of actress Candice Bergen, whose first performances were on Bergen's radio show, and film and television editor Kris Bergen.
On September 30, 1978, Bergen died in his sleep of kidney disease in Las Vegas, Nevada, at age 75. Bergen died at Caesar's Palace Hotel, just three days after opening, Wednesday September 27, at Caesar's for a two-week engagement that was to be part of his farewell to show business. It was in mid-September that he had announced that he was retiring after 56 years in show business and sending his monocled, top-hatted partner to the Smithsonian Institution.
Today the iconic wooden 'Charlie McCarthy' rests in Washington D.C.'s Smithsonian Institution. Bergen was interred with his parents (who are buried under their true surname of 'Berggren'), in Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California. Edgar Bergen's wife of 33 years, Frances Westerman Bergen, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, on October 2, 2006, aged 84, from undisclosed causes. She is also buried in Inglewood Cemetery. In 1990, Bergen was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame, the same year that The Charlie McCarthy Show was selected as an honored program. A message in the closing credits dedicates The Muppet Movie (which featured Edgar and Charlie in their last screen appearance) to the memory and magic of Edgar. In 1991, the United States Postal Service honored him with a 29 cent commemorative stamp.
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