Grace Allen and George Burns are one of the most beloved couple in old time radio. They got started, like many of the greats of old-time radio, in vaudeville, which is really just the touring popular entertainment in America prior to movies. Gracie was the sparkplug of the act, always the center of attention. George played the foil, the guy vainly trying to make sense of the ditzy world of Gracie. By the early 30s, Gracie was probably the best-known woman on radio. Gracie often sang in a voice that showed she was also an excellent comedienne songstress.
By the early 1940’s, Burns decided that their act needed a change. He decided that the audience knew Gracie’s and his reactions well enough that it would be possible to play off them and create situations something like screwball comedy, but with the Burns and Allen touch.
Jack Benny and Burns and Allen worked much the same way with their comedy. Vaudeville’s snappy patter and give and take jokes, good even if the audience didn’t know you, could be developed into running gags and put-downs based on character. Burns was always astute when it came to comedy – he lead the brainstorming sessions that wrote the shows, and carefully edited his writers with the final word on what was cut and what stayed. Elvia Allman played Gracie’s friend Tootsie Sagwell and Gale Gordon and Hans Conried made frequent appearances.
Look who’s here, George Burns and Gracie Allen in 1942, George and Gracie became in their characters, the perfectly normal husband and wife that is, if Gracie’s non sequiturs and impulsive behavior could be considered perfectly normal.
For Gracie, of course, it was perfectly normal, and the American public continued their love affair with her. The shows had names after the sponsors, such as Maxwell House Coffee Time, or The Ammident Show – it was the Burns and Allen show to the public. Other fine radio actors were a part of the fun. Mel Blanc did the happy postman and was also famous for his zany characters on The Jack Benny Show, and his own Mel Blanc Show. Elliott Lewis, a veteran of many radio “bit” parts on the Burns and Allen shows of the 40s.
Burns and Allen went on to TV, as did many of the greatest radio stars that had worked in vaudeville – Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Red Skelton and others.