George Burns was a funny man, but even he knew that he lucked out when he met Gracie Allen. Actually, it was especially lucky, considering she was applying to be partner with a different comic, and only asked George because of a mix-up. Burns would often say he’d only found one truly funny thing in his career, but fortunately, he was married to her for thirty-eight years.
After being a hit as a Vaudeville act on stage, on film, and on the radio, Burns and Allen got a show on T.V. Not much was different for them, as the act was pretty simple. George was the straight man, Gracie (the character) was the dumbest woman who ever managed to stand upright and, on some occasions, she couldn’t even pull that off too well. Despite this, she ran for President as a marketing stunt in 1940… and got a lot more write-in votes than many of your grandparents will ever admit (close to 100,000). I guess even a woman who claimed that she was “so smart that her teacher was in her class 5 times in a row” isn’t completely unqualified for office. Then again, she also wrote “A platform is what politicians stand for and voters fall for,” so maybe she should have won. (Update: Wrote that in 2012. It now has become obvious that we wouldn’t consider her too unqualified to be president). But, she didn’t, so they gave her and her husband a show.
The show had an ensemble cast that was pretty typical of its time. The neighbors who were constantly trying to get in on the couple’s schemes and adventures, the people in the building and on the block who would constantly remark on the eccentricities of the couple. Not to say they weren’t excellent supporting roles, but the truth is that Burns and Allen had two things that set it apart, and those were… Burns and Allen. More specifically, it was that Burns was allowed to do whatever he felt like, as long as it was funny. George would routinely break the fourth wall for the sake of comedy, including, during a casting change, stopping the scene, saying bye to one actor, and bringing in another to take his place. Allen, of course, just tried to say whatever would make Burns laugh.
The “Columbia Pictures” episode features the best of both of these traits. The opening to the episode features Gracie being her typically illogically-logical dumb blonde. This episode always highlighted the key to Gracie’s character: She never takes anything within context. When she tells a writer “[she] and [her] siblings used to run through every room in the house,” the writer asks what their names were. She responds “parlor, kitchen, bedroom, and bath.” Since she ignores the context of the question, she assumes the “their” refers to the last possible plural noun… which is how the English language was designed to work, if we ignored contextual clues. Thus, illogically logical. The episode then switches to George telling the audience what he wants the studio to do with his “life’s story,” which mostly consists of his usual self-deprecating monologue. He tells the story of his life so far, which leads him to eventually point out that all of the women he’s ever pursued in his youth left him for Joe Bogio… which is why George plans on asking why they aren’t doing the Joe Bogio story. He eventually concludes that it’s because nobody likes a winner, so they’ll love him.
Ultimately, a misunderstanding causes Gracie to cancel the project, which, in true sitcom fashion, returns everything back to normal.
The episode is composed of timeless humor, and was the peak for a show that used to fight with I Love Lucy for ratings. While it never got as good as Lucy (Update: As this list shows), this episode demonstrates that Burns and Allen could still hold their own.
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