Literally everything in this post is a direct quotation from the version of George Burns’ Wikipedia page which existed on Monday, October 14th, 2013, which is a work of singular beauty and charm and should be preserved in carbonite for all time, like George Burns himself.
1. George Burns was born Nathan Birnbaum on January 20, 1896 in New York City, the ninth of 12 children born to Louis “Lippe” and Dorah (née Bluth) Birnbaum, Jewish immigrants who had come to the United States from Romania.
2. His father was a substitute cantor at the local synagogue but usually worked as a coat presser.
3. When he landed a job as a syrup maker in a local candy shop at age seven, he was “discovered.”
4. “We were all about the same age, six and seven, and when we were bored making syrup, we used to practice singing harmony in the basement.” – George Burns
5. “So I said to the kids I was working with, ‘no more chocolate syrup. It’s show business from now on.'” – George Burns
6. Burns also was reported to have taken the name George from his brother Izzy (who hated his own name so he changed it to “George”), and the Burns from the Burns Brothers Coal Company (he used to steal coal from their truck).
7. His first wife was Hannah Siegel (stage name: Hermosa Jose), one of his dance partners. The marriage, never consummated, lasted 26 weeks and happened because her family would not let them go on tour unless they were married. They divorced at the end of the tour.
8. 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).
9. 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 one of his best friends, 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.”
10. Burns appeared [as God] 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 nude!”
11. Burns also provided the voice of God in John Denver’s TV special Montana Christmas Skies.
12. Burns was buried in his best dark blue suit, light blue shirt and red tie, along with three cigars in his coat pocket, his toupee, the wristwatch that Gracie had given him, and his wedding ring. In his pocket were his house keys and his wallet with $1,008 in cash (ten $100 bills, a five and three ones).
13. As much as he looked forward to reaching the age of 100, Burns also stated, about a year before he died, that he also looked forward to death, saying that on the day he would die, 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.
Nicole is an Editor of The Toast.