Grace Ellen Rosalie Allen, better known as Gracie Allen, was an American comedienne who became internationally famous as the zany partner and comic foil of husband George Burns. For contributions to the television industry, Gracie Allen was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6672 Hollywood Boulevard.
Gracie Allen was born in San Francisco, California, to George Allen and Molly Darragh. She made her first appearance on stage at age three and was given her first chance On Air by Eddie Cantor. She was educated at the Star of the Sea Convent School and during that time became a talented dancer. She soon began performing Irish folk dances with her three sisters, who were billed as “The Four Colleens.” In 1909 Allen joined her sister, Bessie, as a vaudeville performer. At a performance in 1922 Allen met George Burns and the two formed a comedy act. The two were married on January 7, 1926 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Depending on the source, Gracie Allen might have been born on July 26 in 1895, 1896, 1902, or 1906. All public records held by the City and County of San Francisco were destroyed in the earthquake and great fire of April 1906. Her husband, George Burns, also professed not to know exactly how old she was, though it was presumably he who provided the date July 26, 1902, which appears on her death record. Her crypt marker also shows her year of birth as 1902. Allen used to claim that she was born in 1906 but, when pressed for evidence, she would say that her birth certificate had been destroyed in the earthquake. When the person she was telling pointed out that she was born in July but the earthquake was three months earlier in April, she would simply smile and say, “Well, it was an awfully big earthquake.” The most reliable information comes from the U.S. Census data collected on June 1, 1900. According to the information in the Census records for the State of California, City and County of San Francisco, enumeration district 38, family 217, page 11-A, one Grace Allen ? daughter of George and Maggie Allen, and youngest sister of Bessie, Hazel and Pearl Allen ? was born in California in July 1895. In the census taken on April 15, 1910, however, for San Francisco’s 39th Assembly District, Enumeration District 216, Page 5A, Grace Allen is listed as being 13. It should be further noted, however, that census enumerators received their information by word of mouth, often from third parties, and discrepancies between ages from one decade’s census to another are not uncommon in this time period.
The Burns and Allen act began with Allen as the straight man, setting up Burns to deliver the punchlines — and get the laughs. In his book Burns later explained that he noticed Allen’s straight lines were getting more laughs than his punchlines, so he cannily flipped the act over ?- he made himself the straight man and let her get the laughs. Audiences immediately fell in love with Allen’s character, who combined the traits of stupidity, zaniness, and total innocence. As is often the case with performers who play dumb, Gracie was, in reality, highly intelligent. The reformulated team, focusing on Allen, toured the country, eventually headlining in major vaudeville houses. Many of their famous routines, including “Lambchops” were preserved on early one- and two-reeler short films made while the couple was still performing on the stage. George Burns attributed all of the couple’s early success to Allen, modestly ignoring his own brilliance as a straight man. He summed up their act in a classic quip: “All I had to do was say, ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?’ and she talked for 38 years. And sometimes I didn’t even have to remember to say ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?'”