GEORGE BURNS by Martin Gottfried


And the Hundred-Year Dash
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 A breezy trot through the life and career of a true show business legend. After writing biographies of artists who were far more likable on-stage than off (Nobody's Fool: The Lives of Danny Kaye, 1994, etc.), it must have been a pleasure for Gottfried to turn to the thoroughly lovable near-centenarian George Burns (this book will be published on his 100th birthday). However, in writing this first biography of the comedian, the author encountered a major obstacle that he has not entirely conquered. Burns himself has written several autobiographies and memoirs, and despite Gottfried's extensive research, there is little in the first two-thirds of this work that will come as a surprise to readers of those books. Here again is Burns's childhood poverty, his long period of failure in vaudeville, his professional and personal courting of Gracie Allen, the great success of the Burns and Allen team, his loving, laugh- filled friendship with Jack Benny, etc. It is in detailing the period following Gracie's retirement in 1958 that Gottfried comes into his own. Burns has written of this time as well, but Gottfried gives the story new perspective. We see Burns's fears of working solo and his failed attempts to recreate the old act with new partners (among them Ann-Margaret, whom he discovered), leading to the near-total collapse of his career entering the '70s (and his 70s). And then the miracle: Benny, nearing death, passes the lead in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys to Burns, who wins an Oscar and begins a second career at 80. Gottfried paints the artist's comeback years with compassion and insight. According to Gottfried, this last year has been a sad one, with ill health leading to cancellations of many 100th birthday tributes. This leaves 99 wonderful years of George Burns. It's not enough. The love Gottfried has for George Burns matches that of the reader, making this biography an occasion for laughter and misty eyes. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81483-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1995


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