George Burns and the Hundred Year Dash

Martin Gottfried, Author
Martin Gottfried, Author Simon & Schuster $22.5 (327p) ISBN 978-0-684-81483-4
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Actor-comedian George Burns will be 100 in January, and this touching, breezy biography is peppered with indelible glimpses of an emotionally guarded man who turned his pain into oblique, self-effacing comedy. Born Nathan Birnbaum on New York's Lower East Side, the ninth of 12 children, to Orthodox Jewish parents who had migrated from eastern Europe, Burns quit school after fourth grade and by his mid-20s was a second-rate song-and-dance man. His transformation into vaudeville headliner, movie star and TV personality was galvanized by his collaboration with Gracie Allen, the Irish Catholic actress from San Francisco whom he married in 1926. Her death from a heart attack in 1964 traumatized Burns, but he reinvented himself, first as a solo comedian, then in a string of movie hits. Ex-New York Post drama critic Gottfried, biographer of Danny Kaye, interviewed Burns, his family, friends and colleagues. Here he candidly discusses the entertainer's infidelities, his sterility (he and Allen adopted two children) and his marriage in a star-studded biography stuffed with cameos of Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Groucho Marx, Dean Martin and Carol Channing, among others. (Jan.)
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