A few days ago was George Burns’ 118th birthday. He died at the age of 100.
He appeared in his only Broadway show, at the age of 21, at the New Amsterdam in “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” After a short run at the New Am, the show and its cast of 14 transferred to the Manhattan Opera House on 34th Street (was built by Oscar Hammerstein I before he built the Olympia at 45th St. and which still stands between Eighth and Ninth and is probably still owned by the Moonies who likewise own the Hotel New Yorker next door). The Hammerstein family made their fortune by having invented a method of rolling cigars and squandered their money by building opera House and theatres (Manhattan Opera House, Harlem Opera House, Olympia Theatre, Victoria Theatre where Reuters currently is located, the Hammerstein Opera House now called the Ed Sullivan Theatre). The Manhattan opera house proscenium is still there but most of the auditorium was trashed a long time ago. The ballroom within the opera house, now called the Hammerstein Ballroom, is still very active for recordings and concerts. The ballroom is not managed by the Moonies.
The synagogue in which George Burns worshipped as he grew up (with the name Nathan Birnbaum) stood until 2005 at 89 Rivington when it collapsed after a rainstorm. It was located ½ block from where Tata in Ragtime was selling shadow cutouts which Emma Goldman bought from him. Because of its high ceilings and acoustics the synagogue spawned many famous singers who were cantors there, including Jan Peerce and Richard Tucker. Burns’ father was a part time cantor there until he died in a flu epidemic when Burns was 7 and had to work at that age to support his family. Burns supported the family by being a Newsie, as well as a shoe shine boy and worker in a syrup factory. Red Buttons sang in the synagogue choir and Edward G. Robinson was bar-mitzvahed there.
Gracie Allen was one year older than George. They were married at the ages of 30 and 31 respectively. She died at the age of 69 and did not perform in a Broadway show.