DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.
DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Intelligence in Irrationality:

Gracie Allen, George Burns, and Secretly-Political Comedy

 

From 1936 to 1950, comedy duo George Burns and Gracie Allen entertained thousands of Americans with their weekly radio program. The show delivered laughs through the Great Depression, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and World War II. Although the content of the show often seemed to simply be comical and silly, George and Gracie presented much more than just laughs. Throughout their fourteen years in radio, George and Gracie confronted serious social and political problems, simultaneously providing intelligent criticism and a much-needed laugh in the face of pressing and confusing political issues.

 

Nearly all of the cultural work of the show was done not by comedian and writer George Burns, but the charmingly dim-witted character he wrote for his wife, Gracie Allen. When the couple began working in vaudeville, George made Gracie the “straight man,” the sensible character that sets up the other, often nonsensical character for their punch lines. But George quickly noticed that Gracie was getting more laughs with her straight lines, and he promptly switched roles.[1] Gracie became famous for her somewhat-stereotypical “Dumb Dora” role opposite George’ no-nonsense straight man. Gracie’s character was illogical, silly, and even unintelligent. But Gracie gained a national following by being more than just an old vaudevillian stereotype; her character was still charming, lovable, and, somehow, capable of outsmarting all the sensible men on the program, especially George. Although it was formally The Burns and Allen Program, Gracie really stole the show by creating a character capable of wit and intelligence in the least logical and most unexpected circumstances.

 

This unique character allowed Gracie to be more than just a source of entertainment, but indeed a vehicle to confront pressing social and political issues of the day. It seems that only Gracie could so effectively do the cultural work that she did because of the uniqueness of her character. Her femininity allowed her to be respected but not highly regarded intellectually. The most important part of her femininity, and in a sense the stupidity of her character, was her high voice, which George remembered as “an unusual voice for a little girl... actually, an unusual voice for a living person.”[2] George makes another important point about what distinguished Gracie compared to countless other comediennes: “sincerity.”[3] She was not telling jokes and begging the audience for laughter, but honestly answering questions that George asked her. This honesty made Gracie unique, likable, and trustable. A simple, sincere woman with a squeaky high voice was not the type of character that Americans expected to make serious political critiques, which is why the program was able to be as sneakily political as it was.

 

Ultimately, Gracie confronted three specific issues on the program, in overlapping story arcs. The first arc occurred on the eve of America’s entry into the Second World War, when the nation was still struggling economically and Americans felt vulnerable in the face of an unsure future. Gracie lifted spirits by running for President in 1940, a seemingly comical campaign that actually resulted in intelligent critiques of American politics. Soon after Gracie rescinded her nomination, America entered World War II and George and Gracie shifted to wartime broadcasting. Working closely with the Office of War Information, the duo worked to promote and defend governmental regulations on civilian life. These two story arcs combine with seemingly non-political episodes to address the third, most important issue: gender. Gracie’s unique character, simple but outsmarting, and how the character relates to various men on the show topple traditional gender stereotypes of the time period. The relationship between George and Gracie is also a unique one, with Gracie taking control but still playing the stereotypical part of a loving and supporting wife. Gracie’s character somehow accomplishes a sort of twisted female empowerment in nearly every episode, stealing the show and leaving all the boys (and the audience) wanting more.

 

Gracie’s first serious cultural work occurred with her 1940 presidential run, a publicity stunt that actually turned into an intelligent political critique. The year was a particularly difficult one. America was still staggering through the Great Depression and entry into World War II was imminent. Additionally, Americans were unsure of what to think about any of the presidential nominees. Could Franklin Roosevelt run for an unprecedented third term? Would his Vice President John Nance Garner challenge him? Would Republican Thomas E. Dewey gain nomination, or would Robert A. Taft steal it from him? And who on Earth was Wendell Willkie?[4] All these questions and more were looming in Americans’ minds, and a comic outlet supplying laughs was much appreciated. So Gracie threw her hat in the ring, and what started out as a joke turned into a nationwide train tour, a book written by Gracie entitled How to Become President, and an invitation from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to be a guest of honor at the annual convention of the National Woman’s Press Club in Washington, D.C.[5] The popularity was unexpected, but the seriousness with which her campaign was held was indeed unprecedented.

 

Gracie’s run for President quickly turned from a silly joke into a serious statement with all the makings of a real campaign. When George’s character first hears about the campaign on the program, he begins asking Gracie about the specifics of her presidential run, assuming she does not know what she is talking about. But her answers reveal that she has all the makings of an actual, though comical, presidential candidate. Gracie knew she needed a political party if she wanted to take the campaign anywhere, and thus created her own party – the Surprise Party. With a party affiliation, she moved onto personal promotion. Gracie actually toured the nation giving her nonsensical campaign speeches and made guest appearances on several radio programs asking other famous characters for their votes. She even had a party mascot, a real live kangaroo and corresponding slogan, “it’s in the bag!”[6] But the most important part of personal promotion of the time, for serious presidential candidates as well as Gracie, was a campaign song. Gracie’s song is a showstopper; “Vote for Gracie,” which was performed weekly by the program’s band, is a catchy tune that pleads for votes while poking fun at other nominees. “Even big politicians don’t know what to do,” the song went, “Gracie doesn’t know either, but neither do you!”[7] And Gracie added one final addition to make her campaign completely authentic: the promise of political appointments to all of her friends and fellow cast members. From Postmaster General to Secretary of the Navy, The Burns and Allen Program eventually featured several soon-to-be political dignitaries. Clearly, Gracie’s run was not purely a passing joke, but comparable to an actual campaign for President. Surprisingly, Gracie was nearly as influential as her more serious political opponents.

 

 [Listen to Gracie's campaign song below]

 

 

 

Of course, most of Gracie’s responses to serious questions were purely nonsensical. When asked about her feelings on the Neutrality Bill, Gracie responded, “If we owe it, let’s pay it!” Her response to a question about the national debt was simply “let’s be proud of it! It’s the biggest in the world!”[8] But just the fact that Gracie was even confronted with such serious political questions, questions one would expect to ask an intelligent nominee, is relevant. Her responses, though clearly meant to be comical, were not altogether unbelievable. She fit the role of campaigning politician well, indeed, “politics was perfect for Gracie’s particular brand of logical illogic.”[9] Shockingly, some of these illogical responses turned out to be completely correct. When asked about prosperity, Gracie defined it as “when business is good enough so that you can buy the things on credit that you can’t afford anyway and that’s where you can save enough money to pay cash for new things after they’ve taken back the things you’ve got on credit.”[10] Somehow, her ridiculous responses made perfect sense, and illuminated the absurdity of American politics and the American way of life in general.

 

Gracie commented on what many Americans already believed about politicians – that they did not always mean exactly what they said. Gracie’s clearest acknowledgement of this was in her campaign speech in Dallas, which she opened with, “All promises in this speech are fictitious.”[11] When discussing a particularly revealing evening dress, Gracie proclaimed, “I’m not like the other candidates, I believe in coming right out in the open.”[12] And when George criticizes her for incorrect answers to serious questions, Gracie quickly responds “I’d rather be President than right.”[13] Though obviously jokes, Gracie was still making relevant critiques of American political culture. These blatant attacks on traditional political rhetoric and its inherent nonsense, as previously featured in her campaign song, were often what earned Gracie the biggest laughs. Americans understood Gracie’s critique all too well and applauded her for publicizing their private worries.

 

In true political form, Gracie garnered respect by skipping around tough questions and staying relatively moderate. She did this by making fun of both parties. When a visitor comes to the studio and proclaims that he is “Doctor Schmeerbacher, psychiatrist,” Gracie responds, “is that anything like a Republican?” After a long laugh from the audience, the doctor responds with “I know nothing about politics,” to which Gracie retorts, “oh, a Democrat!”[14] The confusion about how to define the Republican party was prevalent in the race for nomination, with New York governor Thomas E. Dewey, Ohio isolationist Robert A. Taft, Old Deal Michigan Senator Arthur Vandenburg, and dark horse Wendell Willkie all disagreeing on virtually every issue but vying for the same Republican party nomination.[15] On the other hand, Democrat Roosevelt had already been in office for eight years, and many Americans with little political prowess could simply align themselves with an already successful President even if they knew “nothing about politics.” No one was safe from Gracie’s critique, and thus all sides of the argument could relate to her social commentary in some sense.

 

The biggest critic of the campaign, and ultimately the one Gracie made fun of most, was George’s character on the show. He is the first to seriously question the campaign, while all other cast members are enjoying their new political appointments and asking Gracie about her campaign plans. George’s character always serves as the voice of common sense in the studio, where Gracie’s wacky ways are too easily accepted by fellow cast members. George asks Gracie political questions and groans at her hilariously absurd responses to serious questions. But when he asks Gracie about the Fourteenth Amendment, she responds by reciting the amendment in its entirety, to George’s surprise.[16] George quickly re-evaluates his position and eventually becomes a supporter of Gracie, even proclaiming himself campaign manager. When a mysterious stranger suggests that the only thing holding back Gracie’s presidential run is George, the cast takes the advice and attempts to keep George from joining the next campaign trip, ultimately ending with George in the hospital.[17] Even George, the straight man meant to question Gracie’s ways, quickly aligns himself with the ridiculous campaign so much so that Gracie and the rest of the gang must forcibly remove him. Clearly, Gracie does not need George’s common sense to prevail; in fact, George is reportedly the only problem with the entire campaign.

 

Newspapers responded just as George did: initial shock followed by serious interest. In a 1940 interview with Gracie in the Daily Boston Globe, a reporter commented that the campaign announced February 14 “has turned out to be not as much of a comic Valentine as it was intended. The publicity gag has struck the funnybone of the nation to such an extent that it has run away from its originators.” Although the reporter finds Gracie’s answers hilarious, she also comments that Gracie “didn’t altogether fit that dumb voice of hers.” [18] Americans were smart enough to know that Gracie’s comments were not meant to be taken seriously, and could understand the intellect behind her seemingly illogical responses. Her comments epitomize the genius that made the show hilarious; completely ridiculous responses can somehow make perfect sense, especially in politics.

 

All documentation of Gracie’s campaign ends around May of 1940. The audio is no longer available, but Gracie allegedly stopped the campaign to “step back” and let serious campaigning continue. Although she did not win the election, the amount of support she received is astonishing. Gracie’s unlikely campaign “came along at just the right time to distract listeners from the increasingly dismal state of the real world,” and thus was backed by thousands.[19] Harvard University students gave Gracie their endorsement over alumni and incumbent President Franklin Roosevelt. The Minnesota town of Menominee elected Gracie to be their mayor. Hundreds of thousands of Surprise Party supporters cheered Gracie on as she toured America by train.[20] Although this could all easily be taken as a joke, she did garner some serious political support, as “election wardens around the country began to notice her name turning up on primary election ballots, including a grand total of sixty-three votes in Wisconsin.”[21] As for Election Day, Gracie “was given several thousand legitimate write-in votes by citizens who preferred her to either Willkie or Roosevelt.”[22] To at least some Americans, Gracie’s run was more than just a joke, but a preferable alternative to more serious, and perhaps less trustable candidates.

 

Just a year after the 1940 re-election of Franklin Roosevelt, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and America prepared itself for war. Entry into World War II changed all aspects of American life, including popular culture. The government became a propaganda machine, and radio was its most useful mechanism for relaying important messages to the American public. Roosevelt continued his fireside chats throughout the war to update citizens on war happenings, advertisements for purchasing war bonds filled the airwaves, and radio programs that had already been broadcasting for years joined the war effort. The Radio Division of the Office of War Information, headed by former vice president of CBS William B. Lewis, worked to reformulate popular radio programs into effective war propaganda. To the radio industry’s relief, Lewis knew how to do this without causing trouble. Radio was valuable “only because of the enormous audiences it has created,” Lewis argued, and thus disrupting the format and schedule, which would diminish the size of the audience, was useless. Radio programs would have to seamlessly include the propaganda that the Office of War Information insisted on; ultimately, “radio propaganda must be painless.” The radio war effort was the result of “intricate government-business cooperation that characterized America’s privatized war effort.”[23] Radio programs were put on a rotating schedule of propaganda. Weekly shows like The Burns and Allen Program were to include a war message on every fourth show. Once a month, George and Gracie became cogs in the political machine working towards public cooperation and American victory in World War II.

 

Radio comedies like George and Gracie “went to war” by confronting issues that many Americans were griping or wondering about – war bonds, car pooling, rationing, the USO, and even the need for nurses – and ultimately explaining why they were important and reinforcing the initial message of the government. Often, one character would complain about the sacrifices the government was asking of them, but they eventually learned their lesson after realizing how important their actions were and how miniscule their sacrifice was in comparison to the soldiers’ war efforts. George and Gracie were no exception, and Office of War Information documents show the propaganda schedule including The Burns and Allen Program.[24] Unfortunately, few wartime Burns and Allen episodes have survived. Two specific, surviving episodes prove that political issues did indeed become an important part of the show and that the radio stars were effective in persuading the American people to act a certain way. A 1941 episode, pre-dating American entry into World War II and official propaganda enforcements from the Office of War Information, addresses the high cost of living. The fact that these important issues were present on the program before their inclusion was enforced implies not only that the shift to war propaganda programming could be seamless, but that the show was already political and not just a big joke. The second relevant episode occurred in January of 1946, shortly after the war ended, and addressed taking in Veteran GIs that had nowhere to go. While it is unclear whether or not this message was enforced by the Office of War Information or simply written in by the writers, it still symbolizes the political nature of The Burns and Allen Program and how easily propaganda fit into the already politically conscious program.

 

The 1941 episode addressing the high cost of living puts a comical spin on a problem that had been plaguing Americans for years. The episode begins with Gracie bragging about fighting the high cost of living by avoiding paying for groceries – and purchasing them instead on credit or with a check. George criticizes Gracie for “using the high cost of living as an excuse” for paying too much for things, and vows to do the grocery shopping and pay less than Gracie had been paying. George finds the task more difficult than he first expected. The sirloin steak George requested is so expensive that the grocer asks if he is a veteran because he “thought [George] could finance it on a GI loan.” George decided to go without meat, and tells Gracie that “the only way to bring prices down is to refuse to pay what they ask of things.” But George quickly finds that his attempt is futile, and he simply needs to purchase food. Hilarity ensues as the price of his groceries rise in the few minutes that George is in the store. Gracie takes George to the movie theater to “get his mind off of the high cost of living – at least temporarily.” Gracie decides that she wants to make life easier by writing a play, but in a search for financial backing, she lies and says the money will be used to cure her “mentally unstable” husband. Of course, nothing works out right and the episode ends with lots of laughs in the face of a difficult problem.[25]

 

["George Lands a Movie Role" can be heard below]

 

 

 

Because this episode was not a collaboration with the Office of War Information, it does not give a clear answer to the problem or persuade Americans to act a certain way. However, the show still provides a worthwhile social commentary on the high cost of living. George serves as the relatable character, with whom Americans could easily identify. He is frustrated by the high price of living and tries to find ways out of it, like refusing to pay prices he considers to be too high. But in the end, there really is no way to avoid the problem; he ends up simply limiting the total amount he buys – a half pound of butter instead of a pound – and making similar conscious decisions to limit consumption to only what is necessary.  Although Gracie’s behavior usually frustrates him, she entices him to escape from reality for a time in the form of a movie, just as the show itself served as an escape to thousands of Americans that turned in weekly to avoid their own personal problems. The message was ultimately for Americans to relax, have a laugh when they can, and simply try their best to cut expenses during a tough time. Americans could also feel as though they were not alone facing these issues; even beloved stars George and Gracie were having difficulty dealing with high prices. By providing laughs and relating to similar issues, The Burns and Allen Program could address and attempt to reduce relevant American anxieties.

 

In contrast to the 1941 episode, the 1946 episode is truly in the style of traditional radio wartime propaganda. George explains that “Los Angeles is filled with returned servicemen looking for a place to stay,” and that the couple should fix up their den for a deserving soldier instead of Gracie’s mother (who happens to hate George). Gracie’s character is unaware that this is a problem, but George directs her attention to personal ads in the newspaper featuring countless discharged soldiers looking for places to stay. When talking to other cast members that have sacrificed some of their living space to returning soldiers, Gracie intelligently responds with “you owe him something, while he was over there fighting and risking his life, you were home with your wife where it was safe.” Gracie becomes obsessed with giving all she can, determined to house a soldier’s whole family, which would affectively kick George out of the house. George serves as the voice of reason and tells Gracie that it simply will not work, and they continue their search for the ideal roomer. But George’s reasoning is, surprisingly, completely selfless; he is not worried that Gracie’s suggestion would force him to move out, but instead that serviceman and his family would be uncomfortable because the house is not big enough. The search obviously becomes a comedy of errors, but the end of the episode features a touching personal addition from George and Gracie. George begins, “although we had some fun today talking about the housing shortage, it really is a serious thing.” Gracie responds with a personal plea, saying “if anyone listening has a spare room or two that might accommodate a serviceman and his family, it couldn’t be put to a better use.”[26] Although the distinction between actor and character is particularly difficult when discussing George and Gracie, this plea seems to be straight from the actual actors, forcing the audience to give the suggestion much more serious consideration than when the characters simply hint at the problem during the show.

 

["Taking in a Veteran" can be heard below]

 

 

 

This episode exemplifies a particular type of wartime broadcasting propaganda – “familiarizing” Americans with problems and “reinforcing” the importance of suggested sacrifices.[27] The issue presented is especially important because it was specific issue after the war effort, when most Americans assumed they would no longer be expected to sacrifice anything. Thankfully, the introduction of an unexpected sacrifice is welcomed wholeheartedly in the Burns household; in fact, Gracie is dedicated to giving literally everything that she can to the returning soldier, even if it means relocating her own husband. George is still the voice of reason, introducing Gracie to the problem and also suggesting that she think about her sacrifice more realistically. But again, all concern is about the servicemen and how much they sacrificed for the country; the sacrifice of George and Gracie is not even mentioned. The message is clear that taking in a returning serviceman is the right thing to do, and not a major sacrifice in comparison to what these soldiers did for the country. George and Gracie both accept this wholeheartedly without any deliberation, as the Office of War Information surely hoped most Americans would as well.

 

The combination of a 1940 political run and the seamless addition of wartime propaganda are clear indicators that The Burns and Allen Program was not all jokes, but worthwhile entertainment that engaged the unique political context of the era. Such political episodes as well as the design of the show itself serve as evidence of the show confronting the third and final serious issue: gender politics. Gracie’s character, though seemingly a dense, helpless woman, actually dominated the show and became an exemplar for feminine empowerment. George, on the other hand, has his masculinity questioned, just as many American men did when they could not provide for their families during the Great Depression. However, the unique relationship between George and Gracie is both one of stereotypical male and female characters and simultaneously one of noticeably inverted power dynamics.

 

Again, the genius of the show is in Gracie’s character. Her intelligence is masked by her seemingly illogical comments, and thus intellectual social commentaries are easily slipped into dialogue and ignored. Although this understanding may seem like it is only clear in hindsight, magazine and newspaper articles of the era seem to be acutely aware of Gracie’s sly smarts. A 1940 Time article chronicling Gracie’s presidential run proclaims that “Gracie Allen’s dippiness is a stage prop that accounts for most of George & Gracie's reported $9,000-a-week radio salary. Off-mike, she is not always so dippy. As a guest on ‘Information Please’ last summer, she stacked up favorably with the most select experts.” In fact, “U.S.C. psychology students, professing to find considerable sense behind Gracie's nonsense, voted her Hollywood's most intelligent actress.”[28] It takes intelligence to play as dumb as Gracie did, and that fact was not lost on the American public. Gracie was not just another senseless star, but a witty woman who knew how to succeed.

 

George Burns recognized this too. He knew she was the star, and it was a running joke that George was completely dependent on Gracie. When describing their first agreement to work together, he remembers that it “became obvious that Gracie was the whole act” and that he agreed to a 50-50 split, preferable because “she did 95 percent of the work and [George] got 50 percent of the money.”[29] In an interview during Gracie’s Surprise Party campaign, George claimed to support his wife in all her policies because “she’s been supporting me all these years!”[30] In several episodes during Gracie’s presidential run, various other characters ask George what he would do with himself if Gracie happened to win the election. George is always at a loss for words; he knows he could not continue being a radio success without the star of his show. In fact, he really only became successful after meeting Gracie and writing for her. His pre-Gracie vaudeville days were just countless failed attempts at stardom. Although it is never stated outright, it is understood that Gracie is the breadwinner for the couple, which is a serious twist on traditional gender relations of the 1940’s. Many women did join the work force during World War II, but actually earning more than your husband was a different story. Gracie is the star, and thus in charge, and her character uses her empowerment to her own advantage on the program.

 

Gracie’s character often toys with George’s emotions; she knows how to make him jealous and how to trick him into doing what she wants. Gracie’s character constantly wins attention from all the men on the show, and flirts vigorously with British bandleader Ray Noble, much to George’s chagrin. Though Noble was another nonsensical character, he fawned over Gracie, always gave her gifts, and constantly tried to be alone with her. His catchphrase, “you know, Gracie, this is the first time we’ve ever been alone together,” was ironically repeated on nearly every episode in which he was featured. Gracie’s character easily made George jealous by talking to other men, implying her ultimate control in the relationship. But her control was also epitomized in how she played George to do whatever she wanted him to do. Gracie’s character was intelligent enough to take advantage of George. When Bill, a fellow cast member, wants to pretend to be married to Gracie to impress a Hollywood film executive, Gracie suggests that George could pretend to be the butler. George is initially uninterested in the idea, but then Gracie plays to George’s weakness. George has always dreamed of proving himself as a serious actor, and Gracie convinces him that pretending to be butler is his chance to shine. Gracie says she wanted to prove to Bill that George is “a finer actor than Charles Laughton… and much more convincing.” George quickly falls in love with “his part.”[31] Although George regularly criticizes Gracie for being played by other people, he is most usually the punch line of these types of jokes. Gracie clearly has control in the relationship, both financially and psychologically. But her relationship with George is not based solely on control. Gracie truly believes in George, and in her unique way, inspires him to have more self-confidence and do things he always talked about, like pursuing serious acting and even going to college for one episode arc. In this sense, Gracie juggles two roles simultaneously: empowered female and supporting wife. Neither is completely helpless and dependent, but Gracie loves and supports George enough for her control to not be shocking to the American public.

 

Gracie’s Surprise Party platform also endorsed some very feminist viewpoints. The campaign itself was revolutionary simply because of Gracie’s gender, but several parts of her platform, though comical, implied female empowerment. Gracie’s speech before the Women’s National Press Club in 1940 began with “I won’t be the first woman President, just the first woman President officially.” She also discusses “men, and why they should be repealed.”[32] Although some comments did poke fun at traditional womanhood – “a woman is much better than a man when it comes to introducing bills into the House” – most stuck to the idea of female empowerment.[33] She even addressed the difficulties of being a woman in a man’s world, complaining about the $3 million campaign budget limit because it costs more to be a woman. After all, “Does John L. Lewis have to pay $3 to get his eyebrows plucked?”[34] Although the campaign was a joke, it did address the inequalities that American females faced, implied the power that women had already clandestinely gained, and offered inspiration through an unlikely female candidate.

 

[Listen to Gracie's speech at the Women's National Press Club below]

 

 

 

Gracie’s presidential run also pokes even more fun at George and his inferior status in the relationship. When discussing her trip to Washington on the show, Gracie says that George should have been there because “all the wives of the other candidates were there!”[35] George tries to brush the comment off, but cast members made these jokes throughout Gracie’s entire campaign. This instance, however, is one of the few times that Gracie actually makes the joke about George’s inferior status, and she never does it so plainly again. Though George is nearly always the butt of Gracie’s jokes, she rarely retreats from her position as a loving and supporting wife and is careful not to question the masculinity of her husband. Gracie’s simultaneous role as dependent wife and independent woman allowed her to present veiled social critiques that did not belong in light-hearted comedy.

 

The emasculation of George was an important part of the show, especially during the Great Depression. Margaret T. McFadden addresses the issue of emasculation in reference to The Jack Benny Program, a comedy program broadcast during the same time as The Burns and Allen Program and certainly comparable in format. McFadden explores Jack’s constant frustration with the rest of his cast, which is easily related to George’s frustration at Gracie, Ray Noble, and other cast members. The author explains that “Jack’s frustration makes him seem powerless and effeminate, expressing the way many people (especially men) felt during the Great Depression. To laugh at him was to laugh at things the listener most feared in himself.”[36] In a sense, this is exactly what George and Gracie did when confronting any important issue facing Americans; the show provided a critique without being too critical and allowed listeners to laugh at their own anxieties.

 

In her presidential campaign, wartime broadcasts, and paradoxically empowering gender relations, Gracie challenged several stereotypes of the time period, most importantly, that comedy was not a significant addition to American culture. The genius of the show was taking serious problems, issues affecting all Americans, and somehow making them humorous and light-hearted. Americans were much less likely to consider a comedy to be making serious social critiques, which allowed George and Gracie to get away with a much more political show than expected. Most importantly, the cultural work of the program was in more than just bringing serious issues to the forefront of entertainment, but in giving the country something it desperately needed – levity in an era of nationwide anxiety.


[1] George Burns, Gracie, A Love Story (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1988), 45

[2] Ibid., 27.

[3] Ibid., 46.

[4] Elizabeth McLeod, “Program Guide: ‘Keep Voting All Day Long!’ Gracie Gracie’s Race for the White House,” George & Gracie: Gracie for President (Little Falls, NJ: Radio Spirits, 2008), 2.

[5] William Carroll, Gracie Gracie for President 1940: Vote with the Surprise Party (San Marcos, CA: Coda Publications, 2000), 11.

[6] McLeod, 2.

[7] “February 28, 1940,” The Burns and Allen Program, Radio. As heard on George & Gracie: Gracie for President (Little Falls, NJ: Radio Spirits, 2008).

[8] McLeod, 3.

[9] McLeod, 9.

[10] “February 28, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[11] McLeod, 7.

[12] “May 22, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[13] “February 28, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[14] “April 24, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[15] McLeod, 2.

[16] “March 13, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[17] “May 22, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[18] Mayme Ober Peak, “If I Were President,” Daily Boston Globe, May 26, 1940, http:// www.proquest.com.

[19] Joe Richman, “Remembering Gracie Allen’s White House Run,” Radio Diaries, November 4, 2008, NPR, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=96588557.

[20] Carroll, 14.

[21] McLeod, 4.

[22] Carroll, 14.

[23] Gerd Horten, Radio Goes to War: The Cultural Politics of Propaganda During World War II (Ewing, NJ: University of California Press, 2003), 116, 124, http://site.ebrary.com/lib/brown/ docDetail.action?docID=10048980.

[24] Horten, 126.

[25] “November 8, 1941,” Radio, as heard on “Old Time Radio Archive,” http://www.archive.org/ details/BurnsAllan.

[26] “January 3, 1946,” as heard on “Old Time Radio Archive.”

[27] Horten, 127.

[28] “Radio: Candidette,” Time, March 18, 1940, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/ 0,9171,763656-1,00.html.

[29] Burns, 42.

[30] Peak, “If I Were President.”

[31] “November 1, 1945,” as heard on “Old Time Radio Archive.”

[32] “March 13, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[33] Raymond Lahr, “Mrs. Big: Gracie Nominated by Surprise Party,” The Washington Post, May 19, 1940, http:// www.proquest.com.

[34] “April 2, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[35] “March 13, 1940,” as heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President.

[36] Margaret T. McFadden, "'America's Boy Friend Who Can't Get a Date:' Gender, Race, and the Cultural Work of the Jack Benny Program, 1932-1946," The Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 1 (Jun, 1993), pp. 113-134, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2079699.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Bibliography

The Burns and Allen Program. Radio. As heard on Burns & Allen: Gracie for President (Little Falls, NJ: Radio Spirits, 2008).

 

The Burns and Allen Program. Radio. As heard on “Old Time Radio Archive,” http:// www.archive.org/details/BurnsAllan.

 

Burns, George. Gracie: A Love Story. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1988.

 

Carroll, William. Gracie Allen for President 1940: Vote with the Surprise Party. San Marcos, CA: Coda Publications, 2000.

 

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DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.