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The Religious Affiliation of
great American actress and comedian
From: George Burns, Gracie: A Love Story, G. P. Putnam's Sons: New York (1988), pages 64-65:
The one issue that never came up between Gracie and me was religion. Gracie was a practicing Irish Catholic. She tried to go to Mass every Sunday. I was Jewish, but I was out of practice. My religion was always treat other people nicely and be ready when they play your music. Mary Kelly, who was also Irish Catholic, wouldn't marry Jack Benny because she didn't want to marry out of her faith, but Gracie didn't seem to care. In fact, I was a lot more concerned about what my mother thoguht than I was about Gracie.
George Burns jokes about his late wife Gracie Allen's Irish Catholic family, from: Burns, page 22:
Immigrant parents put a lot of pressure on their children to marry someone of the same religious and ethnic background. My parents were Orthodox Jews. My mother came from Poland, my father came from Austria, and their parents had arranged their marriage. My mother had even cut off all her hair when she was fourteen--that was the custom--and wore a wig.
...After that I knew I wasn't going to have any problems with my mother about marrying an Irish Catholic girl--as long as it was this particular Irish Catholic girl.
And after Gracie's mother met me she felt the same way--she didn't care if I married an Irish Catholic girl.
Gracie grew up in a big, loving Irish family. They were so Irish that her sister spoke Gaelic--and they don't speak Gaelic in Ireland.
Burns, page 26:
Gracie was the only one of her sisters who didn't love dancing, but she learned because she thought it would help her get into show business. She was determined to get into show business. Practically every day after coming home from the Star of the Sea School, the Catholic school all the girls attended, she would go downtown and stroll from theater to theater, just looking at the pictures in the lobby.
Burns, page 29:
Gracie... went into a dramatic act owned by a dashing fellow named Larry Reilly. It was an Irish act in which Reilly played the hero, Gracie and another girl were the heroines, and another man played the Priest. An Irish act without a priest was like a Jewish act without heartache.
Burns, page 43:
In Gracie's dressing room a large, unframed mirror was balanced on the dressing table. As Gracie sat down she shook the table, the mirror fell, and was smashed into countless pieces. When I heard the crash I went running in to see if she was okay. She was practically in tears. Being Irish, she was very superstitious. As far as she was concened, that broken mirror meant that Burns and Allen were finished even before we did our first show.
After George Burns proposed to Gracie Allen, they became engaged in late 1925. After they were engaged, they slept together for the first time on Christmas night, 25 December 1925 (Burns, pages 68-69). They were married on 7 January 1926. From: Burns, pages 69-70:
I calmed her down, then explained that there was an old Jewish superstition that said breaking a mirror is actually good luck, that's why they break a wineglass at the end of a wedding ceremony. She believed me. Actually, that's a lie, the only people who believe breaking a mirror is good luck are the people in the mirror replacement business. But there is an old show-business superstition that says if you don't work you aren't going to eat.
We decided to get married in Cleveland at the end of January. But first we were going to break in Lamb Chops. We were both very nervous; getting married was one thing, but breaking in a new act was serious business...
Burns, page 119:
As soon as Izzy and Mary arrive, we hopped into a cab and drove to the justice of the peace. The justice of the peace was ready to leave on a fishing trip when we got there, and he wasn't interesting in spending time marrying folks... He spoke so fast I didn't know if Gracie and I had gotten married or had bought land in Florida. All I remember is he asked, "Do you?" I said, "I do." He said, "Good--I'm going fishing."
Our cab was waiting for us. The entire ceremony had cost twenty cents on the meter.
Pidgie [i.e., Margaret Pidgeon, Gracie Allen's mother] was buried in the Holly Cross Cemetery. When we got back to the house after the funeral, we discovered we were locked out. The front door had been locked from the inside. Maybe somebody slammed the door too hard when we were leaving, or maybe, as Gracie sugested, "Mama doesn't want us to go inside without her."
Burns, page 122:
Adopting babies was a popular thing to do among show-business people in the 1930s.I was agreeable; Gracie wanted to have children and I wanted to make Gracie happy. But we just kept putting it off. We were on the road too much, the apartment wasn't big enogh, we had a picture coming up, there was always something. Then one afternoon we had lunch with Wallace Beery and he brought along his adopted daughter. The kid did all the right things--she smiled at Gracie and laughed at my ciar. As soon as we got home, we called The Cradle, a Catholic foundling home in Evanson, Illinois, and ordered a little girl.
Burns, page 134:
...Gracie had fought very hard to get [her daughter] Sandy into the exclusive Marymount Academy, a Catholic school. In religion class one day somebody must have said something Sandy didn't like, because she stood up and told the nun teaching the class, "Excuse me, but there are other people in the world besides Catholics, you know." Maybe in the world, but not at Marymount. So we got a letter from Marymount suggesting Sandy might be happier in a different environment. What they really meant was that Marymount would be happier with Sandy in a different environment.
Burns, pages 135-138:
When we adopted Sandy and Ronnie from The Cracle we agreed to raise them as Catholics. That never bothered me. I didn't go to synagogue; I went to the Hillcrest Country Club. Maybe if I had known I was going to grow up to be God [he played the part of God in two movies], I would have felt differently, but I wanted the kids to understand and respect religion. So Gracie and I decided to raise the kids in a Catholic church and when they were eighteen let them make their own choice.
Burns, page 147:
I learned a lot about Catholicism from Gracie. She as religious; she went to church regularly and wore a beautiful gold cross. Sometimes before we went onstage she'd make the sign of the cross. As long as our material was good, that seemed to help. I think one of the greatest moments of her life took place when were in Italy and we were invited to meet the Pope. Pope Pius, I think it was. They asked me if I wanted a private audience with His Holiness and I said, "No. What am I gonna tell the Pope? We just played the Jefferson Theatre? That vaudeville is a great business? No, we'll go with everybody else."
Gracie bought a new black dress and black stockings and about fifty strands of rosary beads to be blessed by the Pope for our friends in the States. Winnie Pearl, Jack Pearl's wife, was with us, and when we arrived at the Vatican we were escorted into a private room in which at least twenty other people were already waiting. Then we watied. And we waited. And waited. But when I looked around, I noticed that nobody else seemed to mind. Then I realized I shouldn't have been surprised, this is an entire religion based on waiting. They've been waiting almost two thousand years, what's a couple of hours?
Gracie was very nervous, at least as nervous as she was before going onstage, and she kept reminding me, "When the Pope comes in, you have to get down on your knees. Remember, when he comes in, get down on your knees." She just didn't want me to embarrass her in front of God's agent. Believe me, we were waiting so long I would have gotten down on my knees if Benny Ryan had come in.
The door finally opened and a man wearing a red hat walked in. So I got down on my knees. "Not now," Gracie hissed. "That's just a Cardinal!" How was I supposed to know? He had on a red hat and I knew he wasn't a porter.
The Pope's entrance was stunning. Maybe the Catholics know about miracles, and maybe they know about saints, but they've never receivd enough credit for what they know about show business. In my eighty-five years in the business, that was easily the greatest entrance I've ever seen. The Catholics know more about backlighting and indirect lighting than any other stage manager. Believe me, if the religion thing doesn't work out so well, these people could have a very successful career in legitimate theater.
There were three nuns in the room with us, and I watched them as the Pope came in. They'd waited almost two hours in this small room to see him, but when he arived they lowered their eyes and they never looked at him. They just wanted to be in the same room with him. Then I looked at Gracie. She looked like a little girl, just innocence and love. She adored the Pope. I know how she felt; I'd felt the same way the first time I met Al Jolson.
Someone had informed His Holiness that we were American radio stars and he blessed us in English. Maybe he'd heard the show and thought we needed his help. A few minutes later he made his exit. His exit was even more impresive than his entrance. Twenty-five mintues later I managed to get up off my knees, and we made our exit.
At home, we ate fish every Friday as Catholics were then supposed to do. Being Jewish, I compromised, I wore a hat when I ate the fish, out of respect for my own religion and the fish's family. I would've made a great Catholic--I've alwasy liked fish.
Sandy [George and Gracie's adopted daughter] was just the opposite; she was raised Catholic and didn't like fish, so she used to tell people that she was a six-day Catholic--on Fridays she was Jewish.
Gracie made certain that the kids attendd Mass at the Good Shepherd Church every Sunday morning. When the kids were old enough to go by themselves, we'd give them money for the collection plate and let them walk there. Only recently did I find out that they did go to Good Shepherd but they just didn't go insie. Instead, they took the money that I'd given them for the collection, threw it under a cactus in a park on Maple Drive, and went off to play, usually at Mervyn Leroy's house with his kids, Warner and Linda. I guess they didn't feel they were doing anything wrong by not going to church; they felt they were doing something right by not keeping the collection plate money.
I don't mind. The only thing I'm glad about is that Gracie and Jack Benny never found out. Gracie's feelings might have been hurt, and Jack could've cut himself badly on those cactus needles.
Practically the first thing Gracie did when we moved to Hollywood was find a church all the way on the other side of the city. Gracie didn't drive then, so every Sunday morning our driver would take her completely across town. It was probably a half-hour trip. When I asked her why she didn't go to a church nearby she told me she couldn't. "When I give confession," she explained, "I don't want the priest to know who I am."
Burns, page 187:
The only politicians Gracie ever cared about were the Kennedys. Not because she agred with their politics--maybe she did--but because they were Irish Catholics. Gracie was very proud of her heritage, and the thought that an Irishman could be President of the United States absolutely thrilled her.
About Gracie Allen's satirical campaign in which she ran for President of the United States, from: Burns, page 190:
The train stopped in thirty-four cities and towns on the way to Omaha. In Las Vegas we rode in a long torchlight parade--the made me [George Burns] drive an oxcart. In the parade held in Salt Lake City they made me drive a midget racing car.
Webpage created 28 July 2005. Last modified 9 October 2005.
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