When Mr. Burns Came to Dine
In the early 1950s, my father was a musical director for television, and our home was host to a continuous, if eclectic, stream of performers. Most of the early television shows and series used what was called "canned" music, or music that had been written for some other purpose and was plugged into a show where necessary. With advances in technology, it was soon more effective to create music unique to a particular show. My father composed such music - for entrances, backgrounds, accompaniments, and even theme songs - for many of those early programs.
On more than one occasion, our home was the venue for impromptu rehearsals. A very young Barbra Streisand stood at our piano and rehearsed a number for an upcoming special. The Nelsons, Ozzie and Harriet, sat around the dining-room table discussing the theme song for their new television series, while sons David and Ricky joined my brothers and me in our backyard treehouse. Nat "King" Cole rehearsed lyrics for a musical number to be part of a popular variety show.
It was not unusual, as well, for some of our guests to come for tea, or supper, depending on the hour. One day, on our way home from school, my mother mentioned that a Mr. Burns would be joining us for dinner. We could dine early or join the grown-ups, if we wished. It was obvious even to my eight-year-old sensibilities that this was someone my parents respected, so I opted for the grown-up table.
At 6 o'clock sharp, a dapper gentleman arrived at our door. I was allowed to greet Mr. Burns and show him into the living room.
He was dressed fashionably in a cashmere jacket, silk handkerchief that matched his tie, and dark slacks. He removed his hat with a flourish, took my hand and kissed it as though I were a princess. I was absolutely charmed.
During dinner, Mr. Burns covered the business portion of his visit with my father in his usual thorough manner. He wanted bits of music to punctuate comedy vignettes he would do with his wife, Gracie Allen.
Their show, "Burns and Allen," was a wonderful blend of talent, wit, and gentle decency toward their audience. It was fast becoming extremely popular in this new medium of television.
George Burns was the consummate professional, my father explained to me later, because he always arrived prepared and punctually.
After discussing possible ideas, Daddy ran through some melodies at the piano, and Mr. Burns was genuinely enthralled.
He was quite a dancer, so he did some soft-shoe routines right there in our living room! The rest of the evening was spent with our guest delivering gentle, funny one-liners that charmed his captivated audience.
To close their television show, George Burns and Gracie Allen would usually do a short comedy bit and conclude with George urging, "Say Good night, Gracie," to which Gracie would reply, "Good night, Gracie."
It was a touching and memorable exchange between a loving couple and would become a hallmark of their years together. With fondest memories of a special acquaintance, may I add a gentle "Good night, Mr. Burns."