Burns and Allen’s first radio
show was in 1932 so by the time these extracts
were recorded they’d been on air for over
a decade - one of the five sketches incidentally
is from a 1942 Treasury Star Parade programme.
They had a regular sidekick in Mel Blanc and
a coterie of guest stars, either well-known
film stars such as Alan Ladd or radio actors
of the likes of Gale Gordon and Hans Conreid.
Gordon actually stars in one of these sketches
and the buffo charms of silly-ass Englishman
Brian Aherne are also heard in a 1944 show.
Though Burns was always deferential to Allen
and claimed her skills far outstripped his
own, his gruff feeds are as potent as ever
and her daffy loquaciousness is as pleasurable
That said, and though these
were still Burns and Allen’s Golden Years
as far as their radio shows were concerned,
I don’t think there’s as much comic mileage
to be had from these excerpts as there is
in, say, Jimmy Durante’s broadcasts also recently
released by Living Era. Naturally the comedic
fields are very different but the temperature
in these studio broadcasts is consistently
lower and the formula rather too predictable.
There’s not the incendiary sense of things
about to go wrong as there is in Durante’s
shows, or any improvised business to cover
up pratfalls or corpsing.
Burns is not yet the cigar-burnished
elder statesman he was to become and one feels
him straining to keep within the bounds of
the well-crafted scripts. I’m sure it’s not
imagination that leads me to think he makes
conscious efforts to hold back off-the-cuff
lines. In the first sketch though, Gracie
Works in a Department Store, one can hear
Gracie Allen wring applause from an audience
that has merely tittered at a gag. She holds
the line and – I assume – cocks an eyebrow
at them and like a lion tamer Allen knew just
how to control them. Burns, too, has his gag-clinchers
and one we hear in the second skit, Talking
About Gracie’s Family where he repeatedly
sings a droll refrain to get his laugh doubled.
Probably the best of the sketches is that
with Aherne who, in true British style, has
lost his underpants a word, in true British
style, he can’t bring himself to utter. He
finally brings himself to call them shorts.
The final Poker sketch with
Alan Ladd (whistles from the ladies in the
audience) is recorded in the best sound though
at seven minutes it’s the shortest of the
five. One or two run on for over twenty minutes.
The documentation and notes are helpful and
the package is attractively done. Plenty to
please the B & A admirer.