In the late 70s, George Burns starred in Oh God and Oh God, Book II. The movies were in a constant loop on cable a summer later. My brother Jeremy and I watched them over and over (and over and over) until we could recite them from memory. One day, my mom had had enough.
It wasn't that we were spending our summer inside, planted on a scratchy wool cushions of the sofa and slurping back Pepsi Lights, but that George Burns was so much more than what we were seeing.
That evening she took us out for our favorite candy (chocolate covered raisins for me, something gummy-ike for Jer, I think) and then we crowded around the glow of the TV for the "Burns and Allen Show." During commerical breaks Mom told us about Gracie Allen and George Burns rose through the ranks of vaudeville, then radio, then television.
It was in black and white and it looked old even on our new TV, but I remember being so awed at the fact that something that was written so long ago could still make me laugh and Gracie Allen was probably the first truly funny woman I had ever seen.
Later that year, our 4th grade teacher at Ben Franklin School (Mrs. Keen?) taught us how to write formal letters. The assignment was to pick people you looked up to, and ask them for an autographed picture. She would take care of sending the letters off.
The year was 1982, and most kids chose to write the cast of Star Wars.
My mom told me that Gracie Allen died before I was born, so I chose to write to George Burns.
Over the next few months, letters would come back in care of Ben Franklin School. Autographed photos of Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. And then one day, an envelope came for me.
I forgot about the letter until yesterday, when a package arrived on my doorstep from SlackMom.
Thank you for the nice letter. I'm just sorry I couldn't get around to answering it sooner. I'm very honored that you chose me. I thought a letter would be nicer than a picture.
It's nice to know that today, kids still look up to someone. It's a nice feeling. I had my heroes when I was young. Abe Lincoln. Thomas Jefferson. I knew Jefferson personally. That's a joke.
I'm not really that old. I'm older. Anyway, sweetie, stay happy and healthy.
He sent it from Hollywood Center Studios Which is not far from where I spend my days writing comedy now.
Thank you, Mr. Burns. And goodnight, Gracie.*
*Lizzie McGuire won a Gracie Allen Award for comedy in 2003. How cool is that?