Aug 3, 2018

Not the Marrying Kind: Gay Burns and Allen

Television was introduced in 1949, just in time for the formative years of the first Boomers (the generation officially started in 1945). Radio performers scrambled to make the transition. Some made it, most didn't.  Burns and Allen, a "married couple" sitcom starring comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen, made it. After 20 years on radio, they transitioned to television in 1950 and stayed on until 1958, stopped only by Gracie's death.

They're shown here with guest star Steve Reeves.

I recently listened to an episode from the end of the radio run, in 1949.

The homophobic silence of Dark Age America was starting to break -- very, very slightly -- as radio sought to compete with television by introducing "racy" content -- hints and innuendos about sex in general, and same-sex desire in particular.  So there are gay jokes.

The plot is about George and Gracie, playing themselves, trying to find a wife for painfully shy next door neighbor, musician Meredith Willson (who penned The Music Man).

 They co-opt singer Eddie Cantor (who was subject to some gay rumors of his own).   He wants to marry off some of his daughters.

So Gracie invites Eddie Canter over, and announces to Meredith, "We've found someone for you to marry!"

After a pause, Meredith says:  "Gee, I had my heart set on a woman."

Later Eddie explains to his potential son-in-law how a wedding works:

"The minister says 'I now pronounce you man and wife, and then you kiss."

"Even if you've just met?" Meredith asks, thinking that he means kissing the minister.

Meredith (or at least the character he is playing) is too shy to talk to women, let alone marry one.  He complains: "I can't get married if a woman is [at the wedding]."

Again and again, joke after joke brings up the idea that Meredith is considering marrying a man.

What's going on?

If same-sex desire is really beyond the boundaries of what can be known, then the characters are playing with an absurdity, a play on words like Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First" routine.

But same-sex desire was known, even in 1949. The Kinsey Report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) revealed its existence to millions.  George Burns and Gracie Allen knew gay people, worked with gay people in Hollywood.

Their television series often implied that teenage son Ronnie Burns (or at least the character he played) preferred the company of men.

Maybe that's why Meredith Wilson's character trips easily over the boundary between "confirmed bachelor" and "gay."

At the end of the episode, everyone agrees that he "should never get married." At least not to a woman.

Even in the darkest of the Dark Ages, there were still hints and innuendos.

(In real life, Meredith Wilson was married three times.  To women.)

See also: Eddie Cantor: The Craziest Reason for Gay Rumors


  1. Was Ronnie Burns gay in real life? He was married for thirty years -- that's a long time for a beard.

    1. He probably just used a gay-coded affect as a comedic device.

  2. The Golden Age of Innocence only exists if you don't know what's really going on. And then, look, pull back the curtain, and, okay. A generation reacted in horror, but after that, it's fine. (My generation has more moral qualms about adultery and promiscuity than about which genders are involved.)

    What I find cute about the 40s and 50s is people's shame at having a television. So you have an armoire which has a TV in it. To be fair, I'd probably do the same, that poor reception and lack of definition (Fred Flintstone has thick outlines for a reason.) are scandalous.

    1. In the early days of TV, you were proud of having one, the envy of your friends. You would invite them over to "watch something on television," just like in the 1980s we invited friends over to "watch a VHS movie"

    2. Sure, if you were new money.


No offensive, insulting, racist, or homophobic comments are permitted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...