Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ringing In The New Year With...The Greatest OpEd Of All Time.


I know I give a whole lot of folks in the print division of the local Lotuslandian proMedia a hard time.

But that's only because I actually love newspapers so much.

And there's nothing I love more in a good newspaper than the OpEd page.

In fact, back when I was an undegradual I would (more than just) occasionally take a break from the science geek studying in the dungeon of the old Ring Road library and head up to my favorite microfiche viewer on the top floor so that I could slide through ten year old big city broadsheet OpEds in an effort to get a feel for how the Watergate thing was unfolding in the minds of those trying to keep up with, and make sense of, all that the Woodward and Bernstein (and sometimes Sy Hersh too) were chasing.

Now that I think of it, I guess things haven't really changed all that much. The only difference is that all the digital microfiches on all the servers in all of the world can now be delivered to the little box I'm currently banging away on pretty much instantaneously.


Perhaps my favourite OpEd of all time has nothing to do with news or politics or anything earth shattering at all.

Instead, it is filled with pretty much everything that makes a life worth living and remembering.

It was written near the end of 1988 by an old joke writer named George Burns and it was published in the New York Times.

I missed it the first time around because by then I was in Gradual school and that was the time of my life when I rarely did anything other than eat Revellos, sleep and try to deliver oncogenes into density-separated, mesodermally-derived stem-cell populations that were making differentiative decisions that I hypothesized would affect their ability to be transformed into tumor cells.

But I did read it twenty years later when it was published again on New Year's Eve 2008.

And I read it again late last week when I free-associated George Burns with Robbie Burns, Tommy Douglas and the late, great Gracie Allen.

But all of that is just a whole lot of blather and preamble that is keeping you from one of the greatest OpEds of all time.

And an even greater love story.

Here goes....

My Favorite New Year’s Eve — So Far
Originally published on December 31, 1988.

Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I always looked forward to New Year's, mainly because that was the only thing we could afford that was really new. And we always believed that things were going to get better during the new year; we believed it because we knew that they couldn't get any worse.

When I was starting out in show business the thing I want most for New Year's Eve was a booking. If you were booked on New Year's Eve, it meant you were doing O.K.

Most theaters had an extra show at midnight; it was usually a great show because by the time people got to the theater they were half loaded. At that time I was working with a seal, and I loved doing that midnight show on New Year's Eve because that's the only time I got more laughs than the seal.

Later in my life, after I'd met Gracie, we would always spend new Year's Eve with our friends. At midnight I always knew where I would find Gracie - on the telephone with our kids, Sandy and Ronnie, wishing them a happy new year and telling them to go to bed.

The parties I remember most took place at Jack and Mary Benny's home in Palm Springs. Many of the greatest performers in show business would be there and, during the night, almost all of them would get up and perform for the rest of our crowd. They had to - it was New Year's Eve and they wanted to be booked.

Eventually a voice was heard above all the rest suggesting, "Let "George Burns sing a few songs." And when they ignored that, I'd say it again, louder. Finally I would get up to sing and everyone would form a ring around the piano. I'd manage to fight my way past them and sing a few of my favorite songs. And when I finished, everyone was happy.

But of all the New Year's Eves I've spent, the one I remember most was 1926. The previous Christmas Eve, Gracie had finally agreed to marry me. I don't think I'd ever felt as wonderful; there was something very special about feeling that I was really going to be booked for the rest of my life.

That year Gracie and I had been invited to a big party at the Essex House in New York. Most of the big names in vaudeville were going to be there: Sophie Tucker, George Jessel, Eddie Cantor, the trio of Clayton, Jackson and Durante, our good friends Jesse Block and Eve Sully, the great Belle Baker, the Marx brothers, Al Jolson and Jack Benny.

But when I picked up Gracie I said: "Listen, I've got an idea. Let's not mingle with the crowd tonight. Let's spend it by ourselves."

Gracie thought I was so romantic. I have to be honest: My idea of romance was being alone in a room with just me and Gracie and an audience of 1,500 people. So this was unusual.

I had on my tuxedo and she as wearing a beautiful red dress, with matching red heels, and we went to the Roosevelt Hotel to dance to the music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. That was my idea of a romantic evening alone with Gracie.

We danced and sipped Champagne, and danced and I sipped more Champagne. I think this was the first night I really believed Gracie and I were going to spend the rest of our lives as a couple, not just as a vaudeville team. I was sure of that because we didn't split the check.

At midnight, the lights started blinking on and off and hundreds of balloons fell from the ceiling. Lombardo started playing "Auld Lang Syne," and we stood in the middle of the dance floor and kissed. She had to kiss me back; we didn't have the kids so she had no one to call.

About half a hour later I said, "Gracie, isn't this great?" She said, "Yeah, but let's go over and see what the old gang is doing." I guess she'd had enough of my romantic technique.

The party was roaring when we got there. As usual, each person was taking the opportunity to perform. I walked to the piano and said: "I have an announcement to make. Gracie and I are going to get married next week."

The room was absolutely silent. Finally Jack Benny asked, "Natty, does that mean you're going to sing tonight?"

"Not tonight," I said, and immediately everyone started cheering. Finally, Al Jolson came over to congratulate me. "Kid," he told me, putting his arm around my shoulders, "I just have one bit of advice for you." "What's that?" I asked. "Sit down. I'm gonna sing."

Well, that's the New Year's Eve I remember most. Now I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your love, and wish you a year filled with good health, happiness and packed houses.

George Burns (real given name 'Nathaly') died in 1996. He was 100 years old. Somehow, he made it an extra thirty-two years after Gracie passed away in 1964, the year the Beatles came to America.


I wonder if anybody every wrote a king-hell OpEd about that?

Siteowner's self-indungical notice....If you got a touch of the deja voodoo as you read this it was because this was originally posted awhile back, in January of 2013...



Anonymous said...

Read that while listening to this.

Anonymous said...

"Thanks for the memory"

Chris said...


I love newspapers too. I'd be happy if they were half full op-ed pieces... like this.

Kind of makes the local offerings feel, well, small. Like the op-edders might want to shut off their laptops, step outside, take a deep breath start taking a look at how large life is lived outside their offices.

But meantime, aw...

Anonymous said...



Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Funny how 17 years after he croaked I can still hear Burns' voice like he is in the room smoking with me. The reason Burns' story strike such a chord with you and many of your readers such as I? Perhaps it is the coupling of the word power of the op-ed and the audio power of television.

RossK said...

Good point Beer.

Although for me at least, there is the radio voice too.

And then there was the way he packaged himself as an old guy 'rake' in those later, late, late years.


Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I was going to say radio, where I must have known him too, but I think it was the Tonight Show where I most often heard Burns and his stories.

e.a.f. said...

Thank you I absolutely loved it.

I remember going to the show Jack Benny did with the VSO to raise money to buy the Orphem

Some of the names I remember their acts from the Ed Sullivan show.

George Burns was wonderful, with that cigar and "say good night Gracie".

Thank you and Happy New Year!

RossK said...

Thanks, and HNY to you too e.a.f.!