This Month in Film History – March 29, 1976: Beloved Comedian George Burns Wins Oscar At Age of 80

It’s not often that comedies win awards, especially Academy Awards. For whatever reason, comedy has never garnered much respect from neither critic nor peers of the entertainment community. Usually, it is a small, cult of fans that rise up and preserve the comedian from a legacy of ignominy. Such was not the case for George Burns. Although never to be forgotten because of the brilliant synergy he shared with his onscreen partner and real-life wife Gracie Allen, in the unappreciated 50s TV show The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, George would achieve the unthinkable this month in film history – March 29, 1976. Burns would win a Best-Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the film The Sunshine Boys.

George and Gracie

On TV, George Burns, born Nathan Birnbaum, trailblazed paths and vivid new comedy directions that Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy could only ever dream of doing. The players were 100% gold as was its writing staff. Like Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy, Burns would be as important behind the scenes as their wives would be in front of the camera.

George would lose Gracie in 1964 to a heart attack. The show had taken its toll on her and she retired from filming the previous year. George needed both his love, work, and Gracie, in his life. When Gracie stepped away, Burns would try to soldier on without Gracie. The show just wasn’t the same.

George would lose both of loves in short order

Ten years later, he would lose his great friend Jack Benny. In face of such tragedy, our George would find solace in the only thing he knew, work. He would soldier on. He would joke about his lack of toughness throughout his life but, it would be obvious to all that our George was made of much sterner stuff.

Before Jack Benny’s death, Burns and Benny were going to make their triumphant return to the big screen in Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.. Cancer, that would lead to Jack’s death, would prevent Jack’s comeback in something more than a cameo.

Ever the worker, after the loss of Jack, George would get his day and this month of March on the 29th 1976, George Burns’ greatness would be recognized when he won the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in The Sunshine Boys.