Boonton 1920s

George Burns and Gracie Allen smiling together

1923 - George Burns/Gracie Allen Make Their Debut in Boonton

In 1967, Author Gene Newman was writing about the history of Boonton. He interviewed several old-timers but their recollections were hazy. so he  decided to write to George Burns himself about his performance in  Boonton at the Lyceum Theater. The following was his response:

"Dear Gene - The very first day we ever worked together was when Gracie and I opened at the Lyceum Theater in Boonton.

Our salary was $30 for three days -  $10 a day. It was freezing and there was no heat in the theater. When  we came in to rehearse our music, which was 10 in the morning, the  musicians were so cold that everybody had to keep jumping up and down  while they were rehearsing.

Needless to  say, with five musicians in the pit running up and down while they were  playing, the music didn’t sound so good. And even when they stopped  running they were not the greatest musicians."

Lyceum Theatre

Not an Initial Hit

He went on to write that the act wasn’t a big hit initially. "In those days I was dressed up funny, and Gracie asked the questions and I told the funny answers. But they laughed at Gracie asking the questions and nobody laughed when I told the funny answers.

a sepia tone photo of Lyceum Theatre and the street by it
modern pic of a business across the street from a two story pink builing

So I knew I had something with Gracie Allen. And not being a fool, and liking to smoke cigars (I was smoking a 7-cent Recora then and I smoked about five cigars a day, which is 35 cents a day - that’s a lot of money to pay for cigars for an actor who was getting $10 a day when I worked)

I switched the act for the next performance and gave Gracie the funny answers, and I turned out to be the straight man.

Needless to say, I’ve been smoking cigars ever since. I always look back to Boonton with great love and affection because that’s where it all started."

The Lyceum Theatre was located on the corner on Main and School Street. At the time, School Street ran from Main to Birch. Photos on of the Lycuem and the how the street looks today can be viewed this page.


For more information, read "George Burns: An American Life".