Two Ocean County Library Branches Host ‘George Burns Tonight’

Oct 12, 2016

One of America’s most cherished entertainers is brought to life when impressionist Fran Docherty presents “George Burns Tonight” on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at the Long Beach Island branch of the Ocean County Library and Tuesday, Oct. 25, at the Waretown branch. Both programs begin at 2 p.m,.

A retired schoolteacher from Smithville, Docherty said he would portray Burns at the age of 85.

Born Nathan Birnbaum, Burns was 100 years old when he died on March 9, 1996. His slow-paced, gravelly voice, arched eyebrow and ever-present cigar were familiar trademarks for nearly 75 years.

Docherty said the program includes Burns reminiscing about his childhood on New York’s Lower East Side, and then his career in vaudeville, radio and TV and in the movies. Of course, Burns had an equally famous partner: his wife, Gracie Allen, who will be portrayed by Docherty’s wife, Majo Docherty. Burns and Allen had long-running radio and TV shows.

“She’ll come out and do some routines and songs with me,” Docherty said of Majo. 

Docherty said he would also have Burns tell stories about his best friend, Jack Benny, and anecdotes from other show biz stars during his heyday.

“I think what made George Burns a very special person was how he was able to have such a long career, starting out in vaudeville and then, in the 1970s, (he) became a movie star and attracted a whole new group of fans,” he said.

Docherty was referring to Burns’ winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at age 80 for his role as Al Lewis in the “Sunshine Boys” in 1975. He was the oldest Oscar winner until Jessica Tandy won for Best Actress for “Driving Miss Daisy” in 1989.

Two years later, Burns played the title role in “Oh, God!” co-starring John Denver. The film spawned two sequels. In 1988, Burn recorded a song that nearly made the Top 40, “I Wish I Was 18 Again.”

Before his Burns routine, Docherty said he would open with various other impressions of celebrities including Ed Sullivan, Rodney Dangerfield, Paul Lynde, Kermit the Frog, Jack Benny and Walter Cronkite, as well as Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton as Archie and Edith Bunker on “All in the Family,” and Christopher Lloyd as Jim Ignatowski on “Taxi.”   

While teaching, Docherty moonlighted as a comedian, working various clubs, colleges and business functions. He has entertained American troops in USO shows in Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. Docherty also has written jokes for Jay Leno and David Letterman.

To register for the program, call the LBI (609-494-2480) or Waretown (609-693-5133) branches. —E.E. 

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