TV or not TV. . . .
BY GEORGE: It was the morning after his 97th birthday, and George Burns was sitting in his Hollywood office.
"I feel just as good today as I did yesterday when I was 96," he said with a grin.
Must be, because the seemingly ageless comedy great turns up in a guest shot Friday on CBS' "The Golden Palace."
In the episode, Burns does a performance at the hotel that is the show's setting, and he says a big reason he appeared is his admiration for series regular Betty White.
"Yeah," he said. "She's a good friend of mine, aside from being a very good actress. And she's very funny off the stage. Great sense of humor. Oh yeah, she's awfully good. I love working with Betty White. I did commercials with her."
In his office, Burns, who turned 97 on Jan. 20, is wearing a flannel shirt open at the neck, gray slacks and, of course, is puffing on a cigar.
Although he's part of TV history because of his series with his late wife, Gracie Allen, Burns doesn't do too many guest appearances on the home screen these days. Of his "Golden Palace" role, he said with another grin: "They paid me. If I get paid, I do it."
Noting that "I don't do as much work as I used to," he nonetheless added: "I like one-nighters, and every year I'm booked. I play maybe two or three times a month, that's all."
He'll do a one-nighter, for instance, on March 13 at the new Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, and the show is already sold out.
In addition, the old Burns and Allen radio series can be heard Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. on KNX, offering George delivering his classic line "Say good night, Gracie," with which we salute him each week.
In Friday's "Golden Palace," Burns sings a song to the Betty White character, Rose. Asked what song he sings, he delivered the first few lines: "I love to call you Rose, dear, but roses fade away. Roses die when wintertime appears. . . ."
"That song," he cracked, "is as old as I am."
Recalling his teaming with Gracie, he said: "I must think this at least once or twice a month: What the hell would have happened to me if I hadn't met Gracie? I'd be in show business, but where would I be?"
He continued: "I was very fortunate that I met Gracie. I was with Gracie for 40 years. I was retired when I was working with Gracie--I did nothing. I said to Gracie, 'How's your brother?' and she talked for 40 years. And then when she retired, I went into show business. I learned a lot from Gracie."
The talk turned to "The Sunshine Boys," for which Burns won an Oscar.
"Good movie, yeah," he said. "Jack Benny was supposed to do that (part), but he passed away. And they called me, and I read for the part. I read two or three pages. They said: 'You got it.' They wanted somebody Jewish, and I happened to be Jewish. They wanted somebody that was in vaudeville, and that's where I started. So I got the part."
Asked about his ever-present cigar, Burns said:
"It's a cheap cigar. A good cigar is well-packed, and they keep going out. And when you're on the stage, if the cigar keeps going out, the audience goes out too. But this cigar stays lit. And I put it into a holder. I've never smoked a cigarette in my life. And I don't inhale."
Soon the conversation was over, and Burns suggested: "Let's do this every five years."
SURVIVOR: Richard Chamberlain has glided through his career so gracefully that it's a bit of a jolt to recall that he first gained fame back in 1961 in NBC's "Dr. Kildare."
For years now, he's been a major draw in TV miniseries and movies, mixing them with stage work and motion pictures. And by chance, his next TV movie, ABC's "Ordeal in the Arctic," airs Monday--the same day that he is scheduled to begin rehearsals in the lead role of a stage revival of "My Fair Lady."
In "Ordeal in the Arctic," Chamberlain plays the pilot of a military plane downed near the North Pole, who risks his life to save other survivors. In a phone interview from New York, he said:
"The networks lately have been playing it safe with murder-of-the-week stuff, Amy Fisher stuff. It's sure-fire but not the kind of stuff I want to do. The reason I did 'Ordeal in the Arctic,' aside from it being a story of people really doing something for each other, is that they're not raping or killing each other."
As for "My Fair Lady," the longtime TV idol will play Professor Henry Higgins: "We open in Florida in April, we'll be on the road six or seven months and then it's on to Broadway for about five months."
RESEARCH: Well, yes, viewers are tuning in CBS' surprising success, "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," partly because of its traditional family values, says network research chief David Poltrack. And others like the show because it's a Western.
But a major reason in audience testing, says Poltrack, is the show's star, Jane Seymour. Several TV sources say she has a solid Q rating, which focuses on performers' popularity and familiarity to viewers.