Farr saying 'Goodnight Gracie' tonight at Centre

November 08, 2004|JENNIFER BRUMMETT

Jamie Farr knows a little bit more about Danville than one might expect. His wife of more than 40 years, in fact, hails from Danville, Ill. And there's a Danville in California as well.

"There are a lot of Danvilles around the country," Farr said.

Farr, perhaps best known as Corporal Klinger from the television series "M*A*S*H," actually spent some time in Kentucky around 1957, he said.

"I was stationed there at Fort Knox on temporary duty," Farr explained. "We did some kind of tank training films there. It was a lot of fun.

"We used to go into town (in Louisville), to the Brown Hotel. I used to go with a lot of Jewish buddies, and they'd order lox and scrambled eggs."


Farr returns to Kentucky Monday in the hit Broadway play "Say Goodnight Gracie," in which he portrays George Burns. In the multi-media presentation that also features the vocal work of actress Didi Conn ("Frenchie" from "Grease") as Burns' wife, Gracie Allen, Burns is in limbo between this world and the next. He is unable to join his beloved wife and partner until he gives the command performance of his lifetime for God.

Farr has quite a few favorite moments from "Say Goodnight Gracie," which covers Burns' entire life.

"Some things are little more interesting for me as a performer," Farr noted. "It is a love story about he and Gracie and how much he really adored this woman. Without her, he would never have been famous.

"He failed most of his life. She made Burns and Allen what it was. He was 30 years old and had changed his name so many times because he was so bad a performer. He was splitting up with a partner when the two of them got together. He realized she was a funny person. He started as the comedian (in the duo), then switched the whole thing."

Touring since September

Farr, who has been touring with "Say Goodnight Gracie" since September, said how they meet and Burns' realization of Allen's funniness are enjoyable.

"Before the second show starts, he reverses their parts," Farr noted. "That's a fun part."

He added he loves Burns' relationship with Jack Benny.

"He adored Jack Benny, and Jack did same with George," Farr explained. "George could do the same (routine) and Jack would laugh at him. Jack would just fall apart.

"Jack Benny was supposed to play in 'The Sunshine Boys.' Jack got cancer and told the studio they should hire George Burns. That resurrected George Burns' career. He had produced 'Mr. Ed' but George was never successful (as a solo act) until the movies."

Farr says the interpretation of the show is a challenge for him.

"It is a play, not a concert, and I'm not doing standup comedy," he explained. "I'm telling a life story, and I've got to stick to the play.

"You have to convince people you're George Burns, particularly people in another age range (that might not be familiar with Burns) who come to see the show. He had an interesting and amusing life. There's humor in it. Even if you didn't know him, you would like him."

There are a number of "re-enactments" in the show of some of the Burns and Allen radio sessions, Farr noted. There also are film clips as well as clips from the Burns and Allen TV show, including some with Jack Benny.

"I've had some young people at the show, and I was amazed they knew Gracie Allen and George Burns. They don't really play their TV show much because of the quality of (the film). I bought some, and the quality is pretty bad. What they used to do was photograph the TV screen with a kinescope."

An "achievement on my part"

Performing in "Say Goodnight Gracie" also represents "an achievement on my part," Farr said.

"I never expected to be playing George Burns," he explained, adding Frank Gorshin was the original performer in the Broadway production.

Farr said he never saw Burns and Allen perform, but he listened to them on the radio as a child.

"I saw their TV shows and I got to see George in the movies," Farr noted. "I also knew George. I have a picture that hangs on the wall in the den, taken at the 50th anniversary at CBS. I did 'M*A*S*H' and George was with CBS for many, many years.

"I had been with him at charitable events. I spoke to him, and introduced my wife to him. He was an acquaintance. I got to see how he walked, how he talked. ... I saw him at numerous functions. He was a very dapper man. He was always nicely dressed and manicured, and he always had some beautiful woman on his arm, no matter how old he was. And he loved to dance. Even at his age, he'd get up and dance. He used to look at me, sitting at a table ringside, and wink at me. He'd rest that little bit."

He said "Say Goodnight Gracie" is a pleasant evening of theater.

"If anybody likes a nice evening at the theater, (this show is) the place to be. It's a gentle show. You find out about him if you don't know anything about the person at all.

"The humor is much different from today. Today, (comedians) find humor in sarcasm. It's a harsh kind of humor. It was gentle in those days. You walk out of the theater with a smile on your face because these were really nice people."

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