Remembering Gracie Allen's White House Run In 1940, the United States was just emerging from the shadow of the Great Depression and war loomed in Europe. Into these serious times stepped Gracie Allen, part of the popular comic duo Burns and Allen, who launched a campaign for president.

Remembering Gracie Allen's White House Run

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block. Now, we're turning the clock back, back to the presidential election of 1940. Franklin Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie were campaigning in a country preoccupied with depression and looming war. Levity was in short supply until an unexpected candidate entered the race.

Producers Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries have the story of a campaign with perfect comic timing.

Unidentified Man: And now, George Burns and Gracie Allen.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. CYNTHIA CLEMENTS (Co-author, "George Burns and Gracie Allen: A Bio-Bibliography"): My name is Cynthia Clements. I'm co-author of "George Burns and Gracie Allen: A Bio-Bibliography."

Mr. ROBERT EASTON (Actor): My name is Robert Easton, and I had the great privilege of working with George and Gracie on the show. In the 1930s and the 1940s, "The Burns and Allen Show" was one of the most popular shows on radio.

(Soundbite of radio show "The Burns and Allen Show")

Mr. GEORGE BURNS (Comedian, Actor): Thank, thank you very, very much.

Ms. GRACIE ALLEN (Comedian, Actress): Hello.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BURNS: Hello. What are you laughing at?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALLEN: Oh, at that salesgirl at...

Ms. CLEMENTS: Gracie Allen was a small woman, barely five feet tall. She had this very high pitched voice, and she was seen as being dizzy.

Mr. EASTON: People loved Gracie all over the country. The American people just adored her. So no matter how outrageous the things that she said were, she got away with it.

Ms. ALLEN: Hello.

Mr. BURNS: Hello, Gracie. Coming down to the studio tonight I saw a big...

Ms. CLEMENTS: February 7th, 1940, during the Burns and Allen broadcast, Gracie says that she was thinking about running for president. And this would begin one of the most famous publicity stunts ever created for radio.

Ms. ALLEN: George, I'll let you in on a secret. I'm running for president.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. BURNS: You're running for president?

Ms. ALLEN: Yes.

Mr. BURNS: Gracie, how long has this been going on?

Ms. ALLEN: Well, for 150 years, George Washington started it.

Mr. BURNS: But in the entire history of the United States, there's never been a woman president.

Ms. ALLEN: Yeah, isn't that exciting? I'll be the first one.

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ALLEN (Singing): Vote for Gracie. Vote for Gracie. She's the best little skipper in the land. Vote for Gracie. Vote for Gracie...

Mr. EASTON: When they first initiated the idea of having Gracie run for the presidency, the whole thing was just a publicity stunt. You have to understand, there was a depression. There was world war that was looming on the horizon. I think it brought a much needed sense of comedy relief to very tense times.

Unidentified Man #1: Miss Allen, my newspaper wants to know just what your platform is.

Ms. ALLEN: Oh, yes. I was working on it last night, and I'll read what I've written. Unemployment, and where to get it. Under my administration, the government will give free correspondence courses so that people who can't find jobs in their own line will soon be without jobs in three or four different types of work.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: Miss Allen, what do you think of our national debt?

Ms. ALLEN: Well, we ought to be proud of it. It's the biggest in the world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CLEMENTS: She has platform, cabinet members, billboards, campaign buttons. Students at Harvard nominated her for president. There was a small town somewhere that wanted to name her mayor.

Mr. EASTON: And it took off much more that they could have imagined.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ALLEN (Singing): Vote for Gracie. Keep voting all day long!

Mr. EASTON: She took the train from LA to Omaha, making all these stump speeches from the back of the train.

Ms. CLEMENTS: And people actually would go to see her. It's estimated maybe a hundred thousand people.

Ms. ALLEN: Hello.

Mr. BURNS: I want to tell our listeners that we're here in Omaha, Nebraska for Gracie's convention.

Ms. EASTON: Burns and Allen broadcast the convention for Gracie Allen on May the 15th, 1940.

Unidentified Man: I hereby nominate for president of the United States, Gracie Allen.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. ALLEN: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for nominating me your candidate for president. Some people say to me, don't count your chickens before they're hatched, Gracie, you haven't been elected yet. Of course, there is a remote possibility of that. But should such a thing happen, I'll say what Mr. Dionne said to the nurse when she told him that he was the father of quintuplets. I demand a recount!

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. CLEMENTS: The actual convention itself was very successful, but maybe it had run its course. And not too long after the convention, she says I'm going to stop my campaign now. And she gave sort of a serious speech. She says the way the world was today, that she was stepping back and letting the serious campaigning go ahead.

Mr. EASTON: Even after she had retired her candidacy, in the actual election, with heavyweights like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Willkie and a number of other people from minor parties running, she actually got thousands of write-in votes. We tend to take politics so deadly serious. But looking back on it, in 1940, the country needed something like this.

Mr. BURNS: Well, Gracie, say goodnight.

Ms. ALLEN: Well, good night. I'll see you in the White House.

Mr. BURNS: Say good night.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ALLEN (Singing): Vote for Gracie to win the presidential racey. A hundred million strong - that's right, you can't go wrong. Vote for Gracie, keep voting all day long!

BLOCK: In the 1940 election, Franklin Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term. And after the election, Gracie Allen published a book about her campaign. She left these words of advice for future presidential candidates. No matter what people say about them or what they say about each other, candidates are human beings, and we need them.

Our story was produced by Joe Richman and Samara Freemark of Radio Diaries, with help from Deborah George.

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