Small group gives Burns last curtain call

GOOD MORNING: “George, I know you took your music with you, so wherever you are, I hope they’re playing it in your key,” said Irving Fein as he delivered the farewell to George Burns Tuesday at Forest Lawn. Burns’ longtime pianist, conductor and friend Morty Jacobs then played the “Burns & Allen Show” theme, “Love Nest,” plus “Ain’t Misbehavin’ “(George’s intro theme), “I Wish I Was 18 Again,” “Young at Heart” and “Old Bones.” Burns had told Fein, his manager of 22 years and friend of 50, he did not want a celeb sendoff. “I don’t care what happens when I go,” he said. Thus the group at Forest Lawn included only his family — children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, staffs from his home and office, and Rabbi Harvey Fields. Fein said, “One of the many things I admired about George was his absolute determination to keep doing what he loved best in the world, working in show business. Always on time (or early), always prepared, he never missed a single performance and was the consummate professional. And as the years advanced, and I would discuss his possible retirement, he would say, ‘Retire? What am I supposed to do, stay home and play with my cuticles?’ Or he’d say, ‘Quit? I can’t quit. Who would support my mother and father?’ It was that attitude, plus his many gifts, plus the love from his adoring fans … wherever he worked that enabled him to stay on top all those years.” George always gave Gracie credit for their success onstage. And George had said he wanted Gracie to have the space above him in their crypt, so at the end, the billing would then read, “Allen and Burns”… He always downplayed his importance in their act, by saying he only knew “entrances and exits.” “And so,” Irving Fein said, “last Saturday, he knew it was time to go.” Curtain.

“HE WAS THE MOST important person in my (professional) life. I owe him my career.” It was Mark Rydell talking about Vince Edwards, who gave then-production assistant Rydell his first opportunity to direct — a “Ben Casey.” “The network said ‘Absolutely not!’ but Vince said, ‘I’m off the show if he doesn’t direct.’ Afterward, I did over 20 of them (‘Caseys’). I owe him my career.” Rydell, now directing “Crime of the Century” for HBO, saw Edwards last week on the beach. “He had lost 60 pounds in the few months since I last saw him and since then he was stricken with pancreatic cancer. I was devastated. He asked me, ‘Do you have a copy of ‘Final Exit’? I said I had, and gave it to him — it’s the book on how to commit suicide, you remember.” (Edwards died of the cancer Monday night at UCLA Medical Center). Rydell, like all of us, knew that Edwards was plagued by the gambling disease. Director Billy Friedkin said Edwards figured he’d lost $5 million in his lifetime. “At the end, he really knew he had gone wrong and he was trying to write his autobiography, ‘Easy the Hard Way’ — which typified his life. He was really a good man, and as an actor he really never got his due. He created an indelible character which will live as long as there is TV.” Friedkin had directed him in “Deal of the Century” in 1987 and the two were friends ever since … Edwards would call me any time he got a job in recent years. Friedkin again cast him, in Showtime’s “Jailbreakers” in 1994, to play Shannen Doherty’s father. She had just left “Beverly Hills, 90210” with a reputation of being difficult. Edwards told me, “She reminds me of me. I also had the reputation of being difficult when I was doing ‘Ben Casey.’ But she is totally professional.” Edwards was as well, reminded Friedkin. Edwards leaves many friends on both sides of the cameras.

WOODY ALLEN HAD TO BE RESCUED from over-exuberant fans and paparazzi on the Pontevecchio in Florence, one of the stops of his jazz concertour. His “Mighty Aphrodite’s” the mightiest in Italy, and he has yet to decide on a distrib for his musical, “Everyone Says I Love You”… Tim Johnson, producer of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” says they are checking the water on the set: Beth Sullivan, creator and exec producer of the series, and husband, series regular Jim Knobeloch, welcomed twins, Jack and Tess, March 12 at Santa Monica Hospital. You recall, the series’ star, Jane Seymour, and husband James Keach welcomed twins Nov. 30. … Columbia TriStar TV senior VP Andy Kaplan and wife Allison welcomed their first, Lucas Avalon K. March 11 at Cedars-Sinai … Emmy-winner Fyvush Finkel and wife Trudi celebrate their 49th wedding anni same way they’ve done it the past three years — on the set of “Picket Fences” Thursday where he’s working …”People’s Choice Award” winner Drew Carey joins the performers at tonight’s All Star Comedy Benefit for Warren Thomas, who recently fell ill, at the Laugh Factory … The Santa Barbara Film Fest tribute to Tom Selleck on March 14 includes his Showtime made-for, “Ruby, Jean and Joe,” plus a Q&A with Tom … Entertainment attorney Brooke A. Wharton’s “The Writers Got Screwed (But Didn’t Have To),” a screenwriter’s guide to showbiz practices, got word from HarperCollins that 20,000 copies go on sale May 20.

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