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George Burns

Remembers His New York Roots…

            I was born on Pitt Street and lived at 259 Rivington Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Our neighborhood was all Jewish, very crowded, and every husband and wife had eight or nine or 10 kids. But that doesn’t mean the Jews were great lovers [pause].  It meant it was very cold in that neighborhood.

                In the summer, when it was hot, we slept on the fire escape or sometimes even on the roof.  We had very little money coming in.  I was one of 12 children.  We were five brothers and seven sisters.  My mother was great!  How she kept us together, I’ll never know. I had a wonderful family.

                There were pushcarts all over Rivington Street, and I used to steal from them. Sure – a banana, an apple.

                We were very poor – so poor we ate one of my sisters [pause].  But we used ketchup [pause].  No, no!

            One day, when I was eight, three other kids and I were down in the basement.  We were making syrup for a candy store when a mailman named Lou Farley happened to come down there where we were.

                He loved harmony singing; and when he saw four kids, he decided to teach us how to sing harmony.  So here we were in show business!  We stopped making syrup and we became the PeeWee Quartet.  Then we started singing on street corners, on ferry boats, in people’s yards.

                And then we’d pass the hat. Sometimes people would put a penny in our hat, or a nickel [pause].  Sometimes they took our hat [pause].  We lost a lot of hats.

                When I was eight, I was making five or six dollars a week. That was a lot of money in those days…


           I went only as far as the fourth grade. Listen, I spelled cat with two “t’s” [pause].  No, I went into show business when I was eight – and I loved it then. Now I’m 95, and I still love it!

- As told to Jane Wollman Rusoff