MY FIRST ADOPTEE: RONNIE BURNS

Ronnie Burns 2Ronnie Burns was the adopted son of George Burns and Gracie Allen. There had never been any secret about his adoption. He came from The Cradle. Gracie said they chose him because he was the most sickly baby there and needed the most care. Ronnie was always referred to by the press as “the adopted son of.” He was just one of many of those “adopted son/daughter ofs” in the First Golden Age of Hollywood Adoption, but he was the only one, as far as I knew, who was on TV. He was the first visible adopted person I ever “knew.”

See, back then, even during that Golden Age, where it seemed half of Hollywood was adopting, adoption in the real world wasn’t discussed in public. I’m not sure that was a bad idea . If the Internet had been around then, and my parents adoptaobsessed like adopters are today, I’d have been mortified. It was bad enough being adopted without having your business spread all over front street.

I don’t remember feeling any externalized identification with Ronnie as an adoptee; he just was. I was 9 or 10 years old when he joined the cast of the Burns & Allen Show playing himself, so I wasn’t intellectualizing things. But I do remember a fascination with him, and a disturbing feeling that as an adoptee he wasn’t “real.” …he was a sort of an out-of-body experience…which of course, begs the question, was I?

I was so a slow learner, that it wasn’t until I saw the Proud and Profane on the late night movie when I was 14, that it occurred to me that my parents might not have been married when I was born. Back then, those things were never discussed in polite company. A year after that, at a school dance, I was talking to a wallflower-in-arms, when she casually mentioned her parents had gotten married a year after she was born. I felt confused and faint. I ruminated over that confession for the longest time. How did one live with the fact that your parents weren’t married? Even if they were later? It did not make me feel better about being adopted.

After Burns & Allen went off the air, Ronnie continued working in Hollywood as an actor and behind the scenes. He took the money he made there, and went into real estate investment. In his later years he raised Arabian horses on a ranch in Santa Ynez. He was married to the same woman for 30 years (another earlier marriage), had 3 sons, and 6 grandchildren. I think he had a good life.

I can’t find any clips of him on Burns & Allen or any of his film work outside of the draggy JD film Anatomy of a Psycho (1961). No, he’s not the psycho–but he’s in love with the psycho’s sister.

Exception: “Wallace” on The Honeymooners. This is Ronnie’s finest performance.

******

Ronnie BurnsI’m not even sure why I’m writing this today, except for some reason Ronnie Burns popped into my head last night. I Googled him and learned that he died of cancer at the age of 72 in 2007. I felt bad. Like I’d lost something.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this today, except for some reason Ronnie Burns popped into my head last night. I Googled him and learned that he died of cancer at the age of 72 in 2007. I felt bad. Like I’d lost something.

Times were protective then. I never knowingly “knew” another adoptee or bastard until my first job out of college when I worked with a man who’d been adopted during the Great Depression. After that, I never knowingly knew another adopted person (though I knew a couple kept bastards and certainly people who created bastards!) until I was in my thirties. Even as times changed, adoption was not something one talked about with any security.

By today’s confessional standards, it must be difficult to understand that for me, reared in deep silence, the mere existence of Ronnie Burns was important–a gift–even if I couldn’t articulate that importance until much later. Like now. For many years Ronnie was my only link to adopteehood. A sort of looking glass that validated me. There were at least two of us out there, even though intellectually I knew there were millions. He was on the TV screen and he was real. He was not playing an adoptee. He was one.

When Ronnie died, his AP obit read in part: Born in Evanston, Ill., he was adopted when he was 3 months old. He is still referred to usually as “adopted son of.”

I have no idea how Ronnie felt about being adopted or if he chose to investigate his roots. I’m betting, though, he didn’t like being reminded–and the world reminded with him–that he was “the adopted son of…”

When I see Ronnie or anyone else described as “the adopted son/daughter of” on some level I cringe. But on another level, I want this. The descriptor is part of our identity. I will always be grateful for Ronnie’s visibility and the lifeline he threw out to me so many years ago, by his mere visibility, even if that visibility was front streetscaped- and surely an albatross. In a world where adoptees were freakizied internally, his presence tempered my freakishness and help me psychically survive to sort things out later.

Am I making any sense?

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12 Replies to “MY FIRST ADOPTEE: RONNIE BURNS”

  1. Yes, you are making a lot of sense.

    I am trying to remember who my first adoptee was outside of my abrother.

    You know I think it may have been Rhoda, although when I “met” her I was around 6 or 7 and didn’t realize that she wasn’t the adoptee. I just knew adoption was why she was so very naughty.

    I identified with her, because I suspected I was too. Damn that Claude Daigel and his snotty penmanship.= =

    Joy

  2. I feel the same way about being identified as “adopted daughter of.” I want the truth told, but I don’t want to have to wear it around my neck and explain it all the time either. I guess I want some control over the label in recognition of the fact that it is MY truth.

    Laurel

  3. I love The Burns and Allen Show, even though I see it only in the reruns as I was born in 1961. I was adopted and it was a dirty little secret until I was 13 when my mother thought she would tell me the truth, bad timing, bad idea. I should have ben told truth from begining. But, I digress, I love the Burns and Allen Show and it feels that the love that they had for each other comes to me right through the t.v. screen all of these years after they have left this world, bless them and thanks Gracie, George and Ronnie. Leila Larson

  4. I was the father of a girl given for adoption when she was a baby. men had no rights in those days. When I tried to find her thru the agency when she was 18 they treated me like I was some kind of asshole pervert and threw my contact info away. The crazy mother was located by our daughter however and we met when she was 18. We still stay close. I have adopted 2 children. I refer to them as “My Children” because that’s who they are! I have had people who have never adopted tell me “You cant love them as much as your REAL children” really? I cant? kiss my ass I love them just as much.

  5. I don’t know about adoption or being adopted, but Ronnie Burns back in the day was damn HOT. Nice ass, dreamy eyes, great lips…I’m not so sure that he aged all that well, did he think smoking cigars like George would let him live to be 100 too?

  6. Thanks for the informatin on Ronnnie. I have a vague memory of his singing.

    I have been surprised at the response I’ve had to this blog on Ronnie. He’s not an everyday household name, and I’m glad that people do have fond memories of him.

  7. This is interesting. I remember laughing at an intro to Burns and Allen: “Stay tuned as Gracie adds a few more stones to her son’s bumpy road to love.”

    A friend of my grandaughter’s is handicapped and about to give birth to a beautiful boy. A family in NC is looking forward to adopting him, but not the old way. They connect on Facebook and are old friends. This child will not only know who his birth mother is, he will know her.
    But for them this is a warm, loving solution. They are pro life and the girl’s mother has another daughter with health problems.
    Remember that many babies were conceived in rape, incest, love affairs with married men…this would be hard for some. Of course, in Catholic countries it is more normal to just accept that in a fallen world it is good to be grateful something positive came out of it.
    I sympathize with your life story. I enjoyed reading about relatives on Ancestry.com and felt sad for people who couldn’t do that.
    The sort of adoption I don’t like is the white Brahmin adopting little brown babies…Angelina, for instance. Are we so sure a person’s true heritage can’t compare to wealth and privilege of rich Americans? Some of hers have living parents. Why not give money to the original family instead of taking the child to show off? Part of the global thing…national feeling is frowned on by them.
    I love James Macarthur. I think they all knew and loved each other…that whole bunch…an open adoption but kept en famille!!

  8. Funny. .I am sitting here at 530 Am watching “Ronnie Burns”on his parents show. You noticed I said Parents
    I have been a nurse for over 30 years and believe me I have seen many biological parents that shouldn’t be
    Being a parent means being there thru ear infections, bullies in school, broken hearts, prom,graduation or just for those loving hugs….that’s a parent.
    Unfortunately there are too many children born to “so called parents”
    So weather your adobted or not, the person’s who always have your back and have taught you love, non-predujice and regaurd for other people…. those are your parents

  9. I am currently watching re runs of the old Burns and Allen show and loving it.

    Love seeing Ronnie Burns and now learning so much about his history as the
    son of the Burns’

  10. I was adopted and I was blessed my parents l loved me like their own. I also no my biological family and they’re also great sometimes you have to do what you have to do. My parents were only 15 they were kids themselves they did the right thing..my parents always said I was special and I was the chosen one! So those of you that want to adopt or are adopted never feel like you were unwanted because you were chosen! Have a great day Lisa

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