George Burns, 84-year-old dean of vaudeville comedy and lead in the recent film "Oh God," yesterday turned down an invitation to appear as visiting lecturer in this spring's Learning from Performers series.
"I am highly flattered, but my work schedule is so heavy, I really don't have the time, so it is with sincere regret that my answer must be negative," wrote Burns in reply to Christine Gratto, director of the Learning From Performers series.
Burns added that he may be able to come to Harvard if his work schedule changes.
Master of Comedy
"We here at Harvard are hoping that will be the case," Gratto said yesterday, adding that "he's a master of the art of comedy."
"I just received my diploma from P.S. 22 in Manhattan after 70 years, and now you're inviting me to speak at Harvard," the ageless Burns noted. "Come to think of it, that's the only thing that could top playing 'God' in the movies," he added.
The workshop will invite other artists for its series on comedy, including Jules Feiffer, Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman.
Burns has received critical acclaim for his understated performance as the cigar-smoking deity in the spoof "Oh God."
He also will appear in the forthcoming film, "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," which is based on the 1967 Beatles album of the same name.
In "Sergeant Pepper's," Burns plays Mr. Kite, keeper of the band's instruments and mayor of the town, Irving Fein, Burn's agent, said yesterday. Lead Peter Frampton will serenade him in "The Benefit of Mr. Kite," and Burns himself will croon supreme in "Fixing a Hole."
An album of the "Sergeant Pepper's" soundtrack will also be marketed, Fein said. "And he's starting another movie at the beginning of April, and working right through the Spring," Fein added.
Following a lengthy career on the vaudeville stage, Burns went on to gain national fame as a radio star with his former dance partner, Gracie Allen.
Long a talk-show regular, Burn's career underwent a resurgence after an Oscar nomination for his role in the 1974 film, "The Sunshine Boys," and "Oh God" has become one of the most successful films of the past year.
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