That gruff yet recognizable voice. The trademark cigar. Those corny jokes that may, or may not, be funny but with that rat-a-tat-tat Vaudevillian delivery that never seems to fail. It might be. It could be. It was….
Or was it George Burns?
For those who thought George Burns was a permanent fixture in the Las Vegas of the sky, think again.
Al Mager of Lake San Marcos was George Burns.
Well, a professional George Burns look-alike and former stand-in for the guy who used to say “Good Night Gracie” on radio and early TV, then played God in the movies before dying at age 100 in 1996.
“I liked George Burns but I wasn’t crazy about him,” said Mager, a former New Jersey cigarette paper worker and longtime Oceanside resident who retired to Lake San Marcos in 2000. “I had a stroke in 1984 and said what am I going to do now. I saw an ad in the paper that you can be in commercials. The commercials director said you look like George Burns and sent me on a commercial job as his stand-in.”
Thus was born Mager’s new calling in life. He visited backstage with the venerable entertainer and started working gigs as a Burns look-alike and stand-in for Burns in Hollywood commercial work.
“I met him when he was entertaining in Atlantic City and as soon as I walked in the door people stormed me, asking for autographs,” Mager said. “I said get me a seat, George is my dad.”
Billing himself as the “World’s Oldest Living Dead Ringer,” Mager would drop in on Burns in Hollywood from time to time and shoot the shtick with him. Burns always was gracious and shared his thoughts including an apparent distaste for Frank Sinatra, Mager said.
Mager had slowed down a bit due to the effects of two strokes, but there must have bene something in those George Burns-type genes, for the then-85-year-old San Marcos entertainer looked good and is interested in doing a little entertaining and attending celebrity look-alike conventions.
“It’s a pleasure to be here,” Burns, I mean Mager, says, repeating one of Burns’ most classic lines. “At my age, it’s a pleasure to be anywhere.”
Ahh, material. In point of fact, Mager looked like George Burns. He sounds like him, too. And he had that zest for life that made Burns such an American favorite for nearly a century.
Mager’s routine was very good by the way. Plus he handed out million-dollar bills with his likeness for effect. “Hey, you just made a million dollars,” Mager tells people. OK, corny and then some, but it got my attention.
“I had a Gracie,” Mager said, referring to Burns’ better half, his wife and leading light in the Burns and Allen act, and shows. “She was a retired actress. “I always invited her husband to go with us when we performed but one time he didn’t want to go. We got back one, two in the morning. No more Gracie after that.”
Those days Mager hung with the other celebrity look-alikes at what appeared to be an annual convention in Las Vegas. He had several giant scrapbooks filled with pictures of him and the mass quantities of Marilyn Monroes, Bill and Hillarys, popes, James Deans, and, of course, Elvises. Many, many Elvises.
“Just got back from the Imperial Hotel in Las Vegas,” Mager said. “They had Bill, Monica, Joan Rivers, even Abe Lincoln. All of them were from different talent agencies. There was a Sammy Davis, Howard Stern, Mr. T, two Joan Rivers, Dave Letterman, Neil Diamond, Jim Carrey, two John Waynes, two Tom Cruises, a Seinfeld….”
The list went on, too, like the on and on.
“Hail hail the gang’s all here,” Mager sang.
Swore I could see and hear George Burns.
Say goodnight, er, Al.