Bob Burns was a comedian, actor and radio personality best known for his stories about life in the Ozarks.
Burns was born Robin Burn in small-town Arkansas, and his childhood home of Van Buren shaped his life in ways that reverberated through his later comedic work. As a child, his love of music led him to take up the study of his fair share of musical instruments, including the mandolin, fiddle, guitar, piano and cornet. He was described as an entertaining, if not virtuosic, player, and he later pursued work as an orchestra leader.
Beyond music, Burns' early adulthood included forays into careers as diverse as river ferry piloting, peanut farming and selling both hay and advertising. He eventually found his calling in the entertainment industry, starting in carnivals before moving to the vaudeville stage. Radio and film followed.
He was famous for his creation of a musical instrument he called the bazooka — a name later co-opted to describe a portable rocket launcher. Burns invented his bazooka almost by accident; he placed several lengths of pipe together and blew into it. The resulting bass sounds amused him, and he tinkered with his creation by adding a funnel.
Burns' radio appearances often featured him playing the bazooka, and he was sometimes simply called Bazooka Burns. He also earned the nickname "The Arkansas Traveler," and he starred in a film of the same name that was inspired by his tales of life in Van Buren.
Those tales — filled with characters with names like Uncle Fud and Grandpaw Snazzy — apparently inspired ire from some listeners, but Burns maintained that those who objected to his gentle ribbing were "city slickers."
He insisted that he had great affection for the country folk who figured in his tales, once describing them as "good, honest people. I ain't ashamed of them. If the country folk I tell these stories about don't mind, I can't see why the city people want to kick."
Burns remained countrified at heart, once commenting, "Some folks out here [in Hollywood] get inflated ideas. But they usually have to come down to earth. I know I'm the same fellow I was years ago when I was glad to make $25 a week. I haven't got any smarter."
In later years, Burns invested heavily in San Fernando Valley real estate. The last years of his life were mainly spent at his 200-acre ranch in Canoga Park. He was a beloved figure in Canoga Park, and he was considered its honorary mayor for several years.
Burns died of kidney cancer in 1956 and was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale.
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