After landing a regular position on The Garry Moore Show, Carol Burnett grabbed the attention of CBS and was offered her own series as the first female host of a TV variety show. But Burnett was just getting started with her side-splittingly hilarious show.
Too Big And Loud
Not many are aware that Burnett was thought to be unsuitable for TV. Originally, producers had little faith in her talent, saying she was “too big” and “too loud.”
Who Was The Mystery Man?
After Burnett spontaneously performed with her fellow drama students at a party for a departing professor, Burnett was approached by a man she’s never met before, who offered her $1000 to get her acting career started. The man had three terms for the loan: she’d have to pay him back in 5 years, never reveal his identity and pay the favor forward when she makes it big. After thinking things over the weekend, Burnett ignored her mother’s advise to steer clear of the stranger and accepted his check.
The Show Was Originally Very Dark
Not many know that Mama’s Family, the sketch spin-off from The Carol Burnett Show, actually started off being a lot darker off-sketch. “The Reunion,” a sketch which originally aired in 1974, featured the characters that ultimately became known as “The Family.” In this original installment, Roddy McDowall acted as Phillip Harper, a successful man and younger brother of Eunice who had just returned home after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were a lot crotchetier and more bad-tempered than the cartoon-like characters they eventually became on the syndicated series Mama’s Family.
A Fan Letter Goes A Long Way
Vicki Lawrence was told from a young age that she resembled Burnett, especially due to her “pixie” cut. Lawrence’s pushy mother nagged her daughter to send a fan letter to Burnett with attachments of a photo of herself and a newspaper article mentioning Vicki’s upcoming appearance in the Miss Fireball Contest. Vicki did so, and much to her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant, cheering her on. When Burnett gave birth, the nurse mistook visiting Vicki as Burnett’s sister and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!”
Joe Hamilton, the producer, and husband of Burnett was looking for an attractive, “Rock Hudson-type” when picking the commentator for the show. When he came across Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner, it did not take long for Hamilton to choose the good-looking man, since there was more to him than good genes. In fact, Waggoner had a healthy sense of humor and often made jokes about his appearance, sometimes touching sensitive subjects like how he was teased for posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.
A Peculiar Gesture
Every week viewers sat in front of the TV to watch their favorite show and would have perplexed expressions on their faces as Carol Burnett would tug at her earlobe at the end of every show. Some speculated that the odd gesture was a stage cue, but as it turns out, the peculiar tug was a message for Burnett’s grandmother, as if to say “Hello, I love you.” Burnett’s grandmother passed while the show was still on the air, but the star continued with the gesture.
Lack Of Support From Her Mother
Burnett’s mother was not keen on her daughter becoming an actress, and pushed her from a young age to follow a different path – become a writer. Burnett painfully recalled in an interview she gave later in life that whenever she would express an interest in a career in the theater, her mom would always discourage her and urge that she would become a writer, as it is a safer choice than acting. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” her mom would say.
A Very Different Ice-Breaker
The Carol Burnett Show was unique in more ways than one, but the Q&A at the beginning was an odd one from the rest. What few people know is that it was pitched by Joe Hamilton, who was the show’s executive producer and Burnett’s husband. It’s traditional to have a stand-up comedian go onstage and warm up the audience with jokes before the show. But Joe was, “worried, [thinking] ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” So he resolved to a Q&A as an ice-breaker.
Took Her Under Her Wing
Carol Burnett was known to tick off the show’s writers, as she did when she asserted Vicki Lawrence was not given enough funny lines. Vicki recalled this moment, saying she asked Burnett “I do [need funnier lines]?” To which Carol responded, “Hush now, yes you do.” However, her persistence led two members of the writing staff to storm out in disapproval. Vicki said on her own TV Show in the 90’s regarding Burnett that “we all know who took me under her wing.”
A Walk To Remember
Mrs. Wiggins’ wriggly walk was a well-recognized one on set. Although some actors take pride in the personification process of their character, the truth is that it was a wardrobe malfunction that was responsible for the odd walk. While ditzy secretary Mrs. Wiggins tried on her outfit, Burnett protested that her skirt was too big. In order to keep the item attached, Burnett extended her behind by arching her back, which resulted in Mrs. Wiggins’ amusing and iconic walk.
Stella In The Stall
Actors have different techniques when it comes to going into character, but Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence were never common in anything they have done. As a matter of fact, the dynamic duo found the characters of The Family sketches and their voices while they were in the restroom, yelling at each other. Carol and Vicki reportedly gave each other excited high fives after this scream-off that made many unsuspecting ladies run away from the stalls, saying this is going to be a huge hit.
Just My Type
Harvey Korman was the first cast member to join The Carol Burnett Show. Korman fit the producers’ description of a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but the thought of actually having Korman join the show didn’t even cross their minds, seeing as how the actor already was a regular on The Danny Kaye Show. In an utter Burnett-fashion, the star of the show spotted Korman in the CBS parking and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. The rest was history.
Jim Carrey Wanted In
While Lawrence gained her place on the show through a well-written fan letter, other aspiring artists weren’t as lucky. The show could have been Jim Carrey’s big break, as when he was at the young age of ten, the future Liar, Liar and Ace Ventura star actor sent a copy of his resume to the producers of The Carol Burnett Show, hoping he would be discovered and asked to audition for the show. Unfortunately, the comedian didn’t quite fit the script.
No Idea What He Was Going To Do
Each and every episode of the show was taped twice, but not for the reason you may think. In the first taping, Conway would follow a script, but since his undeniable need to improvise, he was only allowed to do so during the second taping. Burnett said of her co-star that, “we had no idea what he was going to do,” which is why there needed to be a “professional take,” just in case the cast would crack up and not be able to continue the scene.
Get Even Or Get Out
Despite the often bursts of laughter, not everyone was happy with Conway’s improvisations and tendency to go off script. One time, Vicki found out the comedian was planning on changing the “Family” sketch, and her husband convinced her this was her opportunity to get even. And so, when her co-star was rambling about the elephant story, Lawrence turned from him and snapped with the infamous ad-lib, “You sure that little a**hole’s through?” Needless to say, everyone on set was crying with laughter after this comeback.
From Old Hag To Ditzy Damme
Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters, and consequently wrote many of their sketches. Not many people know that originally, Mrs. Wiggins was written in as a character that was ancient, slow, and forgetful. However, it was Bob Mackie, the costume designer, who decided that Burnett played too many “old lady” characters on the show as it was, and resolved to do the exact opposite with this one. Mackie turned Mrs. Wiggins into a voluptuous, ditzy woman, and even admitted he was inspired by the CBS secretaries he met.
Dress Or Mess?
Designer Mackie has made many glamorous gowns for the most renowned celebrities, but much to his dismay, the most memorable piece he has ever made was a “joke” garment seen in a Gone with the Wind parody. The Carol Burnett Show’s hilarious scene involved Carol descending the stairs at Tara while wearing green velvet drapes with the curtain bar still in them. “I saw it in a window, and I couldn’t resist,” she said, and to this day, the “dress” is hung and eternalized in the Smithsonian.
Dick Van Dyke In A Wig And Dress
Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 since he was offered his own show (which was later canceled after only five episodes), but the show landed a very promising replacement – Dick Van Dyke. Surprisingly, the man was not a very good fit. Burnett put it best by saying that “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.”
The Pain Was Real
Although the talented actors knew how to manipulate their audience very well, some things cannot be faked no matter how hard you try. Tim Conway learned this the hard way, as while the cast was filming a sketch on a submarine, he got pinned under the periscope and appeared to be in a lot of pain. This was the intention behind the scene, but Conway wasn’t acting. The day before he had a vasectomy, and the periscope actually hit him in the groin during taping.
A True Story
When Conway was in the Army, he had some work done on his teeth. At the time, the dentist missed Conway’s mouth and accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway did what many comedians do in such a situation and used the horrible experience as inspiration for a hilarious skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to hide his laughter. In 2013, Conway was interviewed by Conan O’Brien and revealed that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.
Unable To Hold Back
The Carol Burnett Show consisted of numerous bloopers, but three are considered exemplars to this day: the first is seen in “The Dentist Sketch”, where Harvey Korman was incapable of keeping a straight face with Tim Conway. The second was in the game Sorry, as Vicki Lawrence went off script completely, thus inducing Carol Burnett to lose it in both tapings – and the third and most well-known one was called “The Elephant Story”: Tim Conway dragged on a story about two elephants, causing every cast member to fall to pieces.
Screaming For Stockings
Burnett was shopping at Bergdorf Goodman in New York for stockings, but when she was ready to check out, Burnett realized that her credit card and driver’s license were missing from her wallet. Burnett asked if writing a check would be acceptable, but the saleswoman replied, “I’ll have to see some ID,” despite having recognized Burnett a few minutes earlier and asking for an autograph. The floor manager stepped in and said her check would be accepted if Burnett could do her Tarzan yell. Burnett quickly complied.
Changing It All Together
The Carol Burnett Show writers Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon created “The Family” sketch. McMahon, a Kansas City native, envisioned the Harpers to be a typical Midwestern bunch. However, the minute Burnett lay her hands on the script, all she could hear was her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. Immediately, Burnett began delivering the lines with a pronounced Southern accent, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed her mentor, echoing the same suit. The writers were not too sure about the change at first, but it proved to be successful.
Draw The Line
Burnett may have had a reputation of a comedian who did not have any boundaries when it came to cracking jokes, but she proved that the queen of comedy herself also knows where to draw the line when threatened to fire Harvey Korman for being rude to guests such as Tim Conway and Petula Clark. Apparently, Burnett was dead serious when she told Korman that while she could put up with him being rude to her, he should never be rude to the guests.
The Good Luck Charm
Much like in sports, superstitions are a major thing when it comes to those who dedicate their lives to the stage or performing in front of others. For this reason precisely, Carol Burnett took matters that had to do with the success of her show very seriously. For example, Burnett had actor Jim Nabors appear on the premiere episode of the show, and since it proved to be tremendously successful, she decided he must be a guest performer for each season’s first show, as he was her “good luck charm”.
Surprisingly, Ratings Were A Bust
If there is one thing The Carol Burnett Show never managed to accomplish was scoring the desired rating it desperately wanted. Critics listed the show as one of the best television programs of all time, but from the moment it aired in 1967 to 1978, the series was not a ratings juggernaut, despite the fact that the show peaked at No. 13 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1969-1970 season. No matter how successful it was, the show consistently ranked in the 20s for the first nine seasons and never made it to the top 10.
During its 11 seasons, nearly every “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry had a guest appearance of the show. From Ronald Reagan to Steve Martin, to Julie Andrews and Robin Williams – all had an incredible time on set. The only guest Burnett profoundly aspired to have but never managed to land was Bette Davis, since the talent demanded more money than the show had budgeted. The exception could have been made, but this would have set an unpleasant precedent, said executive producer Joe Hamilton.
Fans Were Shocked
50 year after the saddening end everyone’s favorite show, rare episodes that have never been seen before are finally released online. Fans of The Carol Burnett Show, the show that debuted on CVS in September of 1967, were over the moon once news hit the fan about the return of the tremendously successful show that ran for 11 years and is fondly remembered to this day by countless viewers from around the world. During the fall of 2017, more than 15 million viewers tuned in to watch the 50th Anniversary Special.
Although this might disappoint some, the show has not started filming again, nor has a new script been drafted for anything of that sort in the future, but rather the original show and cast is returning to the air, as was announced by CBS Television Distribution (CTD) in a press release issued on January 16, 2018. Apparently, CTD acquired the digital multicast rights for all 11 seasons of the show, and they fully intend on streaming everything online, to make the show accessible to the younger generation too.
Biggest Loss Of Her Life
Carol Burnett’s daughter Carrie was diagnosed with lung cancer from a young age. Carrie smoked cigarettes ever since her early teen years, which led to a lengthy period of using illegal, addictive substances and severe drinking. She bounced back and refrained from further usage when she was fifteen. Except for a brief relapse two years later seventeen, Carrie remained substance-free for the rest of her life – until her untimely death. Her mother, Carol, shared how the premature loss affected her for all eternity.
People magazine revealed Carole’s daughter’s battle with medication addiction with a front page cover reading: “Carole Burnett’s nightmare” in October 1979. Burnett apparently sent emails to “all of Carrie’s friends,” where she wrote: “I feel so helpless (because I am) … Aren’t mommies supposed to kiss it and make it all better? I wish I could go through this for her.” Carrie had not let go of hope and believed she would heal, even when she was told her tumors had spread and there wasn’t much else to do.
In her diary entry from January 3, 2002, Carol wrote the following: “I can’t lose my baby. Please no, please no, please NO! God are you there?” From that point on, Carrie’s health deteriorated rapidly, and on January 20, 2002, she passed away. Burnett told CBS that her entire family went into shock following the loss. “You never get over it, but I’ve learned to cope. You have no other choice,” she wrote in her touching memoir. Burnett added that the script she started with her daughter gave her the strength to move on.
Kept In Touch
Carol was asked if she ever heard from the benefactor who loaned her money to pursue her dream again, to which she replied: “I paid him back, five years to the day, just as he’d asked. Years later, when I was doing the Burnett Show, his wife called the office and said, ‘If you ever get down to San Diego, we’d like to take you and your husband to lunch.’ I was so thrilled. We went and had lunch, and he was kind of quiet, reserved, but very nice.”
Locked In A Vault
Carol went on with her touching tale, saying: “As we were walking back to our car, his wife took hold of my arm and said, ‘You know, when your name comes up in conversation, or if you’re on television and other people are around, he doesn’t say anything. He just smiles.'” Burnett managed to keep his name under wraps all this time. “It was their secret. He died a few years later, but I’ve never revealed his name, not even to my kids, because that was a promise.”
Burnett didn’t always have things going her way, but she always knew how to handle the rejection in a mature way. “You have to have the fire in the belly and don’t take anything personally when they don’t pick you,” she said. “I remember auditioning in New York, and I was with another girl, and it was between us. She got the role, and I said to myself, ‘It was her turn. And my turn will come.'” And it did.
You Can’t Go Back
Carol Burnett is now 84-years-old. The question she gets asked most often if she misses her show, and if she ever considers returning to TV ever again. “Well, you can’t go back again,” she said. “We did what we did. You try to do something like that again, and it wouldn’t work. I’m just happy I was there, the age that I was, the time that I was. I don’t [necessarily] miss it, but I’m nostalgic at times when I think back to all the fun we had.”
Growing up, Carol did not intend on becoming a stage performer. She does not consider herself a funny person, which is why she didn’t consider, not even for a split second, becoming a stand-up comedian once The Carol Burnett Show ended. When she was young, she knew her artistic side was the dominant one and dreamt of becoming a successful cartoonist. “I have my own comic strip!” she confessed, saying she gave up on that dream but still draws for pure enjoyment.
Anything But Comedy
Surprisingly, Carol Burnett admitted she is not a major fan of network television, saying it was not her cup of tea. When she does have spare time, however, she enjoys spending it in front of the TV but chooses to binge watch cable television shows. Her favorite shows include “Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards on Netflix. The Newsroom also.” It is interesting that none of these shows are comic ones, which goes to show Carol does not relate to the type of humor the present generation connects to.
Four Letter Word
It’s no secret that comedy these days is very different to what it used to be. Carol herself has too owned up to feeling rather confused about the seemingly common trend to use vulgar language and make crude jokes just to get a couple of giggles out of the crowd. “I’m not a prude,” she explained, “if somebody gets raunchy in their act, I don’t mind it if they’re playing a character, somebody who talks that way – but it’s just too easy to get a laugh with a four-letter word.”
Raunchy For Ratings
Still, there is no denying it is a lot easier to make the audience laugh by being vulgar than coming up with witty jokes, or sayings that have sarcastic undertones and much subtext. “It’s a lot harder to get laughs and not be raunchy,” she went on. “If you look at Ellen [DeGeneres], she did a wonderful one-woman show a few years ago, and there wasn’t one raunchy thing. Like Bill Cosby years ago, she’s a storyteller. They just know how to say things funny.”
Age is just a number, but there is no denying Carol Burnett has reached a certain one where most people slow down. However, Burnett is not about to let anything dictate how she should feel or behave. Her youthful heart and fun spirit make her seem years younger than her actual age, but it takes hard work to make sure her physique is in line with how fresh she feels. “It’s all about keeping busy,” she explained in an interview.
All About The Attitude
Still, Burnett is not the skipping young woman she used to be. “Lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been shot out of a cannon, with all this book stuff. And I do Pilates, I eat pretty well and take my vitamins. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning to keep the old grey matter ticking. But I guess it’s also about attitude.” If anyone close to the actress were to be asked how old they believe Carol is, they probably wouldn’t have given her a day over 50.
Not Your Girl Next Door
But Carol Burnett has never been the common girl next door. She never fit with the stigmas or pretended to be someone she is not so that she would fit into the crowd. Burnett herself made a point to stress out that she is not willing to give up on what makes her feel good, just because that’s what social norms dictate. Even when it came to her diet, Burnett explained that while she is “not eating a lot,” she does indulge in good food.
Couldn’t Care Less
Burnett once shocked her fans when she bluntly dismissed actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth, saying she is not one to keep track of her outfits or pay too much attention to what she wears. Chenoweth asked her where she got her outfit, to which Carol replied, “Oh, I don’t know! I think it’s like 40 years old!” Needless to say, no interviewer thought to question something like Burnett’s clothing ever again. The woman always put her talents and vibrant personality first and foremost, which she does to this day.
“Thrilled To Be Back Home”
Carol Burnett herself chimed in at the press conferenced, and was beaming with pride and joy when she said, “I’m thrilled to be back home at CBS, and I’m so happy that future generations will be able to see and enjoy the fun we had in those 11 wonderful years.” There are rumors about a reunion that might occur in the future, but for now, fans are going to have to settle for these online episodes. If you ask us, that’s a pretty good deal!