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Sometimes it is hard to believe that Carol Burnett has been in show business for more than 5 decades. To say that she is an American icon is an understatement.
Carol Burnett is known for her comic genius but she has shown talent in stage, TV and film.
Carol was born in San Antonio, Texas, on April 26, 1933, where she was born to Jodie and Louise Burnett, both of whom suffered from acute alcoholism. Her story is well known as she has shared her life story with her audiences.
After her parents divorced in the late 1930s, Burnett moved with her grandmother, Mabel Eudora White, to a small apartment in Hollywood, California. She attended Hollywood High School, graduating in 1951. This is the same grandmother who we learned about through Carol’s famous tug on her ear at the end of her shows.
After studying theater arts and English at the University of California, Los Angeles, Carol left school early to travel to New York City with the hope of breaking into acting. Carol’s first big TV breaks came at age 22 when she appeared on “The Paul Winchell Show” in 1955, and as Buddy Hackett’s gawky girlfriend on the short-lived sitcom “Stanley”. In 1959, Burnett became a regular on the “Gary Moore Show”. where she won quite a few Emmy Awards. During that time she appeared on CBS specials. She also went on the star on Broadway. She began as Princess Winnifred in the 1959 Broadway musical “Once Upon a Mattress” which earned her first Tony Award nomination.
With a decade worth of experience she got her own comedy-variety show, “The Carol Burnett Show”, in 1967. Her stable of super-talents included Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and lookalike type Vicki Lawrence. A bit later Tim Conway became a beloved and hilarious fixture on the show.
The show became an instant sensation, and earned 22 Emmy Awards during its 11-year run. The show usually opened with a question-and-answer session with the audience, and then the madness started. Some of her classic parodies involved playing Gloria Swanson, Shirley Temple, Vivien Leigh or Joan Crawford. She was not only a physical comic she also showed her singing and dancing skills in skits with stars like Jim Nabors, Steve Lawrence, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé. Never forgetting how hard show business is she mentored or introduced stars like Bernadette Peters and The Pointer Sisters.
Branching out into film she starred in the films “Pete ‘n’ Tillie” (1972), “The Front Page” (1974) and Robert Altman’s “A Wedding” (1978). Some of her TV roles included her memorable portrayal of anti-Vietnam War activist Peg Mullen in “Friendly Fire” (1979), and convincingly played a woman coming to terms with her alcoholism in “Life of the Party: The Story of Beatrice” (1982). a true story that eerily mirrored some of her own background as the child of alcoholics.
Carol Burnett has deservedly received numerous awards over time, including the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985.
Her personal life has been charmed but not without its difficulties--tears in between the laughs. Married three times, her second union with jazz-musician-turned-variety-show-producer Joe Hamilton produced three daughters. Eldest girl, Carrie Hamilton, an actress and former teen substance abuser, tragically died of lung and brain cancer at age 38.
Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence were the longest running cast members. The two were the only series regulars to stay with the program throughout its 11 seasons.
Burnett has said that Ms. Wiggins’s signature waddle was because the skirt she was given was too big — Burnett walked that way to keep it from falling off.
Tim Conway was known for improvising and deliberately trying to get other cast members to laugh during taping. Korman fell for Conway’s tactics nearly every time.
The “family” sketch called for Eunice to wear a “Tennessee Williams”-type dress. Costume designer Bob Mackie found the perfect 1930s frock in a thrift shop.
A very popular skit, called “The Family”, involved Eunice, her husband Ed, and Eunice’s mama. Which of these guests did NOT play one of Eunice’s siblings?
- Betty White - Madeline Kahn
- Roddy McDowall - Alan Alda
Mr. Tudball was a toupee-wearing businessman who had an airhead for a secretary. What was her name?
- Mrs. Wiggins - Mrs. Tudball
- Mrs. Lawrence - Mrs. Hudson
Carol’s hilarious spoof of “Gone with the Wind” was entitled “Went with the Wind”. Which guest played the role of Melody in the skit?
- Cher - Maggie Smith
- Nanette Fabray - Dinah Shore
A frequent skit involved an old man who didn’t move very fast. His inability to speed up was always an inconvenience to a character played by Harvey Korman. Who played the old man?
- Lyle Waggoner - Carol Burnett
- Tim Conway - Steve Lawrence
Who played the flamboyant character named Mother Marcus in “As the Stomach Turns”.
- Harvey Korman - Tim Conway
- Lyle Waggoner - Dick Van Dyke
A recurring skit performed by Carol and Harvey Korman, based on Lunt and Fontanne, was about a married couple who were stage stars. What did Carol call her couple?
- “Bundt and No Rain” - “Blunt and Rundown”
- “Funt and Mundane” - “Runt and Great Dane”
Carol performed a recurring character named Nora Desmond, an aging star of the silver screen who was a few bricks short of a full load. Harvey Korman played her faithful manservant. What was his name?
- Max - Rex
- Otto - Hans