Carol Burnett’s acting career started in the New York theater scene before landing a role as a regular guest-star on The Garry Moore Show back in 1969. She then managed to catch the eye of CBS execs who proposed the idea that she get set up with her own show in 1967. With the help of her husband and fellow television visionary Joe Hamilton as executive producer, Burnett made history by becoming the first woman to host a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show had a very successful run for 11 seasons and 279 episodes and earned several Emmy Awards during its time on the air.
Carol Burnett is now 87 years old and still going strong, She still takes the occasional acting role and maintains a celebrated reputation as being one of the most influential figures in classic TV history. It’s only fitting that we celebrate this legendary comedienne’s life and career by delving into some of the most intriguing behind-the-scene facts related to the eponymous program that put her on the map.
Stick around to find out how a chance encounter with a complete stranger served as the catalyst for Carol finding her way to the spotlight. We’ll get to that in a second but let’s first take a little peek at Burnett’s teenage years. It seems like not everyone believed in her life goal to become an actor – but that didn’t stop her from chasing her dreams.
Carol Burnett’s Mom Insisted That She Become A Writer
Mom’s can be notoriously hard to please. When Burnett was a teen she would often express her desire to pursue a career path in theater, but her mother had other plans for her. Every time Carol would bring the subject up, her mom would always attempt to deter her by recommending that she instead focus her studies on becoming a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like” she would always add. Yikes! Way to be supportive Mrs. Burnett!
A Chance Encounter With A Stranger Helped Launch Her Career
While she was attending UCLA and approaching graduation, Burnett and several of her drama student peers were invited over to a leaving professor’s home for a farewell party. While she was there, she performed a scene from a popular musical at the time. Burnett was always insecure about her physical looks and assumed that everyone thought she had bombed the performance.
Later on that evening, while at the buffet Carol was stuffing her purse with cookies to take home to her grandmother a mysterious man she never met before approached her, complimented her performance, and inquired about what she planned on doing with her career.
She informed him that she had always dreamed of moving to New York to perform on the Broadway stage, but seeing as she didn’t even have enough cash in her purse to buy gas to get back to LA that evening she wouldn’t likely reach her goal any time soon.
The man offered her a $1,000 interest-free loan to help her get started on several conditions. One, that she repay the debt within five years. Two, that she never reveal his identity. Three, that once she found success that she pay-it-forward by passing a similar kindness on to another individual in need.
After spending the weekend reflecting on the offer and seeking the counsel of her mother and grandmother – who both warned her to avoid the mystery man as he likely was concocting some kind of nefarious plot – she decided to take a leap of faith and accept the loan anyway.
Vicki Lawrence’s Fan Letter
Vicki Lawrence got a short pixie-style haircut while she was still in high school. Several of her classmates pointed out that she strongly resembled Carol Burnett. Vicki’s mother egged her on to write Burnette a letter. When she did, she enclosed a photo of herself with a newspaper clipping that that announced the upcoming California Miss Fireball Contest which she planned on entering.
Lawrence was shocked when Burnette, who was seven months pregnant at the time, showed up to the event to show her support. When Burnette gave birth to her baby, Lawrence brought a bouquet of flowers to the hospital thinking that she could just drop them off and be on her way. When the nurse saw her however she mistook Vicki for Carol’s half-sister Chrissie and led her to her room to see the baby. Whoops!
Lawrence Ended Up With A Role On The Carol Burnett Show
When seeking out cast members for The Carol Burnett Show, Carol recalled that teenager that wrote her and brought her flowers at the hospital and decided to offer her a role on the show despite the fact that she had no acting experience. At first. she gave her a small recurring role as her sister but over time she became a full-fledged member of the ensemble cast.
Lawrence wrote in her autobiography Vicki: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, that Carol was very accommodating to all of her co-stars. She would always make sure that the entire cast got their fair cut of the funniest jokes, but she also noted that it was co-star Harvey Korman that went out of his way to take her on as a mentee and teach her all about comedic timing, accents, and working with various kinds of stage props.
The Q&A Segment Was Her Husband’s Idea
Not only was Joe Hamilton Burnett’s husband and best friend but he also served as the show’s executive producer. It’s been a tried-and-true tradition in show biz to have a comedian come on stage before a show to warm up the audience, but Hamilton was a bit nervous about going that particular route. He was worried that maybe the comedian would be more entertaining than the rest of the cast so he proposed an alternative. He suggested that Carol go out on stage and invite the audience to ask her questions instead. The most popular audience request asked throughout the show’s 11 seasons was for Carol to demonstrate her Tarzan yell.
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And you’re definitely going to want to stick around for the rest of the video. We’ve got the inside scoop on how some of the funniest sketches from the show were conceived, so stay tuned.
Burnett’s Tarzan Yell Doubled As A Type Of Personal Identification
While shopping for leggings at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City one day, a sales associated came up to Burnett and asked her for an autograph for her grandkids, which she happily did, but when it came time for Carol to check out she made the startling realization that she had forgotten to bring driver’s license or any other identifying document with her – which proved to be a problem because she was trying to pay with check.
After asking to see some kind of ID, Burnett informed the woman who just 10 minutes ago had asked for her autograph, that she was ID-less. The manager came over and agreed that he would take the check only if Burnett agreed to do her signature Tarzan yell. Carol agreed to the terms and belted out a loud guttural shout that prompted a skittish security guard to burst through a door and aim his gun at her thinking that she was trying to rob the place.
Lyle Wagonner Was In Fact The First Playgirl Centerfold
Joe Hamilton sought out a handsome and charismatic Rock=Hudson-type of performer when seeking out am announcer for The Carol Burnett Show.. Wagonner had previously worked as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesperson before landing the role. Not only did he have the qualifying good looks but he also had one heck of a sense of humor about the whole thing. He even remained a good sport even after being subjected to lighthearted jabs and teasing from his co-stars after baring it all for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s first issue in 1973.
Harvey Korman Was The First To Be Casted
Korman already had a regular role on The Danny Kaye Show when The Carol Burnett Show’s producers were looking for Carol’s perfect right-hand man. They didn’t even bother asking him if he wanted the part assuming that he already had steady employment and was unlikely to jump ship to a new show that hadn’t even premiered yet. It would have been a risky move.
Carol Burnett was walking to her car at the CBS parking lot one day when she spotted Korman and basically threw him against the hood of her car ad begged him to join the cast of her show. What she didn’t know at the time was that The Danny Kaye Show was about to be canceled and Korman was already on the lookout for his next job. He gladly agreed to join the cast shortly after that run-in.
Tim Conway Hardly Ever Followed The Script
Conway was recurring guest on the show already, so when Lyle Waggoner left the cast in 1974, Conway was hired on full-time to replace him. Conway was well-known for his long-winded off-script monologues and creative ad-libbing. Many of his co-stars loved his improvisation while others found it wildly annoying.
While Korman was a fan of his style, Lawerence often resented Conway’s interruptions and what she saw as his persistent spotlight-hogging. Vicki eventually snapped one day and fired back with her own ad-libbed comment during a notorious scene where Conway was rabbling about ‘Siamese elephants” during a ‘Family” sketch.
Her profanity-laden remark brought the cast and crew to stitches and Dick Clark counted it as his all-time favorite TV outtake. And If Dick Clark says that something you did was his favorite then you obviously did something right.
Mrs. Wiggins Was Initially Conceived As An Elderly Woman
Conway was the one who created both the Mrs. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote most of their dialogue. Originally he envisioned Mrs. Wiggins as being a sluggish, absentminded, and elderly geriatric but Bob Mackie, one of the show’s costume designers, thought that Carol had already played far too many similar characters and instead designed a very curvaceous buxom look for her.
Conway’s Dentist Sketch Was Inspired By A Real-Life Mishap
When Conway was in the Armed Forces he had to have some dental work done. Well, his dentist unintentionally shot up his own thumb with Novocain rendering it completely numb. Even though Conway’s sketch based upon the incident thoroughly exaggerated how things panned out, the resulting skit was one of the show’s funniest moments and Korman was temporarily incapacitated by how hard he was laughing. Conway told Conan O” Brien back in 2013 that Korman found it so difficult to contain himself that he actually peed himself a bit during that sketch.
Welp, here we are once again at the end of another facts-packed video.
The Carol Burnett Show was quite possibly one of the funniest sketch comedy shows in television history. There’s no denying that. It’s not surprising that it appears on a number of critics Best-of lists.
Which classic sketch comedy show of that era were you more of a fan of The Carol Burnett Show or Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in? Drop your opinion in the comments section below.
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