Thursday, April 26, 2007


Yes, indeed, today is the 74th birthday of one of my very favorite comedienes Carol Burnett. What an amazing lady and what an incredible career that has spanned four decades. Burnett was born in San Antonio, Texasto Jodie and Louise Burnett. Both of her parents, particularly her father, suffered from alcoholism, and at a young age she was left with her grandmother. Burnett moved to Hollywood, California with her grandmother where she was raised in a boarding house.
When Burnett was in the fourth grade she created for a short time, an imaginary twin sister named Karen, with Shirley Temple-like dimples. Motivated to further the pretense Burnett recalled fondly that she "fooled the other boarders in the rooming house where we lived by frantically switching clothes and dashing in and out of the house by the fire escape and the front door. Then I became exhausted and Karen mysteriously vanished." Carol graduated from Hollywood High School and then attended University of California, Los Angeles, eventually working her way up through bit parts on TV. Burnett's mother disapproved of Carol's acting desires: "She wanted me to be a writer. She said you can always write, no matter what you look like. When I was growing up she told me to be a little lady, and a couple of times I got a whack for crossing my eyes or making funny faces. Of course, she never and I never dreamed I would ever perform." Mrs. Burnett died while Carol was still looking to gain a foothold in a Broadway role.After several minor appearances in theater and television, Burnett was first noticed in the mid-1950s with a comic novelty love song "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles" (Dulles was Secretary of State at the time).Burnett also appeared during this time in an NBC sitcom, Stanley, with Buddy Hackett, which lasted one season. She also appeared as a regular on one of television's earliest game shows, Pantomime Quiz.Burnett's first true taste of success came with her appearance on Broadway in the 1959 musical Once Upon a Mattress. In the same year, she became a regular player on The Garry Moore Show, which she would continue until 1962.
She won an Emmy in 1962 for her "Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series" on the show. Burnett portrayed a number of characters, most memorably a put-upon cleaning woman. With her success on the Moore show, she finally rose to headliner status and appeared in the 1962 special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, co-starring her friend Julie Andrews Comedy legend Lucille Ball ( and we lost this great lady on this date in 1989) became a friend and mentor to Burnett, and after having the younger performer guest star on The Lucy Show a number of times, Ball reportedly offered Burnett her own sitcom, to be produced by Desilu. Burnett declined the offer, however, deciding instead to put together a variety show. The two remained close friends until Ball's death in 1989. Ball sent flowers every year on her birthday. When Burnett awoke on the day of her 56th birthday in 1989, she discovered via the morning news that Ball had died. Later that afternoon, the flowers Lucy had arranged arrived at Burnett's house, with the note "Happy Birthday, Kid. Love, Lucy" .The hour-long Carol Burnett Show debuted in 1967, and was a huge success, garnering 22 Emmy Awards. Its ensemble cast included Tim Conway (who was a guest player until the 9th season, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and the teenaged Vicki Lawrence (who was cast partly because she looked like a young Burnett). The network did not want her to do a variety show because they believed only men could be successful at variety but Burnett's contract required that they give her one season of whatever kind of show she wanted to make. Carol became famous for her Tarzan yell during many shows, and for ending each show by tugging her ear, which was a message to the grandmother who had raised her to let her know that she was doing well and that she loved her.The show also became known for its closing theme song, with the following lyrics: I'm so glad we had this time together / Just to have a laugh and sing a song / Seems we just got started and before you know it / Comes the time we have to say, 'So long.' During the show's run, Burnett's grandmother died. On the Lifetime Channel's "Intimate Portrait" biography on Burnett, she tearfully recalled her grandmother's last moments: "She said to my husband Joe from her hospital bed 'Joe, you see that spider up there?' There was no spider but Joe said he did anyhow. She said 'Every few minutes a big spider jumps on that little spider and they go at it like RABBITS!!' And then she died. There's laughter in everything!"The Carol Burnett Show ceased production in 1978, and is generally regarded as the last successful major network variety show, to date. It continues to have success in syndicated reruns. During this time, she was open to her fans, never refusing to give an autograph and had limited patience for "Those who've made it, then complain about loss of privacy." So we say happy Birthday to carol Burnett and we remember Lucy. It doesn't seem possible that she's been out of lives for so long-- but oh she lives and STILL makes us laugh in those re-runs!

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