Actress, comedienne, singer
First Thought About Journalism
Became a Regular on Garry Moore
Carol Burnett Show
Carol Burnett’s contributions to musical theater have been eclipsed by her longstanding career as a comedienne, but music helped to make her the star she is today. Burnett launched her zany career with a parody song, “I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles,” and made a hit of the Off-Broadway musical “Once upon a Mattress” well before she found herself starring on a perennially popular television variety show. A People magazine contributor called Burnett “Fanny Brice in a noisebox, an all-purpose funny girl with sexy legs who could hoof it, belt it, swing the slapstick and then with terrifying tenderness tear the heart out of some chuckleheaded caricature and lay it in your startled hands.”
A number of critics have noted that Burnett’s fierce, satirical comedic style is a reflection of her difficult childhood. She was born in San Antonio, Texas, the daughter of two alcoholics. Her father deserted the family when she was eight, and she moved with her mother and grandmother to Los Angeles. There they lived on welfare in a boarding house. As she grew up, Burnett spent more and more time with her grandmother, who was strict and deeply religious. Needless to say, her troubled childhood left emotional scars that trouble her even today. “I couldn’t understand what my parents were going through,” she told Newsweek magazine. “I thought it was something/had done. So I tried to be as quiet and as cooperative as I could be. Just a little caretaker.”
First Thought About Journalism
That urge to be a “people pleaser” led Burnett through busy, productive high school years to study at the University of California, Los Angeles, which she attended on scholarship. She had originally intended to major in journalism, but when she took a playwrighting class that required acting, she discovered that she loved the stage. She promptly changed her major to theater and studied voice, acting, and dancing.
Burnett was a member of UCLA’s opera workshop during her junior year. Under that aegis, she and a partner, Don Saroyan, performed a duet from “Annie Get Your Gun” for a private party. The act so impressed one of the wealthy guests that he staked the two young entertainers $1000 each to travel to New York and find work in show business. Burnett pocketed the grant and made her way to New York City in the summer of 1954.
A part-time job as a hat checker in a club helped to pay the bills while Burnett made the audition rounds in Manhattan. She lived at the famed Rehearsal Club, a hotel for aspiring actresses, and she quickly became
For the Record…
Born April 26, 1936 (some sources say 1934), in San Antonio, TX; daughter of Jody (a theater manager) and Louise (Creighton) Burnett; married Don Saroyan (an actor), 1955 (divorced); married Joe Hamilton (a producer), 1963 (divorced); children: Carrie Louise, Jody Ann, Erin Kate. Education: Attended the University of California, Los Angeles, 1953-55.
Comedienne, 1955—. Began career as singer in cabarets and musical comedies; achieved national recognition with parody song “I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles,” 1957. Guest performer on numerous television shows, including the Ed Sullivan Show, the Dinah Shore Show, and the Tonight Show. Regular performer on the Garry Moore Show, 1959-62. Star of the Carol Burnett Show, 1967-78, and Carol & Company, 1990—.
Performer in musical comedies for stage, including Once Upon a Mattress, 1959, Fade Out, Fade In, 1964, and I Do, I Do, 1974. Performer in nonmusical comedies on stage, including Plaza Suite, 1970, and Same Time Next Year, 1977.
Principal film work includes Pete ’n’ Tillie, 1972, FrontPage, 1974, A Wedding, 1977, Health, 1979, The Four Seasons, 1981, and Annie, 1982. Television films include Friendly Fire, 1978, The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, 1979, The Tenth Month, 1979, Life of the Party, 1982, Between Friends, 1983, and Hostage, 1988.
Awards: Five Emmy Awards, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, for comedy.
popular enough there to be elected president of the club. Under Burnett’s supervision, a number of young women in the club pooled their resources, rented a hall, and staged a revue for all the agents and theater reviewers they could cajole into coming. Burnett’s contribution to the revue was a spoof of Eartha Kitt’s sexy “Monotonous,” performed in ragged bathrobe and curlers. The performance won her an agent who secured her employment in summer stock and in nightclubs.
Burnett broke into television on Paul Winchell’s children’s show for NBC, and by 1956 she was making semi-regular appearances on Garry Moore’s daytime variety program. Much of the early television work she did was in the musical-comedy vein, and in 1957 she made a national name for herself with a send-up of teenage love songs called “I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles.” The silly song became such a hit that Burnett eventually quit performing it—she was afraid the public would identify her too strongly with that one number.
Became a Regular on Garry Moore
In 1959 Burnett became a regular on the nighttime version of the Garry Moore Show. She also starred in an Off-Broadway musical, Once Upon a Mattress. The show, based on the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea, featured Burnett as a gawky, tomboy princess named Fred. Once Upon a Mattress ran for 460 performances, moving from Off-Broadway to the Winter Garden and the St. James Theatre before closing in 1960. Burnett stayed with the show throughout its entire run, even though the simultaneous work for the Garry Moore Show brought her to the point of exhaustion.
Burnett loved musical comedy, but as her fame grew her work as a singer diminished rapidly. In the early 1960s she was still working elegant bookings such as New York’s Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel, and in 1962 she co-starred with Julie Andrews in a television special, Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall. By the time she signed as the star of her own comedy show, however, Burnett had accumulated a cornucopia of comic characters, few of which ever belted out a tune. Her wildly popular Carol Burnett Show featured far more skits than songs, a reflection of the American viewer’s growing boredom with the musical-variety format.
Carol Burnett Show
The Carol Burnett Show allowed its star to inhabit a limitless range of characters, from charwomen and downtrodden housewives to the snobbiest bluebloods and royalty. Few politician’s wives escaped her scathing parodies, and she specialized in wacky spoofs of great Hollywood movies. The People reviewer noted: “Like a jellyfish, she flowed from one outlandish shape into another. Unlike jellyfish, she never stung. The harder we laughed at her characters, the more we loved them. The crudest were killingly funny, the subtlest wonderfully touching cameos of the human predicament.”
In the 1980s Burnett appeared in some straight dramatic roles on television and in films, and she won the coveted role of the greedy orphanage superintendent in the film version of Annie. That part brought her back into her first love—musical comedy—but by 1990 she was back at what she did best, comedy-variety. The executives at NBC were quite pleased when her Carol & Company show became a sleeper hit, moving into the Nielsen top twenty in the spring of the year. In fact, Burnett’s new show survived its first season and was renewed for 1991—no small feat for a woman entertainer nearing 60.
Burnett has not been spared her share of tabloid headlines over the years. Twice divorced, she has undergone therapy herself and has relived the nightmare of substance abuse and addiction through the suffering of her oldest daughter, Carrie. Newsweek reporter Harry F. Waters noted that the comedienne “has used therapy to confront some personal demons, including her rage toward her alcoholic parents and a resultant urge to hide her anger behind a mask of perennial good cheer.”
Her personal tragedies notwithstanding, Burnett has staged a comeback at an age when even the best actresses and singers often struggle for recognition. Waters observes that even though Burnett’s comedy “has taken on a dark (and daring) new edge,” American audiences continue to find the redheaded star endearing. “Loving Carol Burnett is a national habit,” the reporter concluded. “Just when we forget we’re hooked, it all comes back.”
Esquire, June 1972.
Newsweek, June 18, 1990.
People, Summer 1989.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Burnett, Carol 1933–
BURNETT, Carol 1933–
Full name, Carol Creighton Burnett; born April 26, 1933, in San Antonio, TX; daughter of Joseph Thomas (known as Jody; a movie theatre manager) and Ina Louise (a Hollywood movie studio publicity writer; maiden name, Creighton; some sources site maiden name as Melton) Burnett; married Don Saroyan (an actor), December, 1955 (divorced, 1962); married Joseph Hamilton (a television producer), May 4, 1963 (divorced, 1983); married Brian Miller (a music contractor and musician), November, 2001; children: (second marriage) Erin Kate (a singer), Jody Ann, Carrie Louise (an actress, singer, filmmaker, and writer; deceased), and eight stepchildren. Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles, c. 1952–54; some sources cite A.A. from University of California, Berkeley, 1954.
Addresses: Office— Kalola Productions, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1034, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Agent— International Creative Management, 8942 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90211–1934.
Career: Actress, singer, and comedienne. Kalola Productions Inc., Beverly Hills, CA, cofounder and president. Appeared as a nightclub performer, beginning at the Blue Angel, New York City, 1957; appeared in commercials, including voice work for Nyquil cold medicine. Emerson College, Franklin D. Murphy Associate and board member; University of California, Los Angeles, established the "Carol Burnett Musical Competition Award" at Theatre Arts School. Worked as a restaurant hat check girl in New York City and as an usher.
Awards, Honors: American Guild of Variety Artists Award, outstanding comedienne, and Theatre World Award, both 1960, and Outer Critics Circle Award, outstanding performance, 1965, all for Once upon a Mattress; TV Guide awards, outstanding female performer, 1961, 1962, and 1963, and Emmy Award, outstanding performance in a variety or musical program or series, 1962, all for The Garry Moore Show; Emmy Award, outstanding performance in a variety or musical program or series, 1963, for Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall and Carol and Company; George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Award, Henry W. Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications, University of Georgia, 1963; Golden Laurel Award nomination, top female new face, 1964; Golden Globe Award, best television actress, 1968, Emmy Award nominations, outstanding variety or musical series (with others), 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, and Emmy awards in the same category (with others), 1972, 1974, 1975, Golden Globe awards, best actress in a musical or comedy television series, 1971, 1972, 1977, 1978, and Golden Globe Award nominations in the same category, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1979, and People's Choice Award, best variety show, 1975, 1977, all for The Carol Burnett Show; Special Antoinette Perry Award, 1969; named Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year, Hasty Pudding Theatricals, 1969; Golden Apple Award, star of the year, Hollywood Women's Press Club, 1970; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding single variety or musical program (with others), 1972, for Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center; Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a motion picture musical or comedy, 1973, for Pete 'n' Tillie; Emmy Award nomination, 1974, for 6 Rms Riv Vu; People's Choice awards, favorite all–around female entertainer, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1981; People's Choice awards, favorite female television performer, 1976, 1979, 1980, 1981; voted favorite all–around female entertainer by the public in A. C. Nelson Company polls, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding comedy–variety or music special (with others), Christopher Award, and Bronze Rose Award from Montreaux Television Contest, all 1977, for Sills and Burnett at the Met; National Critics' Circle Award, outstanding performance, 1977–78; named one of the world's twenty most admired women in a Gallup Poll, 1977; first annual National Television Critics Circle Award, outstanding performance, 1977; Prize San Sebastian, best actress, San Sebastian International Film Festival, 1978, and Golden Globe Award nomination, best supporting actress in a motion picture, 1979, both for A Wedding; Emmy Award nomination, 1979, for The Tenth Month; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding lead actress in a limited series or special, 1979, for Friendly Fire; Louella Parsons Award, Hollywood Women's Press Club, 1979; Crystal Award, Women in Film, 1980; honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Emerson College, 1980; American Guild of Variety Artists Award, favorite television performer, 1981; Jack Benny Humanitarian Award, March of Dimes, 1981; Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical, 1982, for The Four Seasons; Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a motion picture comedy or musical, 1983, for Annie; Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a miniseries or television movie, 1983, for Life of the Party: The Story of Beatrice; Humanitarian of the Year Award, Variety Clubs International, 1983; named one of the world's ten most admired women by Good Housekeeping magazine, 1983; Gold Medal Award, International Radio and Television Society, 1984; Annual CableACE Award, best actress in a dramatic or theatrical program, National Cable Television Association, 1984, for Between Friends; inducted into Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, 1985; Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy, American Comedy Awards, 1987; Horatio Alger Distinguished Americans Award, Horatio Alger Association, 1988; People's Choice Award, favorite female performer in a new program, 1991; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding guest actress in a comedy series, 1993, for "The Spider Episode," The Larry Sanders Show; American Comedy Award, funniest female performer in a television special, 1990, for Julie and Carol: Together Again!; Golden Globe Award nomination, best actress in a television comedy or musical series, 1991, for Carol and Company; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding individual performance in a variety or music program, 1995, for Men, Movies, and Carol; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, 1995, for Moon over Buffalo; award for personal style and lifetime achievement in fashion, Dallas Market Center, 1995; Emmy Award, outstanding guest actress in a comedy series, 1997, and Emmy Award nomination in the same category, 1998, American Comedy Award, funniest female guest appearance in a television series, 1997, 1998, and American Comedy Award nomination in the same category, 1999, all for Mad about You; American Comedy Award, funniest female performer in a television special, 1999, for The Marriage Fool; Emmy Award nomination, outstanding variety, music, or comedy special (with others), 2002, for Carol Burnett: Show Stoppers; Kennedy Center Honors, 2003; honored by Museum of Radio and Television, 2003; Woman of the Year Award, Los Angeles Times; Woman of the Year Award, Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; five Gold Medals as most popular television star, Photoplay magazine; four Entertainer of the Year awards, best comedienne, American Guild of Variety Artists; named most popular television star by the Newspaper Enterprise Association; Variety Club Award, top female star; named entertainer of the year, New York Friars Club; received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Television Appearances; Series:
Celia, Stanley, NBC, 1956–1957.
Pantomime Quiz (also known as Mike Stokey's Pantomime Quiz and Stump the Stars ), ABC, 1958–1959.
The Garry Moore Show, CBS, 1959–1962.
The Entertainers, CBS, 1964–1965.
Host, The Carol Burnett Show, CBS, 1967–1978, repeat compilations broadcast as Carol Burnett and Friends, 1977.
Host, Carol Burnett and Company, ABC, 1979.
Eunice Harper Higgins, a recurring role, Mama's Family, NBC, 1983–1984.
Host, Carol and Company, NBC, 1990–1991.
Host, The Carol Burnett Show, CBS, 1991.
Theresa Stemple, a recurring role, Mad about You, NBC, 1995–1999.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Cohost, CBS: On the Air, CBS, 1978.
Charlotte Kensington, Fresno, CBS, 1986.
A Century of Women (also known as A Family of Women ), TBS, 1994.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Dorothy Benson, The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank, CBS, 1978.
Peg Mullen, Friendly Fire, ABC, 1979.
Dori Gray, The Tenth Month, CBS, 1979.
Beatrice O'Reilly, Life of the Party: The Story of Beatrice, CBS, 1982.
Mary Catherine Castelli, Between Friends (also known as Nobody Makes Me Cry ), HBO, 1983.
Martha Madden, Hostage (also known as Against Her Will ), CBS, 1988.
Vivian Levinson, Seasons of the Heart (also known as The Winter Garden ), NBC, 1994.
Florence, The Marriage Fool (also known as Love after Death ), CBS, 1998.
Interviewee, The Desilu Story: The Rags to Riches Success of the Desilu Empire, Bravo, 2003.
Television Appearances; Specials:
The General Motors 50th Anniversary Show, NBC, 1957.
Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, CBS, 1962.
Carol and Company, CBS, 1963.
Title role, Calamity Jane, CBS, 1963.
Princess Winifred the Woebegone, Once upon a Mattress, CBS, 1964.
Host, The Entertainers, CBS, 1964.
Carol + 2, CBS, 1967.
The Perry Como Christmas Show, NBC, 1968.
Girl Friends and Nabors, CBS, 1968.
Carol Channing Proudly Presents the Seven Deadly Sins, ABC, 1969.
Bing Crosby and Carol Burnett—Together Again for the First Time, NBC, 1969.
A Last Laugh at the '60s, ABC, 1970.
Rowan and Martin Bite the Hand That Feeds Them, NBC, 1970.
The Tim Conway Special, CBS, 1970.
Li'l Abner, NBC, 1971.
Cohost, Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center, CBS, 1971.
Super Comedy Bowl, CBS, 1971.
Bing Crosby and His Friends, NBC, 1972.
Burt Bacharach: Close to You, ABC, 1972.
Princess Winifred the Woebegone, Once upon a Mattress, CBS, 1972.
Keep U.S. Beautiful, NBC, 1973.
Burt and the Girls, NBC, 1973.
Shirley MacLaine: If They Could See Me Now, CBS, 1974.
Anne Miller, 6 Rms Riv Vu, CBS, 1974.
Emily, Celia, Dorothy, and Mother, Twigs, CBS, 1975.
Cohost, Sills and Burnett at the Met, CBS, 1976.
CBS Salutes Lucy: The First 25 Years, 1976.
Steve and Eydie Celebrate Irving Berlin, NBC, 1978.
A Special Evening with Carol Burnett, CBS, 1978.
Dolly and Carol in Nashville, CBS, 1978.
The Sensational, Shocking, Wonderful, Wacky 70s, NBC, 1980.
The Bert Convy Special—There's a Meeting Here Tonight, syndicated, 1981.
Christmas in Hawaii (also known as Jim Nabors' Christmas in Hawaii ), 1981.
"A Lincoln Center Special: Beverly! Her Farewell Performance," Great Performances, PBS, 1981.
The Barbara Walters Special, 1982.
Cheryl Ladd: Scenes from a Special, ABC, 1982.
Miss Hannigan, Lights, Camera, Annie!, 1982.
Hollywood: The Gift of Laughter, ABC, 1982.
Eunice Higgins, Eunice, CBS, 1982.
Texaco Star Theater: Opening Night, NBC, 1982.
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, 1983.
Host, Burnett "Discovers " Domingo, CBS, 1984.
The Night of 100 Stars II, ABC, 1985.
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1985.
Here's Television Entertainment, syndicated, 1985.
Alberta Johnson, The Laundromat, HBO, 1985.
The American Film Institute Salute to Billy Wilder, NBC, 1986.
Neil Diamond ... Hello Again, CBS, 1986.
"Follies in Concert," Great Performances, PBS, 1986.
A Carol Burnett Special: Carol, Carl, Whoopi, and Robin (also known as Carol, Carl, Whoopi, and Robin ), ABC, 1987.
James Stewart: A Wonderful Life, PBS, 1987.
Karen Nash, "Visitor from Mamaroneck," Muriel Tate, "Visitor from Hollywood," and Norma Hubley, "Visitor from Forest Hills," Plaza Suite, ABC, 1987.
Happy Birthday, Hollywood!, ABC, 1987.
Host, Great Moments in Disney Animation, ABC, 1987.
Secrets Women Never Share, NBC, 1987.
A Star–Spangled Celebration, ABC, 1987.
This Is Your Life, NBC, 1987.
Superstars and Their Moms, ABC, 1987, 1988.
A Conversation with Carol, The Disney Channel, 1988.
Walt Disney World 4th of July Spectacular, 1988.
America's All–Star Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, ABC, 1989.
Julie and Carol: Together Again!, ABC, 1989.
The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, CBS, 1990.
The Los Angeles Music Center's 25th Anniversary Celebration (also known as The Music Center's 25th Anniversary ), PBS, 1990.
The Tube Test, ABC, 1990.
Segment host, Funny Women of Television: A Museum of Television and Radio Tribute (also known as Funny Women of Television ), NBC, 1991.
Host, The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show, CBS, 1991.
Children's Miracle Network Telethon, syndicated, 1991.
The Dream Is Alive: The 20th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World (also known as Walt Disney World's 20th Anniversary Celebration ), CBS, 1991.
The 14th Annual Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 1991.
In a New Light, ABC, 1992.
Jack Benny: Comedy in Bloom (also known as Comedy in Bloom ), HBO, 1992.
Total Exposure—Privacy and the Press, NBC, 1992.
Host, The American Film Institute Salute to Elizabeth Taylor, ABC, 1993.
Bob Hope: The First Ninety Years, NBC, 1993.
The Carol Burnett Show: A Reunion, CBS, 1993.
The Harry Connick, Jr. Christmas Special, CBS, 1993.
In a New Light '93, ABC, 1993.
Legend to Legend Night, NBC, 1993.
Host, Carol Burnett: The Special Years, CBS, 1994.
Men, Movies, and Carol, CBS, 1994.
Host, The All My Children 25th Anniversary Special, ABC, 1995.
CBS Soap Break, CBS, 1995.
What Makes You Laugh?, 1995.
(In archive footage) Ed Sullivan All–Star Comedy Special, 1995.
"Boris Karloff: The Gentle Monster," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 1995.
"Betty Grable: Behind the Pin–Up," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 1995.
"Julie Andrews: Back on Broadway," Great Performances, PBS, 1995.
Host and narrator, Jimmy Stewart, The Disney Channel, 1996.
Happy Birthday Elizabeth—A Celebration of Life, ABC, 1997.
Alan Alda (also known as Alan Alda: More Than Mr. Nice Guy ), Arts and Entertainment, 1997. At Home with Carol Burnett, Home and Garden Television, 1997.
Jimmy Stewart, Arts and Entertainment, 1997.
Guest host, CBS: The First 50 Years, CBS, 1998.
(In archive footage) Sonny & Me: Cher Remembers, CBS, 1998.
Grand marshal, "The Tournament of Roses Parade," Coming Up Roses, CBS, 1998.
Intimate Portrait: Carol Burnett, Lifetime, 1998.
Roddy McDowell: Hollywood's Best Friend (also known as A&E Biography: Roddy McDowell—Hollywood's Best Friend ), Arts and Entertainment, 1998.
Grand marshal, The 109th Tournament of Roses Parade, ABC, 1998.
Tony Bennett: An All–Star Tribute—Live by Request, Arts and Entertainment, 1998.
Interviewee, William S. Paley: The Eye of CBS, Arts and Entertainment, 2000.
Interviewee, Lucille Ball: Finding Lucy, PBS, 2000.
Interviewee, The 70s: The Decade That Changed Television, ABC, 2000.
Wife, Putting It Together, BTN, 2000.
Host, Carol Burnett: Show Stoppers (also known as The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers ), CBS, 2001.
Presenter, The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 2001.
Interviewee, Intimate Portrait: Lucille Ball, Lifetime, 2002.
"Carol Burnett: Just to Have a Laugh," TVography, Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
"Tim Conway: Just Clowning Around," TVography, Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
The Honeymooners 50th Anniversary, CBS, 2001.
Interviewee, Intimate Portrait: Vicki Lawrence, Lifetime, 2003.
Interviewee, Intimate Portrait: Florence Henderson, Lifetime, 2003.
Interviewee, Intimate Portrait: Linda Lavin, Lifetime, 2003.
Interviewee, Intimate Portrait: Susan Lucci, Lifetime, 2003.
Interviewee, Great Women of Television Comedy: A Museum of Television & Radio Special, NBC, 2003.
Presenter, CBS at 75: A Primetime Celebration, CBS, 2003.
The 26th Annual Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 2003.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Jerry Mahoney's girlfriend, The Paul Winchell–Jerry Mahoney Show, NBC, 1955.
The Ed Sullivan Show, CBS, multiple appearances, 1957–1958.
The Jack Paar Show, NBC, 1957.
"The American Cowboy," The United States Steel Hour, CBS, 1960.
Guest, I've Got a Secret, 1960, 1961, 1962.
Narrator, "The Wonderful World of Toys," The DuPont Show of the Week, NBC, 1961.
Agnes Grep, "Cavender Is Coming," The Twilight Zone, CBS, 1962.
Password, multiple appearances, 1962–1964.
Herself, "Jack Plays Tarzan," The Jack Benny Show (also known as The Jack Benny Program ), CBS, 1962.
Herself, "Riverboat Sketch," The Jack Benny Show (also known as The Jack Benny Program ), CBS, 1963.
Mystery guest, What's My Line?, 1964, 1966.
"Lucy and Carol in Palm Springs," The Lucy Show (also known as The Lucille Ball Show ), CBS, 1966.
"Lucy Gets a Roommate," The Lucy Show (also known as The Lucille Ball Show ), CBS, 1966.
"Lucy and Carol Burnett: Parts 1 & 2," The Lucy Show (also known as The Lucille Ball Show ), CBS, 1967.
Corporal Carol Barnes, "Corporal Carol," Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., CBS, 1967.
Ozark Annie, "One of Our Olives Is Missing," Get Smart, NBC, 1967.
Here's Lucy, CBS, 1967, 1969, 1970.
Sergeant Carol Barnes, "Showtime with Sgt. Carol," Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., CBS, 1969.
Carol Krausmauer, "Lucy and Carol Burnett," Here's Lucy, CBS, 1971.
Mrs. Johnson, All My Children (also known as All My Children: The Summer of Seduction ), ABC, 1976.
Eve, "This Side of Eden," Insight, 1977.
Password Plus, 1979.
Herself and cleaning lady, The Muppet Show, syndicated, 1980.
Verla Grubb, All My Children (also known as All My Children: The Summer of Seduction ), ABC, 1983.
Susan Johnson, "Rembrandt's Girl," Magnum, P.I., CBS, 1984.
Narrator, "Happily Ever After" (animated), Wonder-Works, PBS, 1985.
The Dick Cavett Show, ABC, 1986.
Super Dave, Showtime, 1987.
Susan Johnson, "A Girl Named Sue," Magnum, P.I., CBS, 1988.
Rose, "Reggie and Rose," Fame, c. 1988.
A Conversation with Dinah, 1989.
Voices of narrator, Mrs. Rabbit, and Mr. McGregor's cat, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," HBO Storybook Musicals (animated), HBO, 1991.
Alan King: Inside the Comedy Mind, Comedy Central, 1991.
Herself, "The Spider Episode," The Larry Sanders Show, HBO, 1992.
"Total Exposure—Privacy and the Press," First Person with Maria Shriver, NBC, 1992.
Herself, "One Down, Three to Go," Evening Shade, 1993.
Inside the Actors Studio, Bravo, 1995.
The Movie That Changed My Life, AMC, 1995.
"Women in Film," Women of the House, 1995.
Lillian Bennett, "The Comeback," Touched by an Angel, CBS, 1997.
Celebrity square, Hollywood Squares, syndicated, 1998.
Herself, "Flip," The Larry Sanders Show, HBO, 1998.
Larry King Live, Cable News Network, 2000.
Guest, The View, 2002.
Host, "I Will Walk with You: Parts 1 & 2," Touched by an Angel, 2003.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Cohost, The 45th Annual Academy Awards, 1973.
Presenter, The 28th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, 1976.
The 30th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, 1978.
The 31st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, 1979.
Presenter, The 55th Annual Academy Awards, 1983.
The 37th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, ABC, 1985.
Soap Opera Digest Awards, NBC, 1988.
The 9th Annual ACE Awards, HBO, 1988.
The 3rd Annual American Comedy Awards, ABC, 1989.
The Walt Disney Company Presents the American Teacher Awards, The Disney Channel, 1990.
Presenter, The 42nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Fox, 1990.
The 4th Annual American Comedy Awards, ABC, 1990.
Presenter, The 48th Annual Golden Globe Awards, TBS, 1991.
The 17th Annual People's Choice Awards, CBS, 1991.
The 43rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Fox, 1991.
Presenter, The 14th Annual CableACE Awards, Lifetime, 1993.
Presenter, The 19th Annual People's Choice Awards, CBS, 1993.
Presenter, The 45th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, ABC, 1993.
The First Annual Comedy Hall of Fame, NBC, 1993.
Presenter, The 20th Annual People's Choice Awards, CBS, 1994.
Presenter, The 46th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, ABC, 1994.
Presenter, The 48th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1994.
Presenter, The 51st Annual Golden Globe Awards, TBS, 1994.
Presenter, The 49th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1995.
Presenter, The 48th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (also known as The 1996 Emmy Awards ), ABC, 1996.
The 12th Annual Soap Opera Awards, NBC, 1996.
Presenter, The 54th Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 1997.
American Comedy Honors, Fox, 1997.
Presenter, The 19th Annual CableACE Awards, TNT, 1997.
Presenter, The 49th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, CBS, 1997.
Presenter, The 25th Annual People's Choice Awards, CBS, 1999.
Presenter, The 53rd Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1999.
Presenter, The 54th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 2000.
Presenter, The 28th Annual People's Choice Awards, CBS, 2002.
Presenter, The 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 2003.
Television Appearances; Other:
Where Have All the Children Gone?, 1980.
Herself, One for the Road, 1989.
Television Executive Producer; Series:
The Carol Burnett Show, CBS, 1991.
Television Executive Producer; Specials:
Plaza Suite, ABC, 1987.
A Conversation with Carol, The Disney Channel, 1988.
The Carol Burnett Show: A Reunion, CBS, 1993.
Carol Burnett: The Special Years, CBS, 1994.
Men, Movies, and Carol, CBS, 1994.
Carol Burnett: Show Stoppers (also known as The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers ), CBS, 2001.
Television Producer and Director; Specials:
Fred Astaire: Puttin' On His Top Hat, 1980.
Fred Astaire: Change Partners and Dance, 1980.
Starring Katharine Hepburn, 1981.
Judy Garland: The Concert Years, 1985.
James Stewart: A Wonderful Life, PBS, 1987.
Bacall on Bogart, 1988.
The Fred Astaire Songbook, 1991.
Katharine Hepburn: All about Me, 1992.
Southern Star: A Portrait of Atlanta, 1996.
Television Director; Specials:
The Universal Story, 1995.
(Film debut) Stella Irving, Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?, Paramount, 1963.
Miss Grebs, Star Spangled Salesman, 1966.
Herself, Rowan and Martin at the Movies, 1968.
Tillie Schlaine, Pete 'n' Tillie, Universal, 1972.
Mollie Malloy, The Front Page, Universal, 1974.
Katherine "Tulip" Brenner, A Wedding, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1978.
Gloria Burbank, HealtH (also known as H.E.A.L.T.H. ), Twentieth Century–Fox, 1980.
Chu–Chu/Emily, Chu Chu and the Philly Flash, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1981.
Kate Burroughs, The Four Seasons, Universal, 1981.
Miss Hannigan, Annie, Columbia, 1982.
Dotty Otley and Mrs. Clackett, Noises Off, Buena Vista, 1992.
Herself (in archive footage), Wisecracks (documentary), Alliance Releasing, 1992.
Herself, Moon over Broadway, Artistic License, 1997.
Herself, Get Bruce!, Miramax, 1999.
Voice of Mrs. Hammerbotham, The Trumpet of the Swan (animated), TriStar, 2001.
Herself, Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Where There (documentary; also known as Broadway: The Golden Age ), Second Act Productions, 2003.
Executive producer (with Marcia Brandwynne and Nadine Schiff), Made in America, Warner Bros., 1993.
(Off–Broadway debut) Princess Winifred the Woebegone, Once upon a Mattress, Phoenix Theatre, 1959, then (Broadway debut) Alvin Theatre, 1960.
Hope Springfield and Lila Tremaine, Fade Out—Fade In (musical), Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York City, 1964.
Karen Nash, "Visitor from Mamaroneck," Muriel Tate, "Visitor from Hollywood," and Norma Hubley, "Visitor from Forest Hills," Plaza Suite, Huntington Hartford Theatre, Los Angeles, 1970.
Agnes, I Do! I Do!, Huntington Hartford Theatre, 1973.
Doris, Same Time, Next Year, Huntington Hartford Theatre, 1977, then Burt Reynolds' Jupiter Dinner Theatre, Jupiter, FL, 1980.
The Night of 100 Stars II, Radio City Music Hall, New York City, 1985.
Melissa Gardner, Love Letters, Canon Theatre, Los Angeles, 1990.
Moon over Buffalo, Martin Beck Theatre, New York City, 1995–1996.
Amy, Putting It Together (musical revue), Center Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, 1998, then Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York City, 1999–2000.
Broadway on Broadway (outdoor concert), Times Square, New York City, 2002.
Appeared in Follies, Lincoln Center Theatre, New York City, 1980s.
Herself, A Bing Crosby Christmas, 2000.
Let Me Entertain You, Decca, 2000.
Katharine Hepburn: All about Me, 1992.
(With others) Men, Movies, and Carol, CBS, 1994.
The Universal Story, 1995.
Southern Star: A Portrait of Atlanta, 1996.
(With daughter Carrie Hamilton) Hollywood Arms (two–act; based on Burnett's book One More Time: A Memoir ), Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL, 2002, then Cort Theatre, New York City, 2002–2003.
What I Want to Be When I Grow Up, created by George Mendoza and Sheldon Secunda, photographs by Secunda, Simon & Schuster, 1975.
One More Time: A Memoir, Random House, 1986.
Burnett, Carol, One More Time: A Memoir, Random House, 1986.
Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 23, Gale, 2003.
Newsmakers 2000, Issue 3, Gale, 2000.
Entertainment Weekly, September 15, 2000, p. 84.
Good Housekeeping, October, 2002, pp. 98–100, 102, 104.
Interview, March, 1990, p. 122; October, 1994, p. 174.
New Yorker, August 21, 1995, p. 56.
People Weekly, December 17, 2001, p. 17; February 4, 2002, pp. 50–55.
Intimate Portrait: Carol Burnett (television special), Lifetime, 1998.
"Carol Burnett: Just to Have a Laugh," TVography (television special), Arts and Entertainment, 2002.
For 11 years beginning in 1967, Carol Burnett (born 1933) was the undisputed leader in television entertainment. On her long-running program for the CBS television network, The Carol Burnett Show, the multi-talented Burnett expanded and upgraded the concept of the television variety show, mixing song and dance routines, elegant costumes, and zany hu mor sketches in ways that appealed to a massive populous audience. She was one of the first actors to be allowed complete control of every aspect of the show's creation, without excessive interference from network brass. Since the show's final season in 1978, Burnett has remained active as a producer, actor, and playwright who is respected by her colleagues for her strong work ethic and adored by her audiences for her decidedly unpretentious demeanor.
Burnett was born on April 26, 1933, in San Antonio, Texas; her family moved to Hollywood, California when she was three. Her father suffered from alcoholism and chronic tuberculosis; her mother was a quick-tempered alcoholic who aspired to become a writer within Hollywood social circles. Her parents divorced when she was eight and Burnett was raised by her grandmother on her mother's side, a feisty old woman who instilled the young girl with values, as well as taking her to the movies up to eight times a week (Burnett's signature ear-tug at the close of her shows was a tribute to "Nanny"). "You might say 'poor' thing when you heard my parents drank and we were on relief," the actor told Newsday reporter Blake Green in 1999, "but that was the way it was with everyone in that neighborhood. I never had a picture that anything could be different, except in the movies, and I knew that was fantasy."
When Burnett started college, she got a job as an usher at a Warner Brothers-owned movie theater. She was fired after she refused to seat a couple during the last five minutes of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. When Burnett was given her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1975, she asked that it be placed in front of that theater.
Burnett attended UCLA in 1951, originally to pursue a degree in English writing. She attended an actor's workshop and was so significantly enamored with the craft that she decided it would be her calling. As part of her final exam for her theater major, her theater professor made the class perform at an elegant black-tie party he was holding. A patron attending the party who saw Burnett perform gave her a small amount of money to go to New York City, in the hopes of entering show business. She graduated in 1954, left California for New York City and married her first husband, classmate Don Saroyan, soon afterwards. After a few stints in local shows, nightclubs, and some high-profile appearances on Jack Paar and Ed Sullivan's television shows, Burnett made it to the Broadway stage in a big way; in May 1959, she had landed the lead role as Princess Winnifred Woebegone in Once Upon A Mattress (a stage adaptation of the fable "The Princess And The Pea"), under the direction of the acclaimed director George Abbott.
While appearing in Once Upon A Mattress, Burnett was discovered by representatives for television personality Garry Moore, who had a successful evening variety show on CBS. She auditioned for the show and after a few guest appearances, she was added to the full-time cast of The Garry Moore Show in November of that year; she stayed on until 1962. Audiences were enamored by Burnett's physical comedy, goofball facial contortions, and self-deprecating antics. While working on the Moore show, Burnett still found the time to record an album, appear in plays, host a radio show, and guest star in television shows, including an episode of The Twilight Zone. Her success had taken a toll on her marriage, however, and in late September of that year, she and Saroyan divorced.
After leaving the The Garry Moore Show, Burnett appeared on Broadway in the short-lived Fade Out-Fade In, some television specials, and opposite Dean Martin in her first film, Who's Been Sleeping In My Bed? She was offered the lead role in a musical comedy called The Luckiest People but suggested to the producers that they instead cast a then-unknown actress named Barbara Streisand (the show was later retitled Funny Girl). In May 1963, she married Joe Hamilton, a successful television producer she met on the set of the Moore show. But Burnett's biggest accomplishment was yet to come. During her frenetic schedule, representatives from CBS kept enticing the multi-talented performer with offers to perform in her own television show. Finally, on September 11, 1967, The Carol Burnett Show premiered on the network, with Burnett at center-stage, alongside a cast of regulars including Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and Vicki Lawrence.
The show was a vehicle for Burnett's range of talents, as well as a distillation of what she enjoyed in her various show-business experiences. She would start every show with a question-and-answer session with the audience, an idea she borrowed from her stint on Garry Moore's show (Moore never filmed his pre-show audience interactions for broadcast). Over the next 11 years, the show had amassed a dedicated following of viewers who tuned in to see an array of Burnett creations ranging from the lonely charwoman (a trademark character that Burnett never really thought that highly of); the high-strung Eunice Higgins (which fostered a spin-off show, Mama's Place, starring Lawrence as the elderly matron); and the highly inept office secretary Wanda Wiggins. The troupe was quite fond of doing parodies of television soap operas and classic movies. One of the show's most famous moments was during a parody of the motion picture Gone With The Wind (titled Went With The Wind). Then-fledgling designer Bob Mackie outfitted Burnett's Scarlett O'Hara character in a gown made of hanging curtains—with the rod still attached. That skit generated the longest laugh (reportedly ten minutes) from a studio audience in the history of the show. Veteran comedic actor Tim Conway joined the cast full time in 1975, adding an element of surprise with his keen improvising skills. Many viewers would tune into the show each night to see Conway routinely crack-up Burnett and the rest of the cast in mid-scene.
Sensing that the program had run its course, Burnett decided in February 1978 to end the show on a high note instead of wearing out her welcome. After 11 years, 286 shows, and being honored by her peers with 22 Emmy Awards, The Carol Burnett Show ended on March 17, 1978. The two-hour show included a recap of classic footage, some long-running characters with new routines (Eunice Wiggins and Mama finally saw a family counselor), some guest appearances, and Burnett reprising her charwoman character for a final emotional farewell. As author J. Randy Taraborrelli succinctly stated in his 1988 Burnett biography, Laughing Till It Hurts, "She tugged on her ear in recognition of Nanny. And then she turned around and walked into television history."
In the years immediately following the show, Burnett became involved in a number of projects for film, stage, and television. She appeared in two movies directed by Robert Altman, 1978's A Wedding and 1979's H.E.A.L.T.H. She teamed up with actor Charles Grodin for a TV movie based on author Erma Bombeck's book, The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank, in October 1978. The following year, she starred opposite Ned Beatty in a television movie, Friendly Fire, about a couple's search to find the truth about a son's death in Vietnam.
Working on the politically charged film sparked Burnett to voice her political beliefs publicly for the first time in her career; she was an advocate of the Women's Rights Movement and regularly spoke out in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. When her eldest daughter, Carrie, developed a drug addiction problem, Burnett and her husband got her medical treatment and went public with the story afterwards, a move that distanced her from much of the routinely secretive Hollywood elite, yet endeared her to the hearts of regular people who had friends and loved ones going through the same torment. Burnett appealed publicly for stricter drug laws and railed against stores that routinely sold drug paraphernalia.
Unlike many show-business denizens, Burnett has continued to make her private life public in an effort to stall sensationalist stories in gossip magazines. In the mid-1970s, the National Enquirer printed an anecdote that she was being drunk and disorderly in a Washington, D.C. restaurant. Incensed by the fabrication—and personally wounded because of how alcohol destroyed her parents—Burnett sued the paper. After seven years in the courts, a jury sided with the actor and awarded her a hefty sum. She gave the proceeds to charity.
In July 1981, she appeared as the treacherous Miss Hannigan in the film version of the musical, Annie and starred alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the HBO production, Between Friends, in 1984. Burnett's workload had put a strain on her marriage to producer Hamilton, and the two divorced in the spring of 1984.
In 1986, Burnett turned to writing, putting together One More Time, a memoir of her early childhood years growing up in Texas and California that took the form of an open letter to her three daughters, Carrie, Jody, and Erin. She returned to Broadway in 1995 in the comedic farce Moon Over Buffalo and appeared in several television specials. She also performed in the 1999 Stephen Sondheim tribute, Putting It Together.
In 1998, at the suggestion of her eldest daughter Carrie (herself a writer and actor), Burnett and Carrie collaborated on the script for a play based on One More Time. The project, Hollywood Arms (named after the building that housed the one-room apartment Carol and her grandmother lived in) was both fruitful and troubling for Burnett, as Carrie was under medical supervision for cancer. Sadly, Burnett's daughter died from lung cancer in January 20, 2002, just prior to the rehearsals before the project's Halloween 2002 premiere. When Newsweek writer Marc Peyser asked Burnett if her daughter would be proud of Arms landing on Broadway, she responded, "No matter what happens to our play, my baby and I went the distance. For that, I'm grateful."
During the writing of Hollywood Arms, Burnett took time out to do a speaking tour of the United States. The format of the program was the same question-and-answer sessions that ran at the beginning of each episode of her network series. The fact that audiences paid to see and hear Burnett answer questions, reminisce on her career, accept complements, and do her classic Tarzan yell, was a testimony to her affable and charismatic personality.
In November 2001, at age 69, Burnett secretly wed her third husband, Brian Miller, a percussionist for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. And although Burnett has been given generous offers to return to network television to host her own program, she has steadfastly refused. She cites the high cost of mounting a variety show production (back in the day, many of designer Mackie's gowns alone fell within the $30,000 to $50,000 price range) as well as having to deal with meddling "suits" from network offices making "suggestions" and demanding changes. Her original show has remained in syndication for years (under the title Carol Burnett And Friends), edited to a half-hour format with the musical numbers excised, due to regulations from the Musicians Union.
Burnett, Carol, One More Time, Random House, 1986.
Taraborrelli, J. Randy, The Complete Life and Career of Carol Burnett, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1988.
AP Online, June 1998; December, 2001.
Associated Press, September 1995.
Associated Press Newswires, November 1998; January, 2002.
Canadian Press, December 2001; January 2002; November 2002.
CBS News: 60 Minutes, November 1999; January 2000.
Chicago Sun-Times, October 1994.
Chicago Tribune, June 1996.
CNN: Larry King Live, October 2002.
Dallas Morning News, February 1995.
Hartford Courant, November 1999.
Houston Chronicle, November 2001.
Interview, October 1994.
Kitchener-Waterloo Record, April 2002.
Los Angeles Times, October 2000.
Newsday, May 1999; November 1999.
Newsweek, October 2002.
People, October 1997.
Press-Enterprise, June 1996.
Providence Journal, June 2002.
San Antonio Express-News, August 1996.
Syracuse Herald American, October 1996.
Tulsa World, October 1996; April 1998.
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WWD, September 1996.
"Carol Burnett," Famous Texans,http://www.famoustexans.com/carolburnett.htm (February 13, 2003).
"The Carol Burnett Show," Yesterdayland,http://www.yesterdayland.com/popopedia/shows/primetime/pt1351.php (February 13, 2003).
"The Facts: Carol Burnett," E!Online,http://www.eonline.com/Facts/People/Bio/0,128,2402,00.html (February 13, 2003). □
(b. 26 April 1933 in San Antonio, Texas), popular comic actress who set the standard for comedy-variety television shows with her long-running Carol Burnett Show, arguably the most successful show of its kind in television history.
Daughter of Joseph "Jody" Thomas Burnett, the manager of a movie theater, and Louise Creighton, a publicity writer for a Hollywood movie studio, Burnett was raised almost from birth by her maternal grandmother, Mabel Eudora White, whom she called "Nanny." Burnett's alcoholic parents left her in the care of Nanny and set off for Hollywood in search of fame and fortune, which proved elusive. Her parents split up while Burnett was still in elementary school, and she and Nanny moved west to live with Burnett's mother in a cramped one-bedroom apartment. Louise Burnett gave birth to another daughter, Christine, a product of her relationship with a married man, when Burnett was eleven years old.
An inconsistent student at best, Burnett found solace in her Hollywood neighborhood's many movie theaters, where she saw all of the classic films of the day, and in occasional trips with Nanny to nearby Grauman's Chinese Theater for movie premieres. After finishing her studies at Le Conte Junior High School, Burnett entered Hollywood High School, from which she graduated in 1951. Interested in pursuing a career in journalism, she enrolled in the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1953, but soon changed her major to theater arts. She met fellow student Don Saroyan, and in 1995 the two left school and traveled to New York City in search of a career in musical theater. Burnett and Saroyan married on 17 December 1955, a day that also marked her television debut, on a children's program known as the Winchel–Mahoney Show. Burnett next landed a major part on the ill-fated Buddy Hackett situation comedy called Stanley, which ran from September 1956 until March 1957. At about the same time, she began making occasional appearances on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Garry Moore Show, and in 1958 was signed as a regular. In April 1959 she opened in an off-Broadway production of Once Upon a Mattress, based on the Princess and the Pea fairy tale. The play proved so popular that it moved to Broadway before the end of the year.
Burnett made a huge impact on the national entertainment scene in the 1960s. Her appearances on the Garry Moore Show earned her an Emmy Award in 1962, and she grabbed another Emmy the following year for her television special with Julie Andrews, Julie and Carol Live at Carnegie Hall. Even as her career soared, Burnett's marriage to Saroyan was undergoing severe strains. The couple separated amicably in 1960 and divorced in 1962. Her popularity on the Garry Moore Show persuaded CBS executives to sign Burnett to a ten-year contract. In 1963 Burnett married Joe Hamilton, producer of the Garry Moore Show. That same year, Burnett appeared in her first motion picture, Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? However, her special magic seemed not to work as well on the big screen as it did in the smaller, more intimate world of television.
Burnett's first star vehicle for CBS was a variety series entitled The Entertainers that debuted in 1964. She was, along with Bob Newhart and Caterina Valente, one of the show's three rotating hosts. Unfortunately, the show failed to catch on with television viewers, and was cancelled early in the following year. Burnett's contract with CBS called for her to do one special a year and make at least two guest appearances on other network shows. Although company executives encouraged her to take on another sitcom, Burnett adamantly resisted, reasoning, "They would probably name me Gertrude or Agnes, and that's all I'd be forever."
So popular were Burnett's occasional variety specials that CBS eventually began pushing her to host a regular weekly show in this genre. She learned some important lessons about what works and what does not in a 1967 special called Carol + 2, which paired her with guests Lucille Ball and Zero Mostel. Probably the least successful of Burnett's specials, the show featured skits that somehow never got off the ground, as well as generally unsatisfying performances from all involved. When she finally succumbed to the network's pressure and agreed to host the weekly Carol Burnett Show, Burnett insisted that the project be put in the hands of a brand-new production company. Joe Hamilton was signed as producer.
Burnett's weekly variety show debuted with a splash on 11 September 1967, with Jim Nabors, star of the popular sitcom Gomer Pyle, as guest star. The show was added to the already popular CBS Monday night lineup that included Gunsmoke, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and Family Affair. Burnett's initial show proved such a big hit with audiences that for most of its eleven-year run she insisted on Nabors as her guest star for the opening show of each subsequent season. Good-luck charm or not, Nabors was probably less central to the show's success than the regular team of supporting players, which included Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and a young unknown named Vicki Lawrence. While still a senior in high school, Lawrence sent Burnett a local newspaper clipping that remarked on the teenager's uncanny resemblance to the actress. In an accompanying letter, Lawrence invited Burnett to come see her perform at the local fire company's "Miss Fireball Contest." Since Burnett was engaged in a search for an actress to play her younger sister on her variety show, she made plans to attend the event. Impressed with Lawrence's talent, Burnett signed her for the show, and Lawrence remained for the full eleven-year run.
As able as Burnett's team of supporting players was, in the final analysis, the show's success could be credited mostly to Burnett's uniquely intimate relationship with not only the studio audience, but with the nationwide television audience as well. A star of undeniable brilliance, she somehow managed to come across as "just plain folks" with audiences. Although Burnett prefers to be known as an actress who does comedy, she is also an undeniably brilliant comedienne. This became clear in her stand-up routines at the beginning of every show. Her acting skills were equally apparent in the zany collection of characters she created during the run of her show. The heart of the Burnett show was sketch comedy, peopled with unforgettable characters such as burned-out film actress Nora Desmond, hapless secretary Mrs. Wiggins, and the cleaning lady, perhaps the most poignant of all Burnett's characters. Burnett also showed a particular talent for spoofing movies. The show's send-up of Gone with the Wind, entitled "Went with the Wind," is as dead-on a parody as one is ever likely to see. Equally hilarious was the Burnett team's take on soap opera melodrama, which was dubbed "As the Stomach Turns."
Burnett's variety hour soon became the most popular show of its type in television history. Largely on the strength of its success, Burnett in 1968 won the Golden Globe Award as Best Female Television Star and in 1969 was named Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year. One of the most enduring of the Burnett show's creations was the dysfunctional Harper family, forever squabbling in the fictional blue-collar town of Raytown. This recurring sketch on the weekly variety show featured Burnett as woebegone Eunice, married to good-for-nothing Ed (Korman), and forever bedeviled by her mother Thelma, who was played masterfully by Lawrence. So successful was the Harper family saga that it lived beyond the run of the Burnett variety show as a thirty-minute weekly sitcom entitled Mama's Family. Burnett was no longer a regular cast member in the spin-off, but she returned occasionally as Eunice.
Despite pressure from CBS to go for another season, Burnett wisely opted to take her wildly successful weekly variety show off the air in 1978 before it began to wear thin with its audience. Although the show remained popular, the departures of some original cast members had taken some of the magic out of the show's trademark comedy sketches. Yeoman efforts by Tim Conway and Dick Van Dyke helped to keep things working, but the show's finest hours had passed.
Burnett made several films during the 1970s, and in the 1980s even returned to the stage, appearing in a number of Stephen Sondheim musicals. Efforts to recapture the magic of her 1967–1978 variety show, however, proved elusive. In the summer of 1979 she returned to television with an American Broadcasting Company (ABC) series entitled Carol Burnett and Company, which featured Lawrence and Conway but failed to win favor with viewers. A somewhat more successful effort, Carol and Company, went on the air on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in March 1990. Though well received by critics, the NBC half-hour show never won much of an audience, and was cancelled in 1991. A CBS variety series bearing the same title as Burnett's successful 1967–1978 show lasted only seven weeks in late 1991. However, Showstoppers, a November 2001 reunion of the regulars from Burnett's long-running variety show, attracted nearly 30 million viewers—the best performance in that time period that CBS had seen in more than a decade.
When Burnett married Hamilton in 1963, she found herself playing mother to her husband's eight children from a previous marriage, and before long, she and Hamilton added three daughters to the family. The marriage became troubled during the mid-1970s, and the couple separated in 1982. They divorced in 1984, and Hamilton died in 1991. When her eldest daughter Carrie was only thirteen, she became heavily addicted to alcohol and drugs. Burnett battled for the next four years to release her daughter from the grip of addiction, a struggle that was ultimately successful. During the process mother and daughter became closer than ever. In November 2001, Burnett married forty-five-year-old Brian Miller, a music contractor for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Tragedy struck only a couple of months later in late January 2002, when Carrie succumbed to lung and brain cancer. Before Carrie's death, mother and daughter collaborated on Hollywood Arms, a play scheduled to open on Broadway in the fall of 2002.
Burnett's contributions to television and sketch comedy are incalculable. Those of the television viewing public who were fortunate enough to see them will never forget the zany characters she created. And Burnett's work is far from finished. In the early years of the new millennium, she continued to delight audiences on stage, screen, and television. Whether for her awe-inspiring Tarzan yell or her poignant portrayal of the cleaning lady, Burnett has made an indelible impression upon popular culture. Her long-running television variety show was the best of its kind, its clever comedy skits earning Burnett the title of "Queen of Comedy." Perhaps more notably, her unique rapport with the audience has made her one of the best-loved entertainers of our time.
Burnett's autobiography, One More Time (1986), provides valuable insight into the early life of the actress, covering her childhood and very early career through her debut on Broadway. Helpful biographies include George Carpozi, The Carol Burnett Story (1975); C. B. Church, Carol Burnett: Star of Comedy (1976); Caroline Latham, Carol Burnett: Funny Is Beautiful (1986); J. Randy Taraborrelli, Laughing Till It Hurts: The Complete Life and Career of Carol Burnett (1988); and James Howe, Carol Burnett: The Sound of Laughter (1988).