Whether you’re a new viewer or a years-long fan, there is so much to know about Carol Burnett’s famous show. From moody celebrity guests to behind-the-scenes secrets, here are some fun facts about “The Carol Burnett Show” even the most diehard fan may not know. So, sit back, relax, and get ready for some laughs.
Carol Burnett probably wouldn’t be a household name if it wasn’t for a mysterious benefactor. As a recent graduate from UCLA, Carol dreamed of pursuing a career on Broadway. However, she was struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles, so that dream seemed pretty far off. It wasn’t until she met a mysterious businessman and his wife that things changed.
After Carol performed at a party in San Diego, the unnamed businessman offered her $1,000 to help her get to New York. She took the offer, and the rest is history! The mystery man gave her the loan with two conditions. She had to pay him back, interest-free, in five years. Also, she had to forever keep his identity a secret.
Credit Where Credit is Due
“The Dentist” is one of the most famous skits from “The Carol Burnett Show.” People always give comedians Tim Conway and Harvey Korman credit for pulling off such a hilarious skit. However, at least one person who worked behind the scenes deserves some credit for crafting such a famous skit.
Writer Gail Parent wrote “The Dentist” after being hired by Tim Conway to help out with a few sketches for the show. Gail wrote the sketch with the simple premise of a dentist on his first day of work but humbly gives Tim credit for making the scene way funnier than anticipated. Tim improvised much of the sketch, which makes it so unique.
All in the Family
Carol Burnett fans undoubtedly know about the recurring comedy sketch called “The Family.” The sketch was so popular that it got a spin-off sitcom, “Mama’s Family,” in the 80s. What a lot of fans don’t know, however, is that Carol Burnett and the show writers had a major disagreement about the sketch when it originally debuted.
The writers created the character of Mama for Carol Burnett. However, Carol wanted to cast co-star Vicki Lawrence as the matriarch of the family so she could play the daughter, Eunice. The writers hated the idea. Vicki was much younger than Carol, and the idea didn’t make sense to them. They went through with Carol’s casting, and the sketch went on to be wildly popular.
Carol’s Riskiest Role
Out of all of Carol’s iconic characters, Eunice Higgins from “The Family” was her favorite one to play. The sketch was originally written as a Midwestern family, but Carol insisted that the characters should be Southern. Everyone else on the show was afraid that the Southern accent would offend viewers, but it was the exact opposite.
“The Family” characters weren’t caricatures or stereotypes. Their Southern accents and ways of communicating directly related to Carol’s childhood growing up in Texas. The recurring sketch turned into a humorous commentary on family dysfunction and passive-aggressive conflict that many people related to.
A Reality Check
Carol Burnett had childhood dreams of being on stage. However, her mother was less than encouraging young Carol’s dreams. Instead of becoming a stage actress, her mother tried to steer her into a writing career. However, her mom did not encourage her to be a writer for the best reasons.
Carol’s mother would always tell her, “No matter what you look like, you can always write, you know.” These passive-aggressive statements made no secret of how Carol’s mother felt about her daughter’s looks. Thankfully, this lack of support at home didn’t dissuade Carol from pursuing her true passion for acting.
When Vicki Met Carol
Vicki Lawrence starred on “The Carol Burnett Show” from 1967 to 1978. However, how she was recruited to join the show is pretty unorthodox. The real life friendship between Carol and Vicki started when Vicki sent Carol a fan letter. Not expecting a reply, Vicki wrote how people always said she looked like she could be Carol’s daughter.
Surprisingly, Carol Burnett actually responded to Vicki’s letter with a phone call. The two connected and they met in real life at a Miss Fireball contest that Vicki was competing in. The two hit it off, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Vicki Lawrence’s First Role
Vicki Lawrence was only a teenager when she joined the cast of “The Carol Burnett Show.” Many people saw a striking resemblance between Carol Burnett and Vicki, and the show played into the resemblance. Vicki’s first role was as “Chrissie,” Carol’s younger sister, in the “Carol and Sis” sketch.
“Carol and Sis” was where Vicki learned the ropes. Carol, Harvey Korman, and the rest of the cast and crew taught her all about comedic timing, prop work, and stage direction. “The Carol Burnett Show” ended up being a wonderful, successful place for Vicki Lawrence to nurture and grow her skills.
Carol Burnett opened every episode of her show with a Q&A session with the audience. It’s a little-known fact that her husband, Joe Hamilton, was the one who came up with this brilliant idea. In addition to being Carol’s husband, Joe was the executive producer of “The Carol Burnett Show.”
He used the power of his position to break with tradition. Sketch shows usually had a comedian warm up the audience before the show got started. However, Joe was afraid that any male comedian who opened would steal Carol’s thunder. So, he encouraged Carol to break barriers and open the show herself.
Did You Hear That?
Throughout the eleven seasons of “The Carol Burnett Show,” fans grew to know, and love Carol’s iconic Tarzan yell. Her over-the-top yell was unique and hard to copy, making it her signature comedic move. This larger-than-life shout came in handy one day when Carol was out shopping at Bergdorf Goodman.
When she got to the register, Carol realized that she had forgotten her credit card. When she offered to write a check, the cashier said she needed to see an ID. Thankfully for Carol, the store manager recognized her. He said they’d take her payment if she did her Tarzan yell, so Carol bellowed in the middle of the fancy store as loud as she could.
A “Playful” Side Gig
Lyle Waggoner was an announcer for “The Carol Burnett Show” for seven years. The actor was known for his dashing good looks and awesome sense of humor. However, few people know that Lyle dabbled in modeling work and other acting gigs.
Contrary to his squeaky clean image on “The Carol Burnett Show,” Lyle posed for a not-so-clean magazine in 1973. In fact, he was featured as the magazine’s first centerfold in its premier issue. Lyle continued working on “The Carol Burnett Show” for about a year after this scandalous photoshoot. Naturally, his castmates teased him about it, but he was a good sport.
A “Harvey Korman Type”
Comedian Harvey Korman was already known for his role in “The Danny Kaye Show” by the time Carol Burnett’s variety show was in the works. The producers of “The Carol Burnett Show” actually thought Harvey Korman was a perfect match for their show but didn’t even bother asking him if he was interested.
“The Danny Kaye Show” was a big success, so the producers figured Harvey wouldn’t be willing to leave such a steady gig. Carol Burnett decided to shoot her shot and asked Harvey herself. The stars were aligned because Harvey agreed to join the cast. Turns out, Danny Kaye’s show was about to be canceled.
Going Off Script
Candid laughter became a hallmark of “The Carol Burnett Show.” That special element was due in large part to comedian Tim Conway. Tim was a frequent guest on the show and eventually joined the cast permanently in 1975. He was notorious for going off-script, making his cast mates crack up during live filmings.
His talent for improvising and ad-libbing made him a beloved cast member of the show. Not everyone loved Tim’s ad-libbing, though. Some of his costars, including Carol herself, didn’t like how Tim’s outrageous improvisations would make them break character. Thankfully, Tim stuck to his guns and gave us comedic gold.
The Pigeon Lady
Tim Conway was notorious for going off-script. One of his most well-known ad-lib moments was the utterly outrageous elephant story from the recurring sketch “The Family.” Tim goes off on this long-winded, hilarious tangent about an elephant, and the audience and cast members totally lose it.
Carol hated breaking character, especially during the “Family” skits. So, she decided to get her revenge on Tim for making her laugh so hard. Later that season, Carol ad-libbed as The Pigeon Lady in a scene where Tim’s character had very few lines and couldn’t escape. The audience and Tim knew he was at Carol’s mercy, making the scene hilarious.
Old Mrs. Wiggins?
The famous Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins sketches almost looked much different than the characters we know and love today. Tim Conway created the concept for these characters. He originally envisioned Mrs. Wiggins as an elderly, forgetful assistant to Mr. Tudball. But the show’s costume designer had other ideas.
Costume designer Bob Mackie thought Carol Burnett already had too many “old lady” characters on her show. He wanted to dress her in something different. So, he created a more slinky, youthful look for Mrs. Wiggins. Of course, it's safe to say that Carol Burnett fully embraced the change and made the character her own.
The Reunion of The Family
“The Family” was one of “The Carol Burnett Show's” most popular sketches of all time. However, it was originally created to be a one-off skit. The very first “Family” sketch was called “The Reunion.” It aired in March 1974 and featured way grouchier versions of the characters.
Viewers found the dark humor of “The Family” relatable to their family dysfunctions, making the sketch an immediate hit. The squabbling of Eunice, Mama, and Ed struck the perfect balance of satire and relatability. Writers Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon went on to write thirty more “Family” sketches over the course of the show.
A Golden Girl’s Origin Story
Today, Betty White is most famously remembered for playing Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls.” However, many fans of the beloved star forget or don’t know that she starred in several TV shows before the hit sitcom. “The Carol Burnett Show” was one of them.
Betty played Ellen Harper, a recurring guest character on “The Family.” Ellen Harper is the oldest daughter of Mama, played by Vicki Lawrence. She’s a stuck-up, kind of snobby character who loves to gloat in front of her sister Eunice, played by Carol Burnett. Betty went on to play Ellen in the sketch’s spin-off sitcom, “Mama’s Family.”
Dick Van Dyke’s Short-Lived Stint
When Carol Burnett’s co-star Harvey Korman left “The Carol Burnett Show,” they quickly had to find a replacement. Carol approached Dick Van Dyke, who enthusiastically agreed to join the cast for the show’s eleventh season. Everyone quickly realized that it wouldn’t work out.
Unfortunately, Dick Van Dyke asked to leave the show after only a few episodes. The writers of “The Carol Burnett Show” hadn’t adapted to writing for Dick’s comedic strengths, and he felt like he wasn’t a good fit. Thankfully, there were no hard feelings. Carol and Dick parted ways professionally but still remained friends throughout their careers.
The Curtain Rod Dress
Carol Burnett’s parody of “Gone with the Wind” is one of her most memorable skits. This is due in large part to the iconic curtain rod dress she wears. The original sketch called for Carol to wear the green curtains chaotically across her shoulders as a way to reference Scarlett O’Hara’s dress from the 1939 film.
Costume designer Bob Mackie turned that idea into something way more iconic. He incorporated an actual curtain rod into Carol’s costume, making the parody even more hilarious. Carol carries the skit, literally, as she descends the staircase in her curtain rod gown, stating, “I saw it in a window, and I couldn’t resist.”
Bob Mackie’s Sparkling Career
Bob Mackie is famous for designing all the costumes on “The Carol Burnett Show.” Many people associate him with the show’s famous curtain rod dress from the skit “Went with the Wind!” However, Bob has a much more illustrious career in Hollywood fashion.
Bob went on to design costumes for performers such as Diana Ross, Tina Turner, and Whitney Houston. He even did the initial sketch for Marilyn Monroe’s famous gown that she wore to JFK’s birthday party. In addition, he has created many of Cher’s iconic looks throughout her career, including her infamous “If I Could Turn Back Time” bodysuit.
Fact is Stranger Than Comedy
“The Dentist” is one of the most hilarious skits from “The Carol Burnett Show” that stands the test of time. Tim Conway plays a bumbling dentist on his first day of work, much to the horror of his patient, played by Harvey Korman. Tim does an excellent job of making the audience and Harvey laugh, but his humor was based on real-life experience.
During Tim’s time in the Army, his dentist actually stuck himself with novocaine like Tim’s dentist character does in the skit. Tim had gone in to get a tooth removed, and the dentist stuck the needle right through Tim’s cheek and into his own hand.
“The Carol Burnett Show” was so successful because it gave TV viewers the feeling that it was aired live. The actors would improvise, laugh, and feed off the live studio audience’s energy. However, each episode was pre-recorded. They didn’t just do one recording, though.
Each episode of “The Carol Burnett Show” was filmed twice in front of two different audiences. They did this so the best parts of each taping could be edited together. This resulted in the best show possible for the audience watching at home. If an actor messed up their line both times, the flub was included in the final product.
The Signature Ear Tug
At the end of every episode, Carol Burnett would sign off with a tug of her ear. This simple gesture eventually became the comedian's signature move that millions of people across the nation instantly recognized. However, her ear tug was intended for just one special person.
Carol would tug at her left earlobe to silently communicate with her beloved grandmother, aka Nanny. Nanny provided Carol with a safe space from the tumultuous home life with her parents. The ear tug was Carol’s way of saying, “Hi, Nanny. I’m fine. I love you.” Carol continued to do her signature sign-off in honor of her Nanny’s memory after she passed away.
The Spin-Off That Never Was
Hollywood is full of TV shows and movies that never go to production. This “Carol Burnett Show” spin-off is no exception to the Hollywood show graveyard. Producers wanted to make a spin-off show based on Tim Conway’s character Mr. Tudball. However, the potential sitcom was dead in the water as far as Tim was concerned.
First off, Tim didn’t see enough potential in his character. He didn’t think Mr. Tudball had enough material to carry his own show. In addition, Carol’s rendition of Mrs. Wiggins completed the famous sketch. Due to her work schedule, Carol would have been unable to commit to the spin-off. Tim wasn’t interested in pursuing the idea without Carol by his side.
The Celeb That Got Away
“The Carol Burnett Show” was one of the top television shows of the 1970s. The show saw a star-studded roster of special guests throughout its eleven-season run. From Steve Martin to Ronald Reagan, “The Carol Burnett Show” featured the “who’s who” of Hollywood on its stage. However, there was one star that Carol was unable to book during all those years.
Carol desperately wanted Bette Davis to come onto the show as a guest star. However, they were never able to make it happen. Bette charged way more money than the show’s budget allowed, and the star’s team was never open to negotiation.
Last Two Standing
“The Carol Burnett Show” had an excellent cast of beloved comedians that audiences looked forward to watching every week. However, only two cast members lasted the whole eleven years that the show aired on TV. The first cast member is, of course, Carol Burnett. This makes sense, considering that the whole show is named after her.
Vicki Lawrence was the second cast member that stuck with the show for all eleven seasons. Vicki was only eighteen when she joined the “The Carol Burnett Show” cast. The actress earned her chops during her time on the show and went on to play Mama in a spin-off sitcom.
An Emmy Darling
“The Carol Burnett Show” was a favorite variety show among its American audience. It was also a favorite among the Hollywood elite. During the course of the show’s run, it earned a whopping 70 Emmy nominations. Such nominations included categories like “Outstanding Writing,” “Outstanding Directing,” and “Outstanding Comedy-Variety Series.”
Out of its whopping 70 nominations, the show earned a stunning 25 Emmy awards - which is an incredible ratio. Despite this amazing amount of wins, “The Carol Burnett Show” isn’t an award record-breaker. Shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Saturday Night Live” have earned a few more Emmys than this comedy classic.
A Sneaky Q&A
A big appeal to go see a live taping of “The Carol Burnett Show” was the unscripted Q&A session with Carol. This pre-show Q&A was always edited into the beginning of every episode so audiences at home could watch it, too. The thing is, Carol was really nervous about including this warm-up in the show.
Carol’s husband, Joe Hamilton, was also the show’s producer. He believed in Carol’s ability to connect with the audience and asked her to give it a shot. The very first time they filmed a Q&A, Carol went on stage wearing a robe over her costume. She didn’t think the crew would include it in the final aired episode.
Carol Playing Favorites
“The Carol Burnett Show” saw many celebrity guests on its stage during its eleven-year stint on television. From Liza Minnelli to Steve Martin, Carol Burnett’s show was able to attract Hollywood’s cream of the crop. Looking back on her career, Carol definitely had a favorite guest.
In a PBS Wisconsin interview, Carol shared that singer Steve Lawrence was one of her favorite guests to have on the show. On top of his musical performances, Steve was secretly a naturally funny guy. His energy on the stage was infectious and played really well with the rest of the cast’s comedic timing.
Carol’s Famous Mentor
When Carol Burnett was just starting out in her career, she caught the eye of one of Hollywood’s most famous comedians. Lucille Ball saw Carol perform in her first off-Broadway show, "Once Upon a Mattress.” Lucille was so impressed by Carol’s performance that she went backstage after the show to meet her.
That fateful meeting marked the beginning of a mentorship and genuine friendship between the two comedians that stretched for many years. Once Carol hit it big with her show, she reluctantly called Lucille to ask if she would be a guest. Lucille excitedly agreed, further solidifying their mentor and mentee bond.
Eunice Harper Higgins is the working-class wife of Ed Higgins in the famous sketch “The Family.” Carol Burnett plays the iconic character with a sense of humor that is hard to replicate. On top of that, Eunice is instantly recognizable because of her signature floral dress. The dress is a bit tattered and worn down, but Eunice always dresses it up with pearls.
Like every other costume on “The Carol Burnett Show,” Eunice’s look was styled by designer Bob Mackie. This costume is a far cry from his more glamorous looks. The story goes that Bob found Eunice’s dress at a thrift store.
Never First Place
Believe it or not, “The Carol Burnett Show” never hit the top ten in the Nielsen ratings during its entire eleven-year run. Despite having about 30 million viewers per episode, the highest it ever landed was in 13th place during the 1969-1970 season.
This seems like a wild fact considering that “The Carol Burnett Show” is thought by many to be one of the greatest shows of all time. Although it never broke the top ten, it at least made it into the top twenty during most of its eleven seasons. It’s okay. We all know that “The Carol Burnett Show” is first in our hearts.
A “Man’s Game”
It seems outrageous to think about, but “The Carol Burnett Show” almost didn’t happen. When Carol proposed her variety show to CBS executives, they were not thrilled. Because she was a woman, the TV execs wanted her to star in a sitcom instead. According to them, the comedy variety show format was a “man’s game.”
Carol held her ground and didn’t back down. Her contract with CBS stemmed from her time on “The Garry Moore Show.” In that contract, the studio was required to give her thirty episodes of a one-hour show. Despite their misgivings, they legally had to go through with it. Boy, were their doubts wrong, right?
A Memorable Duet
The questions from the audience were usually pretty standard during Carol’s Q&A sessions. However, sometimes an audience member would throw her off. One of Carol’s most memorable Q&A moments was with a woman who requested to sing on stage with her.
The woman requested the band to play “You Made Me Love You” in the key of G. To everyone’s shock and delight, the woman started belting out a beautiful rendition of the song. Carol joined in to make it a duet, but the two women sang a different line at the end. The audience member signed off her performance by telling Carol, “You screwed it up!”
A True Pioneer
Hollywood has always been focused on looks and other superficial markers of talent. When Carol Burnett burst onto the scene in the 1960s, many producers and executives didn’t think she had what it took to “make it” in Hollywood. That’s basically a nice way of saying they didn’t think she was “pretty” enough to be a star.
Carol remained true to who she was, despite men in the business saying she was “too loud” and had “too big” of a personality. It was those very characteristics that made her comedy stand out. She became the first woman to host a comedy variety show and paved the way for many female comics that came after her.
Carol Burnett’s Number One Fan
Vicki Lawrence was lucky enough to land a spot on “The Carol Burnett Show” after writing Carol a letter. Others were not as lucky. A 10-year-old Jim Carrey wrote a hopeful letter to Carol asking if he could be an actor on the show. Jim knew he wanted to be a comedian even at such a young age. He knew “The Carol Burnett Show” could be his big break.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get the reply he wanted from Carol. The famous comedian replied to Jim’s letter: "At this time, we aren’t hiring children. Just grown-ups. But stay in school, study hard, and keep watching our show.” Jim and Carol did eventually work together for her “50th Anniversary Special” in 2017.
Vicki Lawrence’s Mentor
Carol Burnett hired Vicki Lawrence to be on her show right after she graduated high school. The young actress learned the ropes during her time on “The Carol Burnett Show,” and Carol took on the role of mentor. Thankfully, Carol was always on Vicki’s side and advocated for her a lot during the course of the show.
Carol Burnett looked out for Vicki Lawrence so much that it even upset some of the cast and crew of the show. One time a couple of writers stormed off set when Carol criticized them for not giving Vicki enough of the funny lines.
Mrs. Wiggins’ Skirt
Mrs. Wiggins is one of Carol Burnett’s most recognizable characters. The air-headed secretary to Mr. Tudball would always enter a scene with a very unique waddle that became a comedic bit in and of itself. It turns out that Carol didn’t know how she would embody the character of Mrs. Wiggins until she tried on the costume.
Costume designer Bob Mackie intentionally made Mrs. Wiggins’ black skirt too big. As a result, must to her dismay, Carol had to walk with her derriere sticking out and her back arched. This walk of necessity turned into Mrs. Wiggins’ signature strut and defining feature.
A Bathroom Revelation
In “The Family,” Vicki Lawrence plays Mama, and Carol Burnett plays Eunice, Mama’s daughter. The two actresses had excellent on-screen chemistry, but not everything about this famous sketch was rehearsed on-stage. The two women found some character inspiration in one of the most unlikely of places: the bathroom.
One time the two women took a bathroom break and ended up yelling at each other from their respective stalls. They soon realized that the yelling match, which started off as a joke, was a great match in chemistry for their “Family” characters. They took that nagging energy and channeled it into their bickering counterparts.
An NSFW Comeback
Tim Conway was famous for his improvisation and ad-libbing on “The Carol Burnett Show.” However, not everyone was a fan of his off-the-cuff lines. Vicki Lawrence would get frustrated with Tim going off-script. One time she couldn’t help but let her frustration shine through during a taping of “The Family.”
The scene is famous. Tim is in character as Mickey Hart and won’t stop droning on and on about a story involving an elephant. The entire cast is cracking up on stage, including Vicki. The length that Tim is able to make this bit go on is a comedic feat, but Vicki had had enough. Toward the end, she lets a curse word slip out when she asks if everyone thinks Tim is done.
A Surprising Spat
All the cast members on “The Carol Burnett Show” seemed to get along swimmingly with each other on-screen. However, the show wasn’t without its fair share of drama. Carol Burnet revealed decades later that she had a confrontation with co-star Harvey Korman after he stormed off set in a bad mood.
According to Carol, Harvey was in a foul mood that day and was very rude to Tim Conway and another special guest on the show. When Carol tried to confront Harvey about his rude behavior, he slammed a door in her face. The two eventually made up, and Harvey got his mood under control, but this shows it wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine on set.
A Painful Scene
Tim Conway was great at ad-libbing and improvising during his time on “The Carol Burnett Show.” However, there was one scene where things got a little too real. Tim and Harvey Korman performed a scene that took place in a submarine, and Tim did some physical comedy that made him very uncomfortable– literally.
The submarine’s periscope pins Tim to the ground in one part of the sketch. The look of discomfort and pain on his face is very real. He had recently gotten an operation done, so when the periscope hit him in the groin area, he was more sensitive than usual. Thankfully, he played it off. The audience was none the wiser.
A Good Luck Charm
Some performers are superstitious and like to adopt rituals and charms for good luck. Surprisingly, Carol Burnett had her own good luck ritual for her show. In her case, the good luck charm was actually a person by the name of Jim Nabors.
The comedian and actor appeared on the very first episode of the show. Since that first episode led to many years of success, Carol always had Jim as a guest star on the first episode of every season. The tradition seemed to have worked out for quite some time, considering that “The Carol Burnett Show” ran for eleven seasons.
A Dynamic Duo
Carol Burnett is one of the most famous comedians of our time. Modern-day fans may be surprised to learn that she is best friends with Julie Andrews. Their professional work seems so different, right? However, the two women have been friends for decades and got their start in Hollywood around the same time.
Julie and Carol performed together on “The Garry Moore Show” and even co-starred in a CBS special titled “Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall” in 1962. Julie is definitely more of a comedian than she would have us think. The two stars are known pranksters and love spreading good-natured havoc whenever they go to events together.
A Major Edit
Fans were sad when “The Carol Burnett Show” ended in March of 1978. Fans were further disappointed when the show went into syndication. Sadly, the hour-long program had to be cut down to only 30 minutes. That meant that all of the show’s musical acts were cut out. Other parts, like the famous Q&As, were shortened.
Carol wasn’t a fan of the syndication editing, either. When re-runs of the show were first aired, Carol explained that the music had to be cut because paying for the rights was too expensive. She wanted fans to enjoy re-runs of their favorite show, so she still went through with the syndication.
A Golden Anniversary
It’s hard to believe, but the very first episode of “The Carol Burnett Show” premiered over 50 years ago. The groundbreaking show made its CBS Debut on September 11, 1967, and continued for eleven seasons. The show’s sense of humor and comedic timing is ageless and still rings true to this day.
That was proven in 2017 when CBS put together “The Carol Burnett Show 50th Anniversary Special.” The hour-long special was filmed on the original soundstage and brought together the show's original cast. Other special guests included new and classic Hollywood legends such as Jim Carrey, Bernadette Peters, and Stephen Colbert.
A Revival Flop
Reboots are a dime a dozen nowadays, but Carol Burnett tried her hand at a reboot back in the 90s. In 1991, she tried reviving her show with a few of the original cast members and some fresh, new writers. The show was a total flop and lasted only four episodes.
“The Carol Burnett Show” reboot didn’t have the same charisma and charm as the original show. There was a conflict between Carol and the writers, who wanted to try something new. Critics ended up thinking it was trying too hard to go back to the “good old days” and largely panned it.
Mildred Fierce and Torchy Song
Carol Burnett carried her love for movies into her show, where they would spoof famous films and characters. Spoofing a film is always risky because there’s the chance of offending the famous actors that they’re imitating. Carol took a risk by spoofing two of Joan Crawford’s famous movies.
In the first spoof, the show did a funny rendition of the hit film “Mildred Pierce.” Carol heard through the grapevine that Joan loved the sketch and thought it was hilarious. Feeling bold, Carol and the cast went forward with a take on another one of Joan’s movies, “Torch Song.” This backfired because Joan thought the skit was mean-spirited.
A Critique from Cary Grant
“The Family” was one of the show’s most popular and iconic sketches. However, not everyone was a fan of the crotchety, bickering family. Carol Burnett and her husband attended a small dinner where they sat next to legendary film star Cary Grant. Carol and Cary were well-acquainted, so Cary probably felt comfortable sharing his unfiltered thoughts about the popular sketch.
Cary Grant absolutely hated “The Family” sketch. He said the characters of Mama, Eunice, and Ed gave him “the willies,” and he hated how they were always yelling at each other. Cary later apologized to Carol for his harsh remarks. Thankfully, it was all water under the bridge.
Carol Burnett’s Family Roots
Before Carol Burnett broke the glass ceiling for women in comedy, she was just a kid growing up in San Antonio, Texas. Interestingly, she grew up around the world of performing arts but didn’t want to pursue acting until she was in college at UCLA.
Her father, Joseph Burnett, worked as a movie theater manager. Her mother, Ina Louise, worked as a publicity writer. Unfortunately, Carol had a challenging childhood growing up with her parents, who both suffered from alcoholism. However, whether they realized it or not, her parents planted the seed that would later inspire her to become a performer.
Finding Your Roots
Carol Burnett fans know how close she was to her grandmother, Nanny. However, part of her grandmother’s life was shrouded in mystery. In a recent episode of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots,” Carol found out who her grandfather actually was. Growing up, her grandmother was never clear about the identity of her grandfather.
Through DNA analysis on the show, Carol confirmed that her grandfather was a man with the last name Creighton. This was good news to Carol because “Creighton” is the last name her mother gave her. Of course, confirming the identity of her grandfather didn’t change her high opinion of her beloved Nanny.
“A Belligerent Little SOB”
Carol Burnett is a celebrity known for her grace and friendliness. That’s why it’s so shocking to hear that she really hated working with a certain celebrity guest star on her show. Although Carol kept it classy and refused to name the actor, she did have some harsh words. She called the unpleasant guest “a belligerent little” you-know-what in her 2016 memoir.
This combative guest didn’t even make it onto the show. During rehearsals, he was acting extremely rude and combative with everyone. Carol and the crew tried everything they could to make this mystery celeb feel comfortable, but he wasn’t having it. He stormed off set before showtime.
A Huge Production
Today, TV shows have huge budgets for special effects, background actors, and high-quality production. However, nothing holds a candle to the artistic effort that went into producing “The Carol Burnett Show” every week. The variety show demanded a lot from its cast, crew, and costume designers.
Because of the constant rotation of skits and performances, each episode required a minimum of 65 costumes. Designer Bob Mackie was a very busy man! On top of that, there was a live band that performed during musical performances and throughout each episode. What modern-day show has a 28-piece orchestra? We can’t think of a single one.
A Mysterious Reunion
Many Carol Burnett fans know the story of how an unidentified businessman gave her $1,000 to launch her career in New York City. What many people don’t know is what happened afterward. Carol did end up paying this mystery man back five years later, as agreed. Also, they ended up seeing each other again.
Many years later, the businessman’s wife reached out to Carol, inviting her to lunch if she ever found herself in San Diego. Carol and her husband ended up grabbing a bite to eat with the man who essentially launched her career. We wonder if this mystery man knew how much his contribution helped her career.
A Life-Long Secret
When a mysterious businessman loaned Carol Burnett $1,000 to move to New York and jumpstart her career, he made her promise never to reveal his identity. Carol kept that secret and will most likely take the man’s identity to her grave. She has never even told her own children the man’s name.
The businessman was also pretty tight-lipped about his connection to Carol. The businessman’s wife revealed to Carol that he would always just smile when Carol’s name came up in conversation or her face popped up on TV. The mystery man has since passed away, but his identity is one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets.
The Ultimate Birthday Party
There’s no doubt that Carol Burnett is a history-maker in the world of Hollywood and comedy. That’s why it's no surprise that Tinseltown still loves to show Carol some love. The legendary comedian is always honored on her birthday and on anniversaries of “The Carol Burnett Show.”
Viewers at home still love to celebrate Carol, as well. Tons of people tune into celebration specials honoring Carol. Many of these TV specials feature guest appearances from celebrities like Billy Porter, Sofia Vergara, and Amy Poehler. Many comedians we know and love today probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Carol Burnett’s trail-blazing work.
A Vicki Lawrence Curve Ball
Tim Conway was known for going off-script during the second taping of each episode. However, he wasn’t the only one who liked to throw their costars a few curveballs. Vicki Lawrence famously ad-libbed during “The Family” skit called “Sorry!” Her improvisation caused a rare moment where Carol started cracking up mid-skit.
Carol Burnett had a special attachment to the “Family” characters and never wanted people to break character during these sketches. However, towards the end of “Sorry!” you can see the corners of Carol’s mouth curl up in a smile. She couldn’t help but laugh at Vicki’s antics as Mama.
Carol’s Musical Secret
The original 60-minute episodes of “The Carol Burnett Show” featured musical acts. Carol herself sang the show’s famous sign-off song, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together.” However, Carol was a better improviser than anyone could ever imagine. She has never learned how to read music.
Carol revealed her musical secret in an interview years after the show ended. She said that she always relied on her musical ear and natural rhythm to get her through a performance. She created her own language of scribbles and marks that would help her out, but she never formally learned how to read musical notes.
A Dressy Superstition
Eunice Higgins from “The Family” wears the same dress in every skit. Bob Mackie famously found this floral dress at a thrift store and adapted it to fit Carol Burnett’s character. What a lot of people don’t realize is that this original costume was never replaced. Carol is wearing the exact same dress in every “Family” sketch.
The costume got some tears and rips over the years, but Carol insisted that Bob mend the original dress instead of making a replacement. Wearing the same original dress was one of Carol’s superstitions. She felt wrong wearing anything but Eunice’s original costume.
A Wacky Collab
When we think of “The Twilight Zone,” we usually don’t think of humor and slapstick comedy. That’s why so many people are surprised when they learn that a young Carol Burnett starred in an episode of the famous series. Rod Serling wrote the episode “Cavender is Coming” for Carol in hopes of it becoming a spin-off sitcom.
If you’re thinking a sitcom is a weird spin-off for “The Twilight Zone,” you’re not alone. Fans of the show panned the episode when it aired because it was so out of line with the usual social commentary and suspense of the series.
A Star’s Revenge
Before Carol Burnett hit it big with her own TV show, she worked a lot of odd jobs. One of those jobs was at a theater on Hollywood Boulevard back in 1951. Carol got fired from her job as an usherette when she refused to let a couple into the tail-end of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
She thought the couple would enjoy the movie more if they waited for the next showing, but her manager disagreed and gave her the boot. Many years after that fateful firing, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In an act of ultimate pettiness, she requested her star be placed right in front of that very theater.
Let’s End On a High Note
Nowadays, TV shows get canceled left and right. There’s no keeping track of which shows are coming back for a new season and which ones will never get their happy endings. When “The Carol Burnett Show” ended on March 29, 1978, it was not because of low ratings or TV executives cutting the cord.
Carl ended the show on her own terms. Despite the TV network wanting to renew the show for a twelfth season, Carol felt it was time to call it quits. She felt that the show had run out of original ideas. As a result, she wanted to end the show on a high note.
The Final Goodbye
Carol Burnett would sign off every season of her show with a rendition of “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together” dressed in her “washerwoman” character. The bit became an expected classic for fans of the show. Also, it was a running joke that a sleeping man would be the only one left in the theater. Every time, she would stop to kiss him on the forehead.
For the series finale, Carol did the exact same routine. After Carol’s tearful, final rendition of her sign-off song, she slowly walks off backstage. She stops to affectionately kiss a sleeping security guard on the forehead before she leaves for the last time. Fans loved the emotional homage to tradition.
Vicki Lawrence’s First Job
Vicki Lawrence was recruited by Carol Burnett to join her show straight out of high school. Since it was her first “real” job, she learned a lot about acting and comedy while on set. Even though Carol acted as her mentor in those early years, the other cast members also took Vicki under their wings.
Harvey Korman particularly helped Vicki out and gave her plenty of tips he had gathered over his years of performing. He was known for his ability to do almost any accent, so he taught Vicki how to adapt and change her voice. This definitely came in handy for her role as Mama in “The Family.”
Carol the Matchmaker
The core cast of “The Carol Burnett Show” was very close and got along well with each other. However, Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence had a special bond and friendship. Vicki has told reporters and interviewers that Carol is responsible for many of the big events in her life, including her second marriage to Al Schultz.
Carol is actually the one who introduced Vicki to her future husband. One day, Carol spotted Al when he unknowingly walked by her dressing room in the CBS studio. She recruited him to work on the show and introduced him to Vicki. The two met, sparks flew, and they’ve been married ever since.
An Unloveable Story
Before “Saturday Night Live” came on the scene, “The Carol Burnett Show” was the TV variety show known for its movie spoofs and parodies. Fans usually loved the parodies of popular films, and everyone knew the unnamed actors that were being referenced. However, these famous actors were not always as receptive to the show’s hilarious spoofs.
Years later, Carol Burnet revealed in her memoir that actor Ryan O’Neal hated her show’s spoof of his movie “Love Story.” The actor was known for his explosive temper, so Carol got kind of freaked out when he once cornered her at a party to confront her. Thankfully nothing dramatic happened, but he did tell her in no uncertain terms that he absolutely hated the show.
The Coca-Cola Addict
From Lucille Ball to Betty White, Carol Burnett’s show had a heavy rotation of top stars during the 60s and 70s. Always a true lady, Carol has never spilled the beans about any scandalous celebrity encounters on set. However, she has revealed some hilarious details about famous guests in some of her memoirs.
One such star is Betty Grable. The bombshell actress was a guest star on episode 21 of the first season and was anything but elegant. Carol described her as a “Coca-Cola addict” who drank so much soda that she couldn’t stop burping during the course of the show.
Drama? What Drama?
We love to hear salacious gossip and scandalous drama about our favorite celebrities. It’s no wonder that people speculate about how the cast and crew of “The Carol Burnett Show” really felt about each other. Well, the truth is much less boring than we’d like to think.
In reality, Carol and her co-stars truly liked each other and got along pretty well. Sure, Vick Lawrence, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Lyle Waggoner had their differences and would argue sometimes. However, there are no dramatic stories from the gossip mill because Carol fostered a healthy work environment that was fun and collaborative.
The One and Only Vicki Lawrence
Vicki Lawrence remained a cast member of “The Carol Burnett Show” during the entirety of the show’s eleven-year run. However, that wasn’t the only creative work Vicki did. Vicki released an album titled “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” in 1973. The album was a moderate success, peaking at number 51 on the US Billboard 200 chart.
However, so many fans knew Vicki for her physical comedy and role as Mama in “The Family” that many didn’t realize the singer and actress were one and the same. One of her songs even hit number one in Australia, but she couldn’t shake off her comedy reputation.
And the Emmy Goes to…
“The Carol Burnett Show” garnered over 20 Emmy awards during its run. That includes five wins for Carol herself. All of Carol’s co-stars on the show received Emmy awards and nominations for their work, too. Well, all co-stars except for one.
Lyle Waggoner is the only cast member to have never received an Emmy award or nomination. He left the show to pursue other career options after the seventh season. This decision might have cost him an Emmy nomination, but he went on to establish his own business renting motor homes for TV sets. He was successful behind the scenes.
Mama Has to Wait
Vicki Lawrence went on to play her iconic role of Thelma Harper from “The Family in the sitcom spin-off called “Mama’s Family.” Although this spin-off debuted in 1983, the idea had been in the work for many years. “Carol Burnett Show” executive producer Joe Hamilton wanted Vicki to star in her own spin-off back in 1975.
Vicki refused the spin-off role because she didn’t know if she wanted to play an “old lady” every week. In addition, she didn’t want to leave Carol and Harvey Korman because the two comedians were her mentors. Her loyalty paid off because she remained on the show until the end and still got her spin-off show.
Carol’s Little Red Book
If you’re a diehard fan of “The Carol Burnett Show,” you probably know about Carol’s little red book. Carol had her celebrity guests sign a red autograph book at the end of every show. This signing was done on stage in front of the live audience to create a feeling of authenticity.
That autograph book is priceless because Carol Burnett’s show had some of Hollywood’s top talent grace its stage. We can only imagine the collection of Hollywood signatures that Carol has in her possession. Let’s hope she’s keeping that book under lock and key because it’s a national treasure.
Lucille Ball to the Rescue
Carol Burnett was lucky enough to call legendary comedian Lucille Ball, her mentor. Lucille saw potential in Carol and helped her out whenever she could at the beginning of Carol’s career. If it wasn’t for Lucille, we may have never gotten the chance to see “The Carol Burnett Show” on TV.
When Carol tried to convince the CBS executives to give her her variety show, they agreed under one condition: book a big guest. Enter Lucille Ball to save the day. Although Carol was worried that the famous funny lady was “too busy,” Lucille came through. She appeared in four episodes in the show’s first four seasons.
A “Went with the Wind” Prelude
There is no denying that the show’s 1976 spoof of “Gone with the Wind” is one of the most iconic moments in “The Carol Burnett Show” history. The skit features Bob Mackies famous curtain rod dress. However, many fans forget that the show did another spoof of “Gone with the Wind” many years earlier.
They did a short satire skit of the famous story when the show was just off the ground. Carol’s character was called “Scarlett O’Fever,” and it went largely unnoticed. Their “Went with the Wind” redo went over way better than their original attempt, which was overshadowed and largely forgotten.
Tim Conway was a Regular
“The Carol Burnett Show” would not have been the same without the hilarious antics of Tim Conway. The comedian was a regular on the show but wasn’t actually a permanent cast member until the ninth season. This is a little-known fact because most people assume Tim was a regular from the beginning.
Tim was a constant guest star on the show from the very beginning. Viewers knew him as a “Carol Burnett” staple during the first eight years of the show. However, it wasn’t until Lyle Waggoner departed the show that Tim was signed on with a regular cast contract.
Life Imitates Art
The recurring sketch of Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball is more artistic than you might think. The office where the two oddballs work is almost an exact replica of a famous painting. “Office at Night,” a 1940 painting by Edward Hopper, looks eerily similar to the set design on “The Carol Burnett Show.”
The placement of the filing cabinet, the wainscotting, and the glass window looking into Mrs. Wiggins’ work area were modeled directly off the painting. The placement of the office furniture is also exactly the same. Who knew an artistic depiction of office life would live on in a 1970s comedy sketch?
The Fireside Girl
Carol Burnett drew inspiration from so many different pieces of media and pop culture for her characters. Some fans speculate that Alice Portnoy from the “Fireside Girl” sketch is based on the Little Red Riding Hood character from the 1944 cartoon “Little Red Riding Rabbit.”
If you compare the two characters, they are very similar. Carol’s Fireside Girl costume is almost exactly the same as Little Red’s outfit. The glasses, the hat, and the knotted scarf are all the same, just in green. Whether or not this was a direct rip-off will never be known. However, the similarity is definitely striking.
The End of a Hollywood Power Couple
Carol Burnett has been married three times in her life, and each relationship brought its pros and cons. met her second husband, Joe Hamilton, shortly after working on “The Garry Moore Show.” The two married in 1963 and went on to be collaborators on “The Carol Burnett Show” for eleven years.
Joe Hamilton acted as the show’s executive producer and made a lot of artistic decisions that defined the show. This power couple didn’t last, however. The duo divorced in 1984, only a few years after the show ended. Carol and Joe had three kids together, including Carrie Hamilton, who passed away from cancer in 2002.
After “The Carol Burnett Show,” Vicki Lawrence went on to have a successful musical and acting career. However, no other role in her career outshined her time as Mama Thelma Harper from “The Family.” Later on in her career, she got an acting opportunity that gave a subtle nod to her most iconic role.
Vicki went on to play Hannah Montana’s grandma in the hit Disney series. Funnily enough, she was known as “Mamaw” on the show. Younger viewers most likely had no idea who Vicki Lawrence was, but some older viewers may have picked up on the homage to Mama.
A True Trailblazer
A woman running her own comedy variety show may not seem that groundbreaking today, but we have Carol Burnett to thank for that. She is the first woman to host a variety show on TV, and her work broke through the gendered boundaries of the day. Carol Burnett is a true comedy legend, and everyone knows it.
Since retiring from her eponymous show, Carol Burnett has received several prestigious honors and awards for her work. Some accolades include the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. No big deal.
You Can’t Go Back
Carol Burnett has a healthy outlook on her past achievements and impressive career. She’s not interested in reviving or rebooting “The Carol Burnett Show.” Instead, she’s admitted that she doesn’t miss it. Although she feels nostalgic at times, she’s told interviewers that she knows she “can’t go back again.”
Carol feels that “The Carol Burnett Show” was so successful because it happened at the right place and at the right time. If anyone tried something similar today, it just wouldn’t work. Times have changed, and Carol is okay with that. She had a blast working on the show but has closed that chapter of her life.