On Thursday night my wife and I went to see Carol Burnett at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. When my wife mentioned she wanted to get tickets for the show, I was not enthusiastic, not being a big fan of Carol Burnett. When her TV variety show was on I occasionally watched it, found it amusing but was not addicted. Anyway, we got the tickets and it turned out to be a much more enjoyable evening than I originally thought.
The title of the show is called “Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett.” Modeled after the opening of her TV show, she took questions from the audience and additionally showed some hysterical clips from her show. It turned out to be a sidesplitting fast hour and a half of laughs. She answered audience questions by telling wonderful stories, and yes someone in the audience asked her for the “Tarzan” yell, which at 75, she can still do as well as ever.
She won me over right at the beginning when she did a short tribute to her friend, the late Harvey Korman and followed it with a clip from her show, a skit called “The Dentist” with Korman and Tim Conway. Korman was the patient and Conway an inept dentist. The skit really belonged to Conway but it was hysterical watching Korman try to keep a straight face, which was impossible, as Conway apparently, improvised much leaving Korman on the floor and me in tears of laughter. I honestly have not laughed so hard at a comedic skit in years. Throughout the evening there were plenty of other clips from her show and one segment focused on her movie parodies which included “Went With the Wind”, “Golda” and a parody of “Love Story” whose title I cannot remember.
What was truly golden were Burnett’s stories. She spoke about her grandmother who used to take her to movies sometimes up to four times a week, and this of course was at a time when there were double features so she saw up to eight movies a week in a period long before home video. This love of movies translated eventually to the skits she would later perform on her show. One audience member asked if she ever received any feedback from the stars she parodied on her show and she did. Ryan O’Neal was upset with Harvey Korman’s portrayal in the “Love Story” parody however, Ali MacGraw was thrilled by it. Rita Hayworth called Carol after seeing the parody of “Gilda” and asked if she could appear on her show! Carol also spoke about her early days in show business, how she performed at the “The Blue Angel” in Greenwich Village and her big break with the Off Broadway show “Once upon a Mattress.” Then she became a regular on Gary Moore’s variety show, which eventually led to her own series in 1967.
Carol told a couple of interesting stories about her good friend and mentor Lucille Ball. While doing “Once Upon a Mattress” Lucy came to see the show. After the performance, Lucy went backstage and told Carol how much she enjoyed her performance and that if she ever needed a favor call her. Lucy called her kid. Three years later, Carol was given the opportunity to do a special on CBS however; the network told her she needs to get a big star as a guest. It was her agent, if I remember correctly, who told Carol why not call Lucy. Hesitant to call, after all it had been three years, she called and stumbled around telling Lucy how CBS wanted a big star for her upcoming special. “Kid, tell me when to be there.” Lucy said. They soon became best friends after that. Another Lucy story was Lucy used to send Carol flowers every year on her birthday, which continued year after year. When Lucy died in 1989, it was on the date of Carol’s birthday. Carol heard about her death on the news that morning. Later that day, flowers arrived…from Lucy.
Carol also spoke about the origins of her little ear tugging at the end of each show. That started as a signal to her Grandmother when she made her first appearance on a TV show (Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show – does anyone out there remember that!). Her Grandmother wanted her to say hello to her while on the air. Knowing that the station would not allow it she told her Grandmother she would devise a signal, the tug on the ear, which would indicate her hello. From then on, it became a trademark of her act, which she continues to do today.
As you would expect, the focus of the show was on Carol’s TV Show however, she appeared on many other shows over the years, including her good friend Lucille Ball’s sit-coms, “Here’s Lucy and “The Lucy Show.” She also made appearances in “Magnum P.I.”, “Get Smart’, “The Twilight Zone”, “Touched by an Angel”, “Mad About You”, “All My Children”, “Desperate Housewives” and many others. Carol made quite a few Made for TV movies, including “The Marriage Fool” where she reunited with Walter Matthau, “6 Rms, Riv Vu” which Alan Alda, “Friendly Fire”, and “Eunice” which was based on her TV show character and led to the TV series “Mama’s Family” that starred Vicki Lawrence. Carol made her feature film debut in the little seen “Who’s Been Sleeping in my Bed” with Dean Martin and Elizabeth Montgomery. She also appeared in “The Four Seasons”, “The Front Page”, “Health”, “Annie”, “A Wedding” and “Pete ‘n Tillie.”
It was a great show that was entertaining, brought back memories and made me revisit a very gifted comedienne I have unjustly ignored over the years.