Bob Mackie: Actually, I became aware of Carol Burnett when I was just I think in my last year of college and she was on on The Garry Moore Show and she was a big hot number, everybody was saying, oh, did you see that girl, Carol Burnett? She’s so funny. She’s so this she’s so that she was amazing. And and so, you know, I watch that. I think it was on Tuesday nights. So I’m not sure every Tuesday. And. And she was funny. And there was just something about her that was different than a lot of the other female comics that were around on television in those days. I don’t know what it was. It was more slapstick in those days because she was able to do it, you know, and she was she could be loud. She could be funny. She could sing. She could do everything. And she was always being knocked over. And all that kind of comedy seemed to we still had that when we started the show in sixty seven. But but it it quickly kind of went away and it became a little different. So the early days are very interesting to watch Carol work.

Interviewer: Was that unusual seeing a woman do all the slapstick?

Bob Mackie: Well it’s there were people that did that, the Martha Rays and the Joan Daviss and all those, those kind of funny ladies. But Carol became when you pay more attention to him, more like a leading lady, one that could do that and be vulnerable and play characters and also sing, you know, which a lot of them don’t always sing and dance.

Interviewer: Do you remember the things you saw her do on that show?

Bob Mackie: You know, there were so many of them. I really don’t. The thing about interesting about Carol is early on, I got out of school and I went to work for at Paramount Studios and they were making a movie there. And I was working for Edith Head at the time. And I was in the back room sort of ghost designing, you know, and I heard the Carol Burnett was going to be in this movie that I was working on. And I said I could do her because I love her. She’s so wonderful, you know? And I think just out of her, you know, just to be perverse, I think Edith said, he’s too he’s too excited about that. Carol Burnett. Let’s let’s not let him do that. And anyway, she played a secretary and they always hired me to do the glamour girls. So I didn’t get a chance to to design for her. So later on, I kind of, you know, I got to do it. I got to really design for Carol. Boy, did I get to design for Carol.

Interviewer: So tell me how that job did come to you?

Bob Mackie: Well, I. Carol had a wonderful choreographer that she’d worked with in New York on The Garry Moore Show, and he came out to California to do her show. Ernie Flatt, who was a wonderful man who I had been working with a little bit on on different acts and mainly the Mitzi Gaynor nightclub act. And he kept telling Carol, you know, kind of recommending me as a costume designer because I was able to do kind of pretty clothes as well as comedy things. And she went to see Mitzi’s act in Las Vegas with her husband, Joe Hamilton, who was our producer, and they liked what they saw on. And they hired me. And I was, you know, just thrilled to have a weekly show with a female star and somebody that can do so many different things. And she was so, so intelligent and so easy to work with. You know, you just kind of explain it to her and she goes, yeah, oh, I can do that. OK, I know what I am now. And now now I know what the character is, because very often in a script on that show, it would say woman walks into the kitchen. Does this, does that and or comes into a bar. And it never says what kind of woman she is. And so you could go many, many different ways. So I always had to either check with her or kind of come up with a character. And I’d give Carol a little call. And I said, well, what if she is the ladies like we see in Beverly Hills that have, you know, Sunday brunch at the Hamburger Hamlet or whatever, whatever. And she would go, Oh, yeah. OK. Now I got it. OK, I can do that. And, you know, there wasn’t it wasn’t like you were giving yourself for the rest of your life to a character. It was that week. If it didn’t work this week, we had next week. So we would try a lot of different things that that weren’t necessarily, you know, the easiest to do or the most obvious, just out of boredom sometimes because there are so many different ones.

Interviewer: Was it collaborative that way, she would say, what if what if the character wears this kind of thing?

Bob Mackie: Sometimes, but sometimes. But she was very trusting. And I wouldn’t be that trusting to a costume designer. But she was she was wonderful with me. And we got so we could second think each other. And if I if I was going to do something very different for her, I would call her and check with her and say, you know, I know it kind of says this, but what if we do this instead? And and if she liked it, she would you know, she would agree.

Interviewer: I want to get to some specifics, OK?

Bob Mackie: Yeah, I got off on a tangent there.

Interviewer: No, it’s all great. You mentioned being excited to work with woman running this variety show.

Bob Mackie: Well, as a designer, it’s it’s always great when the woman is the star because you get so many chances. And actually, our first show we ever taped was done. Carol did want to talk to the audience directly. She was terrified of being herself in front of an audience. And she it was difficult. She was fine talking to somebody on camera. And that’s the reason Lyle Waggoner was hired. So she’d have a foil, somebody who could be the announcer and she could talk to him and then he could talk to the audience. Well, you know, so but she always did something very interesting. She did a warm up before the show with the audience. And she did questions and answers. We were planning to have questions and answers on the show at all in the beginning. This was something she used as a warm up for the audience that the studio audience that was going to watch the show. So her husband knew that she was brilliant with the people and wonderful with people, but she was afraid of the camera. So he taped her first questions and answers and she had a robe on over her costume for her first number. And it was so successful and made her watch it. And she went, oh, OK. And so they said, well, she’ll have to have a gown, a new gown every week. And it was so good because very often she played one crazy, hideous character after another. I mean, there wasn’t one time where she would look attractive in the show. So that gave her a chance to look like the real Carol. And then we go into all those different characters and musical numbers and whatever. And it was very successful. And she’s still doing questions and answers all over the country.

Interviewer: Was it unusual that time, especially for women in comedy.

Bob Mackie: Well, there were there were there were funny women, not a lot of them, that could really, you know, be the head of a show. I mean, there was Lucille Ball who was, you know, Carol’s very best friend. And so that was already she had, you know, raised the whole level of of entertainment because Lucy could do anything. And Lucy had been glamorous. Lucy had been funny. Lucy made movies. She did everything and and was beautiful. So that was that was very good that she she blazed the. What is the word I’m looking for. Yeah. Lucy. Lucy absolutely blazed the trail for female comics on television. But Carol certainly picked it up and did it a whole much, much wider scope. I think the Lucy was able to do by playing so many different characters and so many looks and and so many musical things that were brilliant.

Interviewer: How comfortable was Carol with her appearance?

Bob Mackie: Well, I think, Carol, I think in the beginning, Carol didn’t Carol was still in her mind that that gawky girl that always played the comedy parts. And I think she realized about the second year or so that when she walked out in a gown and the beginning of the show, she looked attractive. She looked pretty. She looked stylish. And and she was comfortable with it. She wasn’t a couple of times in the beginning. You know, I’d put her in a dress. She looked great and people would give her compliments and she’d fall on the floor, you know, because she just she was she wasn’t comfortable with herself. And and I know I could see it changing in her. All of a sudden she could wear things that were more sophisticated. She she was more comfortable with herself. She had a great figure. And she was such a so pretty and and comfortable with the audience. The one thing she did love to have in her gowns at the beginning of the show was a park pockets if possible. And whenever I could, you know, I would put pockets on the side so she could be like the lady next door who happen to have an evening gown. And that was talking over the fence, you know, and at her friends.

Interviewer: You remember the very first episode of what she was wearing?

Bob Mackie: Well, I remember the first one we taped, which was not not on the air first, because you always kind of have to get your feet wet and get get into a roll every season. And so we would always tape a couple of shows first and then we would do what was scheduled to be on first. And I do remember well, I don’t remember exactly, but it was it was it was 1967 and mini skirts were very big and little Twiggy. You know, and she had hair about an inch long and eyelashes big, big sort of spiky eyelashes and flat shoes, a little mini skirts it was. And she looked at orrible and that. But when we look back on that now, it’s it’s so strange because it isn’t where we eventually ended up. But that was what was going on at the time.

Interviewer: You mentioned the evolution of her. Look, I’m just thinking still with the nurse, the gowns that she would wear. Was that something you guys discussed?

Bob Mackie: We never we never had time to discuss it. You know, those shows were done in four days, five days. I would I would get the script on a Friday night, the the day we taped our show. And I’d be going through it and asking the choreographer, you know, about questions, about things. And. And I’d read it all. And I would do shopping and design it over the weekend and put it into work on Monday and we’d be shooting on the next Friday. So it was amazing. But there was no time to be second guessing or having long meetings about, you know, the meaning of this costume and the meaning of that when you just did it. And and hopefully it turned out all right.

Interviewer: Can you explain what you did over the course of, you know, it was over many years. How many of the costumes you design?

Bob Mackie: Well, I don’t know how many. There was over one. How many? Twenty some shows in eleven years. That’s a lot of shows. And she would play maybe a dozen characters in each show. So I was always happy when it was what it was Eunice or Norma Desmond or one of those late Nora Desmond, one of those ladies that we had her costume. You know, I sort of treated those characters like comic book characters that never change. They always had. Maybe it would be slightly different, but it was always the same look. And that that always made life a little bit easier because there would be a lot of new ones that we had to develop new looks for.

Interviewer: Is it true that you design every single costume?

Bob Mackie: I did. Well, I mean, you know, if she was wearing a pair of jeans and a sweater, I probably went to the Mae company embodied. But but basically, yes, I designed everything. And what the dancers and the singers and the men and the guest stars and whatever. So it was a lot was a lot of show. You get on a roll. It’s funny. The more you have to do, the more you can do it. Don’t ask me to do it today. I don’t know if I could do it or not.

Interviewer: And what were you doing at the same time?

Bob Mackie: I was. Well, I had started in the 70s, early 70s, I had Cher’s, all of Cher’s costumes next door and in the adjoining studio. And I was doing that. And sometimes she would do two shows in a week so they could do concerts out on the road. She had Sunny. So that was a little hectic. Say the least. And then I was doing TV specials. I was a very busy man in the 70s.

Interviewer: What was going on with the variety show format?

Bob Mackie: Well, the variety shows were going gung ho. There were so many. Every network had two or three. And Carol was kind of like right at the top. She she was seemed to be the most intelligent, the most versatile, the most kind of like you could really watch it. There were so many other ones. There was Sonny and Cher and there was Donny and Marie and there was the Smothers Brothers. And Jim Nabors had one for a while. And and Bill Cosby had one for a while. Excuse me. There were so many variety shows that I think they just overloaded the public and also that they weren’t very good. A lot of them were just awful. They would be versions of every you know, I did a lot of variety shows during that time. And I go to a meeting and they’d say, we’re gonna do this, this and this. And I said, well, I can do it the way we did it over here or I can do it the way they did it over there or the way we did it last week on Carol Burnett. I mean, I was getting like, please write something new. And I think it just ate itself up the minute Carol went off the air. There wasn’t very much left. It was she had done it and that was that. Now, of course, you know, two or three years later, I’d say to Carol, Have you seen Tammy? Tammy Baker? I mean, imagine doing that, you know? And she says, I wish I had a show. There’s so many people I would love to do take up, son. And, you know, even now we you know, in those days, can you see her doing Paris Hilton? That would be hysterical. But, you know, you can’t do it forever.

Interviewer: And she was a big movie buff. She did all these movie spoofs And I’m just wondering if that was a common language for you?

Bob Mackie: It was being a movie buff was absolutely the most. We are, our backgrounds are so similar. Well, both of us were dragged to the movies by by her by her grandmother, me, by my mother and my sister. And I used to sit there and watch, you know, all these film noir things when I was five years old. But I remember them. I remember them vividly and all the musicals and everything. And Carol and I, we had that that language. You talk to people now, they don’t know what you’re talking about, Carol and I knew exactly what it was. And we loved the minute we started doing, you know, these movie take offs, everything just fell into place because that was always, you know, everybody’s favorite thing to do.

Interviewer: How quickly did you find that?

Bob Mackie: It took a while. It took a little while. I don’t remember the first ones. I think one of the first ones we did was Double Indemnity. I forgot what it was called and that was really fun where she did Barbara Stanwyck. And then the minute that worked or the postman always rings twice that we did, I think maybe that was the first one with Steve Lawrence and it was just fabulous. I mean, all of a sudden the audience got it. It was funny. Even if you hadn’t seen the movie, it was funny. And then, of course, Harvey Korman was the most amazing man ever to to be in a stock company like that where he could play anything and everything and had every accent down and and yet know how to do it and make it funny. You know, they’re actors that can do all those things, but they’re not very funny.

Interviewer: I want to talk more about Harvey in a minute, but with the movie spoofs, are there others that you recall? We’ll get to Gone with the Wind.

Bob Mackie: There were so many. You know, we did one like one whole show. We we devoted to a parody on the on the Betty Grable movie, The Dolly Sisters. And that had been my favorite movie. When I was a little kid. I was just I just had those two blonde women were so fabulous. And I was only like six years old. And I remember that movie so vividly. And in those days when we were doing these movies in the 70s, you couldn’t get your hands on DVD or or even, you know, the tapes. They weren’t they weren’t available in the stores. You had to look through books and find pictures. And very often I did it from memory. And then later on, I’d see the movie. And I didn’t do too badly considering, you know, because sometimes you get a little black and white photo of the way someone looked in the film and you had to go from there, right?

Interviewer: Describe the Nora Desmond, how you came up with that look?

Bob Mackie: Well, Nora, Nora was, you know, just to take off on Sunset Boulevard, which later became the musical Sunset Boulevard. But it was, you know, Gloria Swanson doing her her really crazy over the hill, silent movie star living in seclusion. And it was the perfect thing for Carol to do. And actually, Gloria Swanson got a big kick out of it because Gloria Swanson. Play was playing kind of a version of herself in that movie, but just a little more so, although when after we met Gloria Swanson, it wasn’t so more so. It was kind of on you know, she didn’t have far to go to get there.

Interviewer: I just remember, she had that sort of sagging chest.

Bob Mackie: Well, yeah, we were you know, I had a lot of fun doing doing sort of body parts, you know, sagging chests and big caps and doing all these terrible things and designing things that made Carol look unattractive on purpose. You know, the worst sleeve length, the worst skirt length, all those things. And she would go with it where a lot of a lot of performers and actresses won’t go with it. There you go. There. Oh, my leg doesn’t look good at this, even though they’re playing some horrible character that should look bad. Carol, she says, you know, Carol has beautiful, beautiful legs, but they’re slender. If you hinted at the hem at the wrong place. You know, I can make her legs look like sticks. You raise it up four inches and they look beautiful, but it’s just where you put it. And, you know, most women don’t even know where the best place to put their skirt length is.

Interviewer: Was there ever a character or a time you remember that she was just like, I’m just not finding this character until she walked into you?

Interviewer: No, no. She usually knew. But you never know. You never have time to really agonize about it too much on those weekly things. There was one time there was kind of an awful sketch about Snow White and it was Snow White 10 years after she. The prince came and woke her up and she’d become this really out of shape housewife. And she still the birds were flying around and her bow was crooked. And she again had her sort of pendulous front and she was scrubbing the floor, you know. And it was just an awful, awful sketch. But because of the way we made it look, it kind of worked and they were going to cut it, and I said, “Oh, don’t cut it. You haven’t seen the visuals yet. You’re going to get some laughs. It’s short, it’ll be fun. People will remember it.” And I think it worked. I think it worked once we got it in costumes. But they were getting ready to cut it out of the script.

Interviewer: Did she ever resist a certain character,Carol herself?

Bob Mackie: Carol is one of those people. She’s tenacious. She will work and work and work to make it work. You know, sometimes there have been scripts when when Carol says, well, I had to do my Martha Raye imitation on that one because it’s just you sometimes you can do it very, you know, very intellectually and lovely. And sometimes you have to cross your eyes and fall on the floor and have your wig on crooked and you’ll still get your laughs. But but, you know, we always got to the point. We tried not to have to do that, but sometimes you have to do that and you still you know, it’s still fun. But it’s Carol is one of those that wants to make it work. And that’s a great person to work with on that kind of schedule.

Interviewer: So you did see her sort of mature, grow, evolve?

Bob Mackie: Oh, I saw her changed so much. Her-her. I’m sorry. I saw so many changes in the way she performed and the way she would think up characters and and they became a little mini plays rather than just some wild, crazy slapstick sketch, which was kind of the way she was used originally when when she was first brought on television.

Interviewer: Do you think that was happening because comedy was changing, or because Carol was changing?

Bob Mackie: Well, Carol was changing. Carol was becoming more mature and the audience reacted. Well, you know, her Eunice, her unique sketches, the family’s sketches were at first, you know, visual, funny. And then you then you start listening. And it became sometimes very disturbing and very sad and yet very funny at the same time. And there was nobody more pitiful or more sad than Eunice, who so wanted to have everything and that nothing.

Interviewer: It’s true, I mean, if you just read the script for those, there’s probably not very many jokes.

Bob Mackie: Well, there there are jokes. But behind the jokes are such an underlying sadness and desperation. You know, somebody who wanted to be a performer and wanted to be pretty and wanted this and wanted a fabulous husband and and and a mother and her mother didn’t like her and didn’t think she was much of anything. You know, all that is very interesting because comedy tragedy are very close.

Interviewer: And what about for Carol? Were they close for her too. She obviously had her own personal.

Bob Mackie: Well, I think, you know, we all know everybody has their own personal things they have to get past. But Carol is so incredibly professional. You know, she drinks, she walks in and she thinks it through. She she is so smart. She’s probably one of the smartest women. She is actually. She is the smartest woman I’ve ever worked with. Absolutely. Bar none. And and intelligent, you know, and thinks it through and doesn’t agonize about it, you know. And she goes right for it and doesn’t wants to get it over with, get her laughs and go on to the next thing.

Interviewer: Did you see did you did she mention or did you know if she sort of drew on it thinking for, you know, her mother, her Nanny or any of that, like she knew those characters?

Bob Mackie: Well, I think she’s known people like that. You know, we all share. Yeah. She would always draw on people she knew and people she’d known in the past. And yeah, probably I would say yes.

Interviewer: Talk about Eunice and Mama and how those roles. What were they initially going to be, switched?

Bob Mackie: You know, I wasn’t aware of that. I’d heard that later. But by the time I got the script, it was Vicki was playing Mama and she was playing Eunice. And it worked out fantastically well. Vicki’s Mama was brilliant. And it became you know, she took it further and had had a whole show about Mama. And it was it was based on Vicky’s ex mother in law. We won’t mention any names. And actually, it was very close to my ex mother in law. So we laughed about it. You know, I just dressed her up like that. And that was the same woman, you know, and Vicki. Vicki just got it. Vicki was one of those brilliant performers that that first couple of years she did her job and did it well, but not nothing special. And then all of a sudden she blossomed. But, you know, if you went to school with Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman every day of your life, you learn. And she learned. And she’s you know, she’s she’s a wonderful character actress now.

Interviewer: And she did, you know, there was no aging makeup.

Bob Mackie: Nope. Took off her lipstick, plopped on the wig. Didn’t change your make. We had no time. We would tape an our show in an hour and a half. And and there was no fly space in that that place. And they had to they had to bring all the sets in on on on wagons. So it took but we never took more than ten, fifteen minutes to put it whole setup and you know, and they make their changes and they’d be back on the stage and doing it. They didn’t want the audience to get tired or bored.

Interviewer: How did you find the look for Eunice? Did you and Carol work on that?

Bob Mackie: It was Eunice was a funny thing, you know. Very often we do a sketch and we think, well, this is a one timer, we’ll do this and that’ll be that. You know, you don’t think about it being a running character. And somebody said to me, I said, well, what are these characters like this? They’re kind of Tennessee Williams like. Well, as it turned out, they weren’t really Tennessee Williams like in as we went on. But in the beginning, that was the description that I got. Well, printed chiffon. Tennessee Williams, you know, Blanche Dubois, crazy. So I. I found a dress, an old dress from the 1930s that was printed chiffon and it was an evening gown. And I cut off the hem for Carol and I did a drape on the top. And it was like very fragile. It was old. And that became Eunice’s dress. And she wore that dress for all those years. And it was completely patched on the inside and mended and everything because it was silk chiffon that was rotting away because it was so old and Carol wouldn’t wear anything else. The only time she wear something else is one time she went to a funeral and I made the exact same dress in black with a print under it, black chiffon. So it looked just like Eunice, but she was in her funeral dress.

Interviewer: Do you remember the first time she put the Eunice costume on? Was it an a-ha moment for her?

Bob Mackie: Well, it she had the character down pretty well. She knew that woman. But then when she got the wig on and said, I would always draw the wigs and design the wigs and take them to our wonderful wig weed lady Roselle, who who would then say, oh, but this is not pretty. We need to make it pretty. And I said, no, Roselle, do not make it pretty. It has to look like the sketch. Well, she’s the star. She never got it. She never understood when things were supposed to be, you know, funny looking or the wrong proportion or unflattering. She just she also did The Lawrence Welk Show with all those funny wigs flipped up on the side. And she thought, that’s the way Carol should always look. But she was a brilliant woman. And if you really followed my sketches, she she did good work. But every now and then, she would just and she’d try to make Eunice more attractive, you know, and widen the bangs and fluff up the back. And and I’d see Brazil eroding, eroding the character. We’ve got to get it back where it belongs.

Speaker But that happens. So when. Carol laughing You know, because you just she just knows how to do it.

Speaker You know, she knew how to look like she was all elbows and knees and and a big white shoes on on, you know, made her legs look skinny and her feet look big in her arms. You know, that was just a funny, terrible, terrible outfit and and a very unflattering wig.

Speaker She’d have to change her makeup. She never changed her makeup. Just that was it.

Speaker Well, Mrs. Wiggins was an interesting that that’s one time when I did make a phone call because Carol had been Mrs. Wiggins was was to be an elderly old secretary. And and she’d been doing a lot of old ladies. We’ve all grown into that now, you know, but any. Way at that time, you know, in her mid thirties or whatever she was, she was paying a lot of old ladies and Zinah beautifully. But but the the old ladies of the world were complaining that they’re making fun. There was a group called the Grey Panthers, and they were they were like complaining that people are making fun of old people. And so I sent her I said, you know, you’ve done so many old old ladies. Why don’t we do like the secretaries at CBS? You know, there’s a few secretaries and we all know their names. They don’t do anything. They watch the clock. They do their nails. They take little catnaps. You know, they’re always checking their makeup. Wandering around the office, doing nothing. And and she went, huh? OK. And then I got her into the Finnin and I said, Here’s your skirt. It’s too tight. Can’t just walk in it. I made it so tight around the knees that she had she had to walk with her knees together. And that gave her that whole posture. And she said that Farrah Fawcett hairdo, which was in the 70s and and she worked. It worked. And she was ready for cocktails. You know, the ones that dress for cocktails, you know, at nine o’clock in the morning when they arrive.

Speaker That’s that’s kind of how Mrs. Wiggins was also to see Carolyn for seven years.

Speaker Well, no, it was just it didn’t fit her. And I said, well, you have to fill it out. And I said, stick your butt out, your knees together. Your butt is out. Now walk. And that was it.

Speaker It worked. You found it.

Speaker Well, you know, she was that vague, kind of not really tuned in, you know.

Speaker And we’ve we’ve all met those women in every office that we’ve ever worked in. Usually they’re out front, you know, just staring into space.

Speaker What about the charwoman?

Speaker Well, the charwoman I was it was a character that that was established before I came on the scene way early in New York. And it became kind of her trademark. But the charwoman never, never talked and didn’t have much personality. But she was just sort of this underdog character that that could become anything. And that sort of symbolized Carol. But that costume, I redesigned it a little bit. But basically, that was established before I was around.

Speaker Why do you think that was such an iconic. It’s not the funniest.

Speaker No. Well, it wasn’t funny at all. It was funny when she first. And it was.

Speaker It was actually a character that she did she did a number two to the to the old song, The Stripper, and she had sort of a mock strip with her sweater in her glove and her whole thing as the charwoman. And it was very funny and very cute. In 1960, whatever. And it just sort of stayed with her as your symbol. And they did a little cartoon in that cartoon was always on the beginning of the show.

Speaker Is there something?

Speaker Well, yeah, maybe, you know, maybe, you know, it’s always that like that underdog, unattractive girl who wants to be the stripper or wants to be something special. And that’s I guess that’s where it started.

Speaker So one of my favorite movies, Mildred Pierce.

Speaker Well, Mildred Fierce, which was based on Mildred Pierce. Joan Crawford.

Speaker You know, when she had big, huge, successful film, Mildred Pierce and I remember doing, I had photographs and I was trying to really recreate the look for her, Carol, on that. And of course, if you’re going to do Joan Crawford, you got to do eyebrows. If you don’t do eyebrows, you’re not Joan Crawford. And she her eyebrows were their biggest. That I think maybe they got bigger in the 60s. I don’t know.

Speaker So the the makeup men we made as a shape and they made special hair like mustaches that were. And the minute she put those on and then painted her mouth a little square like Joan Crawford and had the hat and the wig, the whole thing, it just all came together. And so we did we did a few Joan Crawford spoofs on different films. We did one call that was based on torch song. That was pretty funny.

Speaker And what was reaction?

Speaker I don’t know. I think she did get a letter from Joan Crawford, you know, a fun letter, but we never had her on. That would have been interesting. But, you know, Gloria Swanson did come on the show and what a handful that was. But but that’s another story.

Speaker Well, you know, I just I know Gloria Swanson was strange.

Speaker You know, she she did a tango that she did she did Charlie Chaplin on the show. And she got in her Charlie Chaplin costume. And she’s just spent, you know, days wandering around CBS as Charlie Chaplin. It was very bizarre. And she didn’t like anybody, but she liked me. So I.

Speaker What was it like for Harold?

Speaker Well, it was incredible to have. We have Rita Hayworth on the show, who is a huge icon in Carol’s youth. And mine, too. We had Lana Turner. We had, you know, just. Gloria Swanson. We had, you know, you name it. I mean, anybody that could still walk out there, we got him on the show and and they were fun to see. And they they love performing, but they know that three or four days schedule was just beyond.

Speaker They’re not used to that. Nobody’s used to that stage. Actors aren’t used to that. Carol would start rehearsing on Monday. She’d be off the book, meaning, you know, memorized by Wednesday and the rest of her still trying to learn it. So it was it was very, very often Carol would pretend she didn’t know everything yet, so they wouldn’t feel so nervous. I’ve seen her do that many times. I never saw anyone that could learn anything fast during Carol. And I think it’s all that early television experience where she had to learn it fast. That was part of the game. And for her, it was a game. It was like playing. You’ve got to do you know, you’ve got to make believe. Make believe is everything. She just happened to be good at it.

Speaker I think that’s gone with the Wind.

Speaker Gone with the Wind. Yeah, well, that was. I don’t know. That was like late mid 70s. And we’d done so many things we’d never done Gone With the Wind. And it was it was a long sketch. It I think it had a commercial in the middle of it even, which usually we never did. And, you know, it just said she took the drapes upstairs and she came down dressed in the drapes and you’re going well. And I had done that that old costume before and somebody else once and I. That costume was hanging in my storage unit that looked just like the movie. And I thought, well, that’s not funny. That’s not going to work for Carol. She needs we need a big laugh, but trying to come up with a laugh because just throwing the drapes, you know, on her doesn’t. It’s not funny. And I don’t know, I just came to me, but it didn’t come to me until like like almost Thursday. And we do the show on Friday. So I called the Drapery Department, so. Have you got extra drapes? Give me some some of those. And you have another curtain rod with the same finials and stuff on it. And the minute I put it on her, she says, yep, OK, this is going to work. And it was fast. We did. You know, there was no cuts. No. No editing at all. She went up the stairs. We put her in it. And I was up there because her dresser was this little sort of five foot woman, tiny little woman. And the thing weighed a ton. And I got it on her. I got that had on her. And she came she came out on the landing and the audience. I’ve never heard. And I had heard that audience laugh really loud. I’ve never heard a roar like that in my life.

Speaker It was it was truly magical. And she just played it beautifully. And every time she did it, you know, people went crazy. We did. We did. We used to do two shows. And one day we do one in the afternoon, one night, and then edit from the two shows.

Speaker And both times it was a huge hit for the first time, like certain people. Tell me about that. You mean Gone with the Wind? Yeah. Some of the cast heard.

Speaker Oh, they hadn’t seen it. Well, not you know, not everybody had seen everything. You know, they had they didn’t know nobody knew what it was going to be.

Speaker So the first time she did it in the morning, everybody, you know, fell over. So we thought, well, this is pretty good. This is working. But it was just another week. It didn’t. It wasn’t. This is the big week where we do the costume that everyone will talk about for the rest of our lives. It was just another week and we got our laughs and went home, went out to dinner after the show that night. And that was that, you know, went on to the next week. And now it’s like people say to me, you know, the costume that I think is funny is nice. Yeah, I bet I do. And and, you know, they do the same with Carol. I said it’s going to be carved in my tombstone. You know, he did the curtain rod dress.

Speaker Big deal. But it’s so funny how that works. It becomes, you know, this thing that goes on and on because, you know, humor is one of those things.

Speaker If you have if you have something that you can you know, if you have a point of reference, you have a point of reference and and it changes what you expect, then you laugh.

Speaker It’s not a bad thing to be doing for.

Speaker The worst things to be No. For our guest.

Speaker How we talk about, Carol, in terms of how adept she was with props and costumes and using things that she.

Speaker She was one of those people that was completely in control of her body. She never had trouble with props. I don’t remember her ever having a problem. And I’ve done a lot of actresses that couldn’t. This person is no good. I can’t do it. You know, Carol, just like that. Oh, yeah. OK. And it’s one of those things. The coats worked. Everything worked. The were you know, it just worked. There was no you know, once in a while we’d put a knee pads and things are just going to fall down or shoot, you know, those things. But basically, I can’t remember anytime that that, you know, she was a pain in the ass about it. And a lot of people are. What was it she was? She was smart, she was careful. She had hurt herself a couple of times when she was young, doing doing belly flops and things and jumping out of windows. And so she was very careful because she knew that then if she hurt herself, she would be out of out of a job the next week, you know, maybe trouble.

Speaker Well, you know, you learn you do anything. You know, I want to please everybody. But then you have to be smart about it.

Speaker What about her role in that regard? Me was. Did you see her also kind of evolve as a behind the scenes person in terms of, you know, that she initially would say yes to things that maybe, you know, later on she knew more what was right for her? Did you see her role behind the scenes?

Speaker Well, I think she she was very trusting. She had Carol has had some of the same people around her today. She she calls up, you know, writers and people that she’s worked with in the past. And she’s comfortable with them and they know her. But, yeah, it did change.

Speaker And I’m sure she had lots of input as time went on. I’m sure when, you know, when you’re young and and you’ve got you’ve got a job, you do what they ask you to do and you try to please everybody. And there comes a time when you can’t please everybody. You have to do what’s best for you. And it works better. And I’m sure she she knows that.

Speaker Did you ever see a moment where you sort of saw that come to fruition?

Speaker Well, I saw it gradually happened just just in the way she felt about herself. You know, as as an attractive woman, it’s the same way, you know, your brain is working at all levels. And all of a sudden the the the material change slightly. It became more mature and more interesting. And it wasn’t just crazy, you know. And we would have a crazy and then we’d have a very kind of interesting quiet little sketch that when it was done, you go, wow, you know, it’s more of a scene, an interesting scene than a comedy sketch.

Speaker What was the hardest costume?

Speaker I don’t remember. You know, that’s a lot of shows. I can’t remember the hardest the hardest costume we ever did. It doesn’t even. I don’t know. Nothing stands out because, you know, you do them. And then you go to the next script. You have another show next week and you forget about all the hardships maybe you had, you know, during that time. But there were all kinds of breakaways and, you know, fat suits. And we did a whole set of legs for her. And this one won the original fat suit that I did.

Speaker And, you know, to see Carol in a fat suit is funny because you don’t expected. And she was do exercising, too, like a Jack Laine on, you know, on the TV. And. And and she had these big calves and big legs. And it looks a real and scary. And she had a t shirt on and she was swaying back and forth. You know, her chest was going with it. Same time. And people just went crazy. And after that, every variety show on the air had people in fat suits. It was just kind of like it. It just went like wildfire because I thought that was so funny. And it’s not very funny at all. But, you know, that’s just the way people were thinking in those days.

Speaker What was said in terms of how she worked with Joe?

Speaker Very private. Very private.

Speaker If she had a problem, it was be discussed in the dressing room, not in front of the whole the whole company. And she was unhappy about something. She would discuss it with him and he was very good about it. And one day he was a wonderful producer to work for. He appreciated what you did. He didn’t he didn’t get in your way. If he was unhappy with somebody who had no problem telling you and and you didn’t mind fixing it for him because it was always an intelligent remark.

Speaker And what about Harvey Korman?

Speaker We mentioned Harvey Korman was was a gift from God.

Speaker For Carol, it was it was amazing. He he just he was the best thing that was ever on that show with her. He he complimented everything she did. And he he came up with characters that were just amazing. He had every dialect known to man. He he’s he’s a brilliant man. And funny, you see a lot.

Speaker There’s a lot of actors that can do all those things, but they’re not very funny. Harvey could pull humor out of any line and make it work. And Harvey, you know, sometimes Harvey was a pain in the ass, but but basically, Harvey was wonderful. I never I love Harvey.

Speaker What can you tell me? When and why did you leave the show?

Speaker Oh, you know, who knows? People get tired. Eleven years is a long time. You know, and you you sometimes you feel you’re not being appreciated or whatever, whatever it is. But, you know, he came back and and he’s he’s Harvey. He would always complain every week about this and about that.

Speaker And then he’d go out and be brilliant. You know, he’s. Who cares? You know, I. I never I just loved him and I still do.

Speaker Do you remember, Carol, her reaction when you left? Did she?

Speaker I think, again, Carol’s very private. Carol would never, you know, rant and rave in front of anybody except maybe maybe Joe Hamilton about if she was unhappy about it. I’m sure she wasn’t happy about it. It made it very light, very difficult, because nobody could do what Harvey could do.

Speaker Well, Dick Van Dyke came on for a while and he was very good in other ways.

Speaker You know, he wasn’t like Harvey, but he was like Dick Van Dyke. And he was good. But he didn’t really want to do that either. He I mean, you know, Dick Van Dyke kind of shouldn’t have his own show.

Speaker So I think after 11 years, everybody just kind of it. Nothing seemed new. Nothing seemed fresh, you know. And then the following year, I say, don’t you wish you had you’re around to do a show this year. Look at this and look at that and look at this first lady and that, you know. She never got a chance to do Barbara Bush and she never got a chance to do, you know, so many different characters that she would have enjoyed doing. And she said so. But you still have to stop. There is a time, probably 11 years might have been too long. And, you know, maybe we should have stopped at 10.

Speaker I don’t know. Show is still good. The show was great, you know. But again, it’s it’s a big responsibility to do one of those every week and that many every year and come up with fresh ideas. It’s good to let it rest a bit.

Speaker What was the last episode?

Speaker Oh, it was very nostalgic and very sad. And but again, we were all happy. You know, it wasn’t like it was nobody was bummed out about it. And, you know, I certainly you know, I didn’t mind it being over because you feel like you’ve done it all, at least all you could do during that time. And you need a little rest.

Speaker What did you work on some of the some of your specialties as well?

Speaker Yeah. All of them.

Speaker Oh, well, you know, there was all this all the time. We were doing the, you know, the weekly show. We would be doing specials. Some of them with, you know, different people. Julie Andrews, a couple with her and Beverly Sills. She did when she went but Dolly Parton in Nashville. There were so many of those. And those were always fun to do and very theatrical and really fun and all on location. And I just loved doing it. You know, I mean, I anytime I can work, Carol, I’m happy.

Speaker In terms of your role in the design and so forth, what was different? Because you were designing the stage because it was a live performance, but it was also going to be televised. So did you have was anything different about. Different than you were doing on the TV series?

Speaker Nothing, really. I mean, it was it was a presentational and it was always in front on a stage, in a theater, somewhere in front of a big audience. But basically, it had to go on. It had to go on that little screen and be seen and be, you know, be photogenic. And that’s what it was all about, designing for the stage and designing for television. Oddly enough, it’s very similar, very similar because you have to make things this big, be clear and wonderful and be able to tell what it is. And of course, there are certain things that photograph better than other things. And you just sort of learn that and do it automatically.

Speaker What was her relationship with Julie Andrews? Why did they come?

Speaker Well, they they originally, before I came on the scene, did a special in New York. I guess it was a Carnegie Hall. And they were brilliant together. They were about the same age and they were both coming up in New York. And they were both attractive and yet very different from each other. And it was a great combination of people to do a special. It was very original and it was a huge hit. And because of that, they did more later on. Way later on.

Speaker Do you think you got something out of doing those specials that was different than doing the TV series?

Speaker Yeah, well, it was. It was it’s a different kind of a show. Those those specials, it was more presentational and and it’s something that could be on stage with an audience. It wasn’t a television show, per say. It was like is like as if you were shooting a stage show, a special stage show. But of course, it was geared for television.

Speaker Do you have any favorite scenes or sketches or songs?

Speaker Well, I’m very fond of the first one we did at Lincoln Center because that was my first one. I did. And we did a whole Martha Graham take off and and then we did. I don’t know. We did a big Russian number one time with Beverly Sills. That was fun. There’s so many of them, you know, and it’s just give you a chance to to kind of work on a bigger scale because they were on big stages of big choruses. And in a different city. It was fun for me because I’m a California boy. I always worked in L.A. to go to New York and do shows was was very exciting and hard know when you’re not used to it.

Speaker What? While you were on The Carol Burnett Show, did you ever meet. Did you ever.

Speaker I never did. I never met her. She may have been there and I didn’t know who was in the beginning, you know, but I don’t remember ever meeting her. No, I know what she looks like. I’ve seen many pictures, but I don’t know, there were other other relatives and cousins, aunts and things that would come. But I don’t remember meeting her now. I know that there are characters that Carol’s done that have been very much based on on her grandmother, like, I don’t know, just different ones. She said, I would like my grandmother, you know, just different ladies. She was quite the you know, she had a lot of boyfriends and things, I hear and this. But she took care of Carol and took her to the movies. And thank God she took it to the movies.

Speaker Did you meet your sister?

Speaker Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Oh, many, many times, Christine. That, you know, was was younger, the younger. She was younger than me when we started on the thing. And I was pretty young when I started on the nature. And I watch Christine grow up.

Speaker I you know, and she by the time I met her, I think she already had a husband, but she was a young girl and a lovely, lovely, warm, open, you know, nice human being. I liked her. I like her very much. I talk about in the past tense, these people are still around.

Speaker So I think it was good.

Speaker I know I well, there you know, there was a big age difference in there in the two women.

Speaker So naturally, one is the older sister, the sister who is, you know, has a position and the other one is a young girl. And so there’s always that there’s that younger sister thing. But Carol, Carol was wonderful with her. But, you know, again, Carol is Carol is the most private woman you will ever meet. And and you’re not gonna know anything about Carol. She doesn’t want you to know. And I like that about her. She’s very private and very modest and lovely. And and she’s she’s not you know, she doesn’t walk in there at all.

Speaker Show business girl and take off her clothes. She doesn’t do that. She’s a lady. And I like that.

Speaker Do you think that’s I mean, did you feel that you knew her well or is it just sort of a certain part that you’re just not going to get to know her?

Speaker I think I know her as well as anybody. Carol is very private and and. Again, this is very much, you know, the old fashioned thing.

Speaker She’s a lady. She’s she’s polite and she’s thoughtful. And she’s she’s remembers anything you’ve ever done for her or with her. And she’s just one of those people, you know, one of those good people.

Speaker Do you think. I’m just wondering, is it sort of a self protection thing or is it that she doesn’t want to burden people with.

Speaker Oh, I. I think there was a lot of time as a young girl probably spent within herself. And and, you know, you you have to do that. You have to protect yourself and you have to be private. And I don’t know, I, I think that’s just the way it’s always stayed. And I think she’s quite surprised that what happened to her and how it happened and and. But why not?

Speaker I was just going to ask you that. Do you think she’s surprised?

Speaker Well, I think she was probably in the beginning that it was working so well. But she had such a you know, as a young girl, I don’t think she probably ever thought about doing that. Or maybe she did it. Just she got into the you know, started doing it in college. And before she knew what she was, she was good at it. You know, when you’re good at it, you’re happy.

Speaker Did you ever see the production of Hollywood?

Speaker Yes, I did. Well, I don’t really know much about the actual I mean, the play I enjoyed because I’d heard all these stories and read Carol’s book and everything for so many years. I didn’t you know, I didn’t know and I didn’t know her during that time, of course. And I mean, I knew the area. And I used to come to Hollywood and it was just a few doors off of Hollywood Boulevard where we come to see the parades and go to the movies and whatever. But but that was interesting for me. And it was always interesting to see it dramatized because I knew who these characters were. And I’d heard a lot about them.

Speaker Did you feel like reading the book or seeing the play? You got another layer of knowing, Gerald, that you had to be like, did you know? I thought I knew Carol already.

Speaker So just lastly, I mean, what’s what you know, what is it that is most unique about her? I mean, what sort of sets her apart from all the other comedians and performers that were on television?

Speaker The and the intense intelligence that she has, it sets her apart from me.

Speaker Her security and her ability. So very often people are very talented and they’re so insecure and there’s such a mess and and that that part never comes in. I mean, she just walks in and does it and does it beautifully and thinks about it. She doesn’t just take it off the surface. She thinks about it. And she’s smart. That’s that’s valuable. That’s so valuable. And a performer.

Speaker So it’s interesting that she’s so secure, was very secure in her abilities onstage and in front of a camera.

Speaker I think very, you know, especially with an audience. I think Carol’s strongest moments are when she has a live audience because she reacts to it. She’s you know, she really she ended up on television, but all of her television is done in front of a live audience. And when she is in front of a live audience, I never feel it works as well. It’s just the way it is. You know, she before television, she would have been on stage all the time. I mean, not that she’s not a wonderful actress and hasn’t done wonderful parts on film, but but it really clicks when when when there are people out there that she can make laugh or react and she knows they’re doing it. That’s that’s the most exciting thing to watch.

Speaker She has said before that, especially in the earlier years, is more comfortable in a character herself. Right. Is there that thing where there’s confidence onstage, but offstage it’s different?

Speaker I think she still enjoys, you know, stepping into a character and becoming that person. She loves doing that. It’s like make believe. It’s like playing dress up and make believe in the backyard. Except you get to do it for money and you get to do it for real. There’s nothing better than that.

Speaker Does that sort of makes sense from where she came from and her background?

Speaker Well, everybody is not like that. You know, other people can have the same exact background as she does did.

Speaker And and they wouldn’t be the same. They just wouldn’t be the same. I’m Carol. Just has that inner it was like, you know, she used to make believe as a kid and play. We all did, you know, and dress up in costumes and and become this and become especially in that generation that we had where we went to the movies and there were pirate movies and there were Arabian Nights movies and there were, you know, musicals and going to Broadway and all these things that you thought about in your life was so drab and it was so fabulous on on the screen. And then to be able to to kind of do your your take on all these different things. What a what a gift that is to be able to do that.

Speaker That’s great. Any other stories?

Speaker I don’t know what I think. I think we had a lot. You know, it’s very hard to talk about, Carol. Her private life because she is private.

Speaker I know it’s interesting, too, though, because at the same time, she’s because she’s a public person. She has come forward with a lot of things that you know well.

Speaker She has, but it’s it’s. Carol Carol works out what she’s going to come forward with beforehand. She’s not an emotional wreck that just kind of lets an all out. She decides how much you’re going to know. And and I I think that’s a good thing.

Speaker Did you see any specific examples?

Speaker I mean, I you know, I worked with Judy Garland early on and I could see, you know, just just all over the place and talented and fabulous. But you go don’t don’t do that, you know. And a lot of a lot of performers that were, you know, that are very emotionally all over the place. And Carol is is very, very much a lady and very private. And and if it’s something that she thinks is will help to talk about, she’ll talk about it. But it’s it’s very controlled.

Speaker That’s great. Thank you so much. You’re welcome.

Speaker Oh, I don’t know. I’ll probably think of it tonight, but there’s so many, you know, there’s so many good with such a comfort factor. You know, we all were working like dogs. But but it was so much fun and and having everything in place and everything working, you know, it was wonderful. And it was we never taped all night. We were, you know, on Friday nights, we would do a show, you know, we would do two shows. We do one in the afternoon and one at night. And they would be they wouldn’t be messy.

Speaker They would be complete. So they could edit from both shows. And you could make a nine o’clock dinner reservation and be out of the studio by, you know, by a quarter to nine and get to the restaurant and have a nice dinner on Friday night for the next two weeks started well.

Speaker But it was also it was nice for her and she made it that way and it was not controlled. And the people it was never like, oh, let’s try that another way. Let’s do this another way. Let’s do this. Let’s do that. Oh, that wasn’t as good. Can we do any better?

Speaker You know, to do a 20 minute sitcom now takes hours and hours and hours and then they’re not even funny.

Speaker So, you know, let’s let’s. How about being professional and learning your lines and and and writing it well, to start with.

Speaker Is there anyone. Here’s what she can do.

Speaker I haven’t seen them, but I’m sure there is. There’s always you know, no matter how good anybody is, there’s always somebody coming up that’s just brilliant in their own way. That’s the way the world is, if that’s the way it has to be.

Speaker There’s no variety.

Speaker There isn’t. Yeah, that does make a difference. And you get trained by doing that. You know, you you learn how many sketches have, you know, in one week and get in there and do it. Plus the dance numbers and the songs and everything. Go to fittings and and still have a life.

Bob Mackie
Interview Date:
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"Bob Mackie , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 23, 2007 ,
(1 , 1). Bob Mackie , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Bob Mackie , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 23, 2007 . Accessed March 26, 2023


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