Dean Fuller: I met her at Tamiment and Tamiment was the Pennsylvania version of the Borscht Circuit was in the Pocono Mountains, pronounced Poconos in those days. And she was there with Kenny Welsh and is and is not yet wife. And they were doing material for her and Marshall were doing material for her and everybody else. And we spent. I guess 15 weeks there. And we were paid fifty dollars a week. Was it a month? No. Fifty dollars a month. Was the Army? Fifty dollars a week was Tamiment. And. That’s where we first met her.

Interviewer: Can you feel it for people who don’t know or understand what Tamiment was? Can you explain?

Dean Fuller: It was an adult camp. It was a joke. It is the joke used to be that the girls from New York went there to get married. And the boys didn’t go there to get married. I won’t say why they went there.

Interviewer: It was an adult camp. Of what kind? What would people do there?

Dean Fuller: Boating and dancing. And then once a week or twice a week, Friday and Saturday, they come and see the show. And those were the days when we had original shows. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now they book a book, name bands and name performers. But it was great, a great off, off, off off Broadway experience for writers. Danny Kaye started there. Oh, everybody. Everybody started there.

Interviewer: And what kinds of things do you remember? You remember any specific routines or what kinds of things was Carol doing?

Dean Fuller: There was all right. It’s all review material because in those days, the reviews were still done on television. Marshall and I wrote a child’s version of The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the whole thing was done at Tamiment, and it was done for the Shirley Temple Hour. And about a week after we finished it, about a week after we presented it the Shirley Temple Hour went off the air. So that was sort of typical. But Mashall, I must, first of all, a composer before I was a writer. In fact, I’m still a composer. And he and I did most of the material for New Faces of 1956. And that was all stuff that was originally done, at Tamiment. This was a fifteen hundred seat theater that they had and we had a full orchestra. And you had to do a show with. So it was it was important deadline stuff.

Interviewer: It was almost like a school for four people to sort of learn to act almost as well?

Dean Fuller: It wasn’t a school because you had to deliver because the audience was very impatient. And if they got the least bit bored, they’d walk out. And you don’t want an empty suit, an empty fifteen hundred seat theater. So it had to be commercial enough and immediate enough and topical enough to satisfy everyone. It was generally very successful.

Interviewer: Was it clear? Do you think even at that time that Carol had something special?

Dean Fuller: Oh, yeah.

Interviewer: Can you say, you know,.

Dean Fuller: Carol. Carol certainly had something special that wasn’t. There was no doubt about that. Now, the original Once Upon a mattress was done up there as a one act. Marshall and Jay Thompson and Mary Rogers, who were on the staff that summer. I was I can’t stay in New York. They wrote a one act called The Princess and the Pea. And it was written for Nancy Walker. And the girl that played it played it like Nancy Walker. And it was very, very funny, but it was a different kind of funny than than it would be with Carol. And when George Abbott was asked if he’d be interested, he said, first of all, it’s gonna be two acts and not one. And second of all, I don’t want I don’t want Nancy Walker. And he was very firm about that. And we said and they said, who do you want? He said, Carol Burnett. So the whole thing changed. And it became a much more friendly. Not me. Not as nearly as me as it would have been. And we had Nancy Walker.

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Dean Fuller: Well, Nancy Walker was put down her, you know, and she was terribly funny. I don’t know if you remember this, but there was a thing. She was she was playing the mother of of somebody. And she came came into the shot and she knocked on the door and somebody said, who is it? She says, nobody. That’s Nancy Walker. How I got involved in Mattress is that they needed somebody to make it into to into it to act. And I had done a book show with Marshall The Emperor’s New Clothes, and they asked everybody, was anybody in New York City to come in and work on it? And nobody wanted to work on a fairy tale that you’re. So Marshall asked me if I wouldn’t, I said, well, give me a try and see if it works. And it worked.

Interviewer: So we talk a sure. One second. When we talked on the phone, we talked a little about this. Tell me what you all thought when George Abbott originally suggested this name. Carol Burnett.

Dean Fuller: Well, we thought Carol was a little too country because we were we were used to the idea of Nancy Walker. And we were so wrong because from the very first day of rehearsal, she does a term used in the theater called Marking where you. You don’t do it full out. You’re just you indicate she never did that. She did everything full out all the time. And that’s what sold us on her because she she fooled us completely. And I’ll tell you this. But if it hadn’t been for for for Carol Burnett, once upon a mattress wouldn’t have happened. It would not have been a success. That was she was the reason. Now, subsequently, it’s been done by other people. But everybody remembers Carol and bless her. You know, she’s the she was just great.

Interviewer: What do you can you explain what do you mean by where you thought she was to country?

Dean Fuller: Well, she. She had a lot of country material. She she did a lot of Texas stuff, you know. And she could do all those accents. And even even even in her later television series, when she played that ugly girl that I forget what she called her, what they call her. But yeah, she did it with a with a Texas kind of twang all the time. And that was that was the way she talked, naturally. But she can do anything.

Interviewer: So what was it about the role you think that was so right for her?

Dean Fuller: Uninhibited.

Interviewer: Can you say that the role that the part.

Dean Fuller: The role that she played as Winifred. I mean, do you remember the finale of the first act when Prince Douglas comes up and says, you know what? I think it’s too formal to call us each other by our full name. Winifred. Can I call? What’s your nickname? Winnie. And she said, No, Fred. Only only Carol can do that. Let that line like that, it was perfect. And then, of course, the finale of The first act with Fred, which was really Old MacDonald has a farm. Yeah, yeah.

Interviewer: Talk about her her singing voice. What can you sort of describe it?

Dean Fuller: Well, it’s an absolutely perfect chest voice, chest voice the is when you don’t go into soprano. She can go into soprano and I actually did it in the last television virtually. But does she need to? Doesn’t have to. She had, I think, probably a D in chest voice, which is very which is if Ethel Merman type chest and she had that kind of voice and yet she didn’t need a mic. I mean you could do. You can hear her in a big theater with no microphone at all. It’s like, I’m sorry. Even today, more of that doesn’t happen. Because things get lost with microphones.

Interviewer: So were the songs, for example. I’m shy. Had that been written for Nancy as well?

Dean Fuller: Yeah, but that was originally written for Nancy. But it was entirely different when when Carol did it and it was loud. I mean, that I think it was. I think that’s a C opening. They’re opening them and opening some they’re opening note. And boy, there’s no doubt about it. The audience was right, whether from that moment on.

Interviewer: So what did you do in writing the second act? You knew Carol was gonna be in it. What what did you how did you write for her or did you.

Dean Fuller: Well, it wasn’t so much hurt. It was we had to have a subsidy. There were several subplots that we had to entertain. And Mr Abbott, George Abbott was a director of. Who’d done millions of musicals. Started laying out ideas, some of which we thought were OK and some of which we didn’t think were so hot. And. We introduced Lady Larken, which wasn’t in the original. And. Sir Harry wasn’t in the original. And there was a song that I gave Marshall the idea for called Man to Man Talk, which was when the mute king has to explain to a son what marriage is all about. And that was a lovely song, a lovely number that Ben Brantley hated, but I loved it. Ben Brantley is The New York Times theater critic.

Interviewer: Well talk about how it was received from the beginning.

Dean Fuller: It was received very, very well. The reviews weren’t so hot. The reviews were a little cynical. I mean, really, you’ve grown up a grown up musical about stuff, about a fairy tale. But we played we opened at the Phoenix Theatre on 12th Street and Second Avenue, so we were technically it off an off Broadway show. But after we closed there and we had to close because they had another show coming in, we moved to the Longacre on Broadway. So now we were a Broadway show. And we ended up finally at the Winter Garden, which is the biggest theater. At that time, the biggest theater in New York was the tiny little show. And this huge bar. And then we started, we had several road companies, a trucking busson and national companies. And then there was the first television show was in the 60s that was black and white, and that was done in Hollywood.

Interviewer: And before before we get to those, I just wanted to jump back to the move from off Broadway to Broadway. And can you talk about how unusual that was? I understood that that just almost rarely happened successfully.

Dean Fuller: I barely remember that. I just thought it was awfully good. I was just very pleased by it because. Scuse me. We are. We received a certain amount, a certain percentage of the royalties. And I think as I remember when we were first at the scene, we waived our royalty’s because we wanted to be sure that the show ran for a while. Well, it played it practically to capacity at the Phoenix. And we spent some money on publicity. And the long run was very successful. We finally ran out of gas at the Winter Garden. Because nothing short of my fair lady would would have run out of gas there. So that was that was the end of it. And by then, Carol was ready to leave. Carol’s ready to go back. Go back to California. And her television show started. And then we did the black and white version of. Once upon a Mattress with Carol. And that was very successful. And then in 72, I think we did the color of color version, which was also quite successful just back to when it was at the Phoenix Theater.

Interviewer: Can you talk about what happened with that after it closed? And then didn’t the actors sort of. Cars take matters into their own hands, the Reserve Bank. There was a strike of some sort. To keep it, to keep the show going.

Dean Fuller: I don’t remember that. . If that happened, I missed it.

Interviewer: OK. No problem. Do you remember opening night?

Dean Fuller: Yes.

Interviewer: Can you talk about that?

Dean Fuller: I remember standing out in front of the fin, I had never been to an opening and since what was my own opening, so to speak. And I remember standing out watching people come in and everybody in the theater came to see it. I mean, Betty and Adolph, Betty Comden, Adolph Green were there, and I’m sure how Prince was there. Everybody came. Everybody did what we did. Ken? And it was said it was very nerve wracking, frankly. But. But very, very, very happy making it. Because it was a very nice opening. I think Carol was the reason.

Interviewer: Do you remember how she felt going in? I mean, was she confident as a performer or did she?

Dean Fuller: Absolutely.

Interviewer: Can you say that?

Dean Fuller: Absolutely. Carol was very confident. I don’t think there was a doubt in her mind, ever. And that’s one of the one of the blessings, everything she’s ever done. I think she was absolutely certain about. And you can tell.

Interviewer: She’s talked about what it meant to have George Abbott directing that show. Can you just talk about who he was?

Dean Fuller: Well, he’s it’s a great insurance policy. George Abbott was probably the most up to that time successful musical director in the theatre. And how Prince was a protege of George Abbott’s and a George Abbott was already in his 70s. I think. By the time he did mattress. And we used to he used to come to lunch with us every day at John’s Restaurant on 12th Street in a suit and tie. And, you know, I mean, you never saw him in blue jeans or sneakers. He was dressed for the office and the office for him was the theater. And everybody called on Mr Abbott. I don’t know anybody that called him George, except maybe maybe Mary Rogers called him George. Off off camera, so to speak. But everybody called on Mr Abbott. And it was it was rather intimidating because here was the number one director in musical theater. And we had some disagreements. And one of the disagreements was about, Jane, what you know, I think we spoke about that. And. We played some tricks on him. We got Marcus Bleckmann to take pictures of Jane White, who was a black actress. And Marcus tricked up the photographs and made it look like a glamorous white woman. And George Abbott knew that that was happening. But he finally agreed to let her play the queen. And there was nobody ever like like her to play the queen after that. She was wonderful.

Interviewer: And that was that was it was was it unusual for. Was Carol unusual in terms of musical theater at that time? Was there something fresh and new about.

Dean Fuller: She was absolutely fresh and new. The only thing that people knew about her was the Gary Moore Show, which was a daytime television show here in the east, which I always I never really watched that very I did watch daytime television because I was busy. But he was very popular and she was very popular with him and he was responsible, I think, for her. Her first exposure. I think that’s where that’s where that’s what George Abbott got on, got onto the idea of using Carol.

Interviewer: What was exactly fresh and new about her in terms of being musical theatre?

Dean Fuller: Clean, clean and not particularly sexy. You know, because if unless you’re gorgeous and sexy, nothing happened. Carol wasn’t gorgeous and sexy. She was a clown, like an authentic clown. And that’s what people have failed to play that part since her because they weren’t clowns. And she was just perfect for it.

Interviewer: Do you remember what her schedule was at that time? I mean, she was keeping some kind of crazy schedule between Mattress and Gary Moore Show. Do you remember?

Dean Fuller: I don’t remember. We never lost her in rehearsal. She was always there. I remember one story. It was raining one day and she and Mary and I all went up to an umbrella store to look for four umbrellas. And we run it ran into the store and there was a woman in the store and she looked at Carol, she says, I know you, I know who you are. Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me. Carol waited and waited. And finally she said, can I can I tell you who I am? And she said, Yeah. Kim Novak. Typical.

Interviewer: Was it clear from that performance, I mean, it was, Carol, where was everyone? Were you all aware that sort of a star was being born, so to speak?

Dean Fuller: I think so. I think she had that idea in her head a long time ago. I don’t think she ever doubted that. And somehow, somehow that’s not shown through. I never doubted it after I saw in the mattress.

Interviewer: But what was that sort of. Was that a breakout role for her?

Dean Fuller: I mean, did that sort of. Yes, I think so.

Interviewer: Can you say that? I’m sorry.

Dean Fuller: I think Once Upon a Mattress was her first breakout. Yeah. I mean, she was known on the musical circuit. But then. She didn’t really become the star she is today until her television show started on the West Coast, which became nationwide. And then she became a national star. But yes, she was. She was already a musical star. And people were talking about her for other shows. And she did other shows.

Interviewer: What was it back at Tamiment? What was always the goal for her? Was it TV? Was it staged? Can you talk about what she wanted to do with her car?

Dean Fuller: Well, she was she was she was the headline lady. I forget who the man was that we had. We had some mean. We had some very prominent people up there. And. She was the leading the leading headliner of the female department and. And fulfill that role. She did sketches. With no music. And she did and she did songs. And she did everything. So she was a headliner.

Interviewer: And but what was her goal at that time? Was it to end up on TV, on Broadway?

Dean Fuller: I don’t know. I don’t know. I think I think I think when she was on Broadway, it was Broadway. No, I think the television was was her media. She was wonderful at that.

Interviewer: She has talked about the fact that she’s never felt comfortable singing on her own. You know what? Not in character or not with someone else. I’m just wondering if you saw any of that in rehearsal.

Dean Fuller: Never. Never.

Interviewer: Can you tell me also in mattress, any other favorite moments, I guess I’m thinking maybe that the scene where she’s up at the top of the of the mattresses, or can you describe some of the scenes that..

Dean Fuller: Where what happened was that everybody found out eventually what the test was that they were going to put a pea under 21 mattresses. And if she were a real princess, she would feel the pea. Well, nobody believe for one minute that you feel the pea of 21 mattresses. So they buy the bed. They lifted up the top mattress and they put. Put all hatchets and swords in and clubs and everything under there, so when she finally got on the bed, she was exhausted because she’d been dancing all night. And they gave her a sleeping potion and she climbed up to the top of the bed and lay down. And then suddenly went. And the way she reacted to what was under the mattress was hilarious. And the audience absolutely ate it up. And she finally sat up and said, OK, sheep. Three. OK. And the next morning she came out and it was like seven hundred seventy thousand seven thousand five hundred fifty sheep or whatever, because she stayed awake. But then at the very end. They don’t just took her back up to the bed and put her on the put her on the bed, which was now all the stuff had been taken out. And so she now she could sleep, but sure enough, she feels something. And it was the pea. So that’s how that worked.

Interviewer: She was a real princess.

Dean Fuller: She was a real princess.

Interviewer: It’s such a physical role also. Can you just talk about her her way with her body?

Dean Fuller: Fred? She drinks a gallon of something and she gets absolutely bombed, and she she she did acrobatics and pretended to lift up a 500 pound weight, you know, and it got faster and faster and faster and she got more physical and more physical. She would do anything and she risked. She risk plenty up on that bed that that really was very high. And she used the terror around it. People were afraid she was going to fall off, but she never did. If she had fallen off, she probably would’ve landed. OK.

Interviewer: Like a cat. Tell me how the first television special version of that came about.

Dean Fuller: Well, she contacted the original writers, and she was very loyal that way. And the original writers wrote that television show. Now, the director had something to say about it because we didn’t know that much about television. And he did. He was responsible for all the shots. But we did, we did. We did the libretto. And the same with the second television show, which was 10 years over 10 years later. She was incredibly loyal to us. And. Sometimes we came up with stuff that but there was no that she liked. And if not, she said so. But she was a joy to work with. Absolutely.

Interviewer: So how would that work? What kinds of things would she not want to do? Were there things that she thought? I guess that’s something that doesn’t work. I don’t do well, or what kinds of things would you not want to do?

Dean Fuller: We never changed her part that much in the television version because it worked so well. We changed other things. And sometimes she approved of them, sometimes she didn’t. And if she didn’t and she didn’t approve, we didn’t do. But there was never any fighting. No. No harsh words ever. I mean, it wasn’t like it wasn’t like a lot of stuff. The theater stories, you know, which are horrible horror, horror stories. She was always a joy. Always. I told you when I first spoke to you that I can’t say this about very many people, but there’s absolutely nothing I have against Carol Burnett.

Interviewer: You did. I love that. What was the reason for making another television special of it 10 years later?

Dean Fuller: She felt like doing it. She wanted to do it in color. That was the reason. Because color had taken over, you know, black and white was oh oh, only old European movies were in black and white.

Interviewer: And what was did you change much into for going from stage two to two small screen?

Dean Fuller: No, not really. Well, we changed the second act. Because the second act was entirely about finding out how the test was going to run and the original version had, it’s very complicated and very George Abbott-y kind of plot a thing where character A say something to character B, who said something in the character C, who then goes back and say something to character. And something goes wrong. And then they eventually find out what the test is. And I can’t to this day remember what what complications were. And we simplify that by having a scene in the in the. The arms part of the part of the castle had three. Three.No, I can’t think my armored suits of armor. One, two, three. And the queen comes up and tells the wizard what the test is gonna be if for no other source of armor. And then they go off and in a suit of armor goes off the other way. And that’s how they test this, because the king got in a suit of armor. And so it was much simpler.

Interviewer: Did you see her change her performance? I mean, it’s unusual or there’s not that many people that can be so successful on stage with a big performance and equally successful on television.

Dean Fuller: She knows instinctively how to do that.

Interviewer: Can you I’m sorry. Can you say that?

Dean Fuller: She instinctively knows the difference between the little screen and the big stage. And if we want a big stage feeling, a full. It’s a full a full frame. I mean, “Shy” has got to be big. She’s got to she’s got a belt there because she’s not shy. And. But when she sang. Her second act number. I can’t remember the name of it. I don’t let I let out a little another. I remember the two. Anyway, she would adopt. She would adapt. I didn’t get very small, and it was one version where she sang a little waltz about love, which was very close up and very quiet. She sang it almost sotto voce, almost almost almost in in a falsetto, but not quite because her voice is so warm. I think you just hear her singing a simple ballad. And just listen to the notes. It’s a beautiful sound. She had a beautiful voice, not just a loud trumpet voice.

Interviewer: How unusual is that for for someone to be so adept at?

Dean Fuller: It’s very unusual to hear to have someone have that range and not that many colors. She could sing very softly and very sweetly, and you still love it. Amazing voice and amazing voice. And it’s still there now. And she’s in her 70s.

Interviewer: Can you talk about the more recent version, the most recent version that was done in. Your involvement in that.

Dean Fuller: Well, we were not as involved as we were in the originals. They hired a lady to do the to do the screenplay. The screenplay. They wanted to make a movie. And the movie was made in Vancouver. And they got. Of course, Carol couldn’t play the princess anymore. So she played the queen. And she got herself gussied up pretty good. The queen and Tracey Ullman played plays the Princess, and I thought she did a wonderful job. Tracey Ullman can do anything. And she has a good singing voice and she can dance. She can do everything. I was I was just talking to your friends lately, but Tracey Ullman can do every accent there is known to man. She can do Arkansas. She can do Finland. She can do anything. I thought she was excellent in the role. I thought it was. I thought it was fairly successful. I didn’t like it as well as I like the originals. But then I’m, you know, I’m an old man and I’m prejudiced.

Interviewer: Do you think that’s. Why do you think that is? Because. Carol.

Dean Fuller: Carol didn’t play the princess. Carol, play the queen. She played the queen pretty well. But the main thing about Carol as the queen was the costumes. She had a specially made lantern, and she was she Tron. Unbelievable. But it wasn’t, Carol. I mean, it wasn’t Carol playing the princess and I’m. As I said, I’m an old man. I’m so spoiled.

Interviewer: So just talk about that song again.

Dean Fuller: The song that she sang in the second act was happily ever after. And the idea was everybody was trying to get out. But she was trying to get in. You want to get into the castle, not get out. And that’s what the song was about. And she sang it entirely differently. It was it was a building song that toward the end, but very, very, very personal and intimate in the beginning. And she can make those adjustments instantly without even blinking an eye.

Interviewer: I was just saying, I want to ask you on the scene, for example, when she’s at the top of the mattresses. You know what what was what was actually written on the page and what did she bring to it?

Dean Fuller: Nothing. It was written on the page that we told them what the situation was. And then the director. Now, I’ll tell you something, George Abbott didn’t direct that scene. A man named Jack Sido, who was an assistant director and who worked with us at Tamiment and who knew Carol, he worked with her on that on that particular thing. And they agreed on how many times she should do this. Now, my time shouldn’t do that. And I mean, each time she should hit her head and so forth and so on. But together they work that out. And that piece probably lasted eight to 10 minutes. And there wasn’t a word spoken. Until the end, when she said, OK, she’s ready when you are.

Interviewer: So when she was up there on those mattresses, did she do the same thing every night? Yes. Can you say.

Dean Fuller: Carol did essentially exactly the same thing every night. This wasn’t an improvisation. This was very carefully planned. It had a roadmap and she followed the roadmap every single night because she knew what worked. She knew that if she did this here and it didn’t work, she wouldn’t do it again. But it started very early on. That was a very successful scene right from the beginning. And no one ever was able to do it as well. It’s amazing.

Interviewer: And when she played in the more recent version, she played the queen. And you were saying it wasn’t the same as her playing Winifred. I’m just wondering if that is part of it, because it. Is it difficult for an audience to see her playing a mean characters, that part of it?

Dean Fuller: She didn’t play mean. She played glamorous. She solved that by just being very glamorous. And she sang the song very well because, of course, she can sing any song very well. But the. It’s just my personal feeling because I’ve been involved with it from the very beginning. And, well, I thought Tracey Ullman was terrific. It wasn’t Carol.

Interviewer: Do you think Carol’s likability is a big part of her success?

Dean Fuller: Oh, I think so.

Interviewer: Can you say that she’s a Carol’s likability is a big part of success?

Dean Fuller: Absolutely. Well, what’s not to like? Mean even when she plays those idiotic characters in her television show, like. Coming down, coming down the stairs with a curtain rod. Playing Scarlett O’Hara, even then, she was likable. I was when I saw it in the window, I couldn’t resist it.

Interviewer: One of the funniest sight was fabulous ever seen. And just lastly, do you think she broke new ground either on television or on the stage? Was there something groundbreaking about her in any way?

Dean Fuller: Probably. Now, I’m not enough of a student of television. And the comedy technique to tell you exactly what it was. Well, I know that lots of girls have seen Carol Burnett and said, I can do that. Because it seemed available, it seems it seemed within the possibility, because she’s so human and so likeable. And that’s about all I could say about that. But I think that’s probably so. Whereas Ethel Merman, nobody could be Ethel Merman because she was remote. You know, she was just this huge voice. But Carol was likable.

Dean Fuller
Interview Date:
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"Dean Fuller , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 20, 2007 ,
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"Dean Fuller , Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character" American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 20, 2007 . Accessed March 26, 2023


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