Transcript:

Don Crichton: We had met before that. But yeah.

Interviewer: Um, so, yeah, why don't you tell me, first of all, how you did meet Carol,.

Don Crichton: How I did meet Carol. Well, I met Carol in 1950, in 1957. Oh, God. We've known each other for 50 years. She remembers the meeting. I'll remember now because she told me when we were on The Garry Moore Show about six or seven years later, that we were both at a Christmas party and she was there and we met and talked and she said. I remember what you wore. And I said, really? And she described the sweater that I had, which is like unreal. She got a phenomenal memory. And she said, when I left the party, she said, you know, I'm going to be friends with that guy. And it just happened through the Gary Moore Show and then through The Carol Burnett Show and all the specials. And we've just been very close friends ever since.

Interviewer: So tell me how you met her again on The Gary Moore Show, were you already a regular?

Don Crichton: Yeah. I was a regular on it.

Interviewer: And you say what you did?

Don Crichton: I was a dancer on the show. There were six of us. And actually, a lady, Martha Raye, got ill. And Gary Moore remembered working with Carol on his morning show, I think, and had seen or she'd done sitcoms and half hour shows. And so he got her last minute to do it. And she was a sensation. So she did a couple of shows. And then Gary made her a regular.

Interviewer: So wasn't it also? She was completely last minute and she had no tell me the circumstances of her filling in.

Don Crichton: Well, she just came in. She had to learn, I think. I can't remember exactly. I think I was on a Wednesday or Thursday morning and we taped the show on Friday and she had to learn all the sketches and all the music and everything she did it.

Interviewer: And she nailed it. Did you. Was did you know of her before then as a performer?

Don Crichton: I really did not. I knew a little bit about it from the Paul Winchell Show. She used to do that show and everything, but I didn't know. And then we got to know each other. And then she sponsored me on a talent show in New York that they asked her to bring someone on. And then we went on a tour. She she went on a tour.

Interviewer: OK. OK. First when she went. Gary asked her first regular if she was on the place of Martha Raye. And was it at first he wasn't sure that he wanted her?

Don Crichton: No, I think I can't remember the exact circumstances, but I think she did a couple of other shows and she was so good that Gary decided that he'd love her to be a regular. And he was really great. He was one. He loved her dearly.

Interviewer: What was their relationship like?

Don Crichton: Oh, great friends. He was such a mentor. He let her. He would give her the show if it were up to him, you know. And she just became bigger and bigger and bigger. The audiences went crazy. Gary was a very generous person, extremely generous, kind. Wanted everybody to shine. And I think it rubbed off on all of us, especially, Carol, because always when she's had her own show or specials, if everybody on the show is good, it benefits everybody. And she's great that way.

Interviewer: Did you see her? Was there like a learning curve at all? Did you see her kind of grow and become more confident? Or how did you see what changes did you see?

Don Crichton: Well, sure, she got more confident, but she was always right on. She has the ability to look at something and see it cleanly, even if you give her movement. She doesn't do a lot of garbage. Between A and D, you know, she sees it like it should be. She's a very clean performer. She was always right on. She could sing like crazy.

Interviewer: So can you remember some of the things that she would do? Can you give me some examples of some of the sketches or different things you did on the hearing?

Don Crichton: Well, we did. We used to do take also used to do a thing called that wonderful year. And it would be a tribute to 1934, 24 or 40 for whatever it was. And we did one on the Dorthea Lemore on the hurricane. I think I forgot the name of a movie where she played Dorothy Lemore, you know, where she was lashed to a palm tree. And they had wind machines. So we're all dressed in little skant, tahitian clothes, you know, the Anglo-Saxon Tahitian. And they start these wind machines. And then they threw all kinds of debris and they threw chickens. I mean, some of us got scratched. I mean, it was like truly a hurricane. The audience was hysterical. Everything was blown all over the stage. Yeah, that. And it used to be wonderful because we did it live even though we would tape it. And that's the way we did the Burnett Show. We taped it live, you know, with only a stop maybe to change a costume or something. Yeah.

Interviewer: With a live audience always. Was there mean you talk about her sitting there having all this stuff? Was there anything that she wouldn't do? I mean.

Don Crichton: No, no, if you told her carol, we want you to dive off the couch out the window. She said, OK, you should do it and then think, oh, my God, what did I do to myself? No, she was just. Eager to please. Wanted to do everything. Know.

Interviewer: Was she trained? But you know of in any of this. You know, pratfalls.

Don Crichton: Well, I know at UCLA, which I think Dick mentioned to you, they had a theater group and they did all sorts of things where she learned to take pratfalls or anything like that. You got me. I think she just did it. I think she just figured I'm gonna do this. It would be funny if I go this way. I mean, they would put mattresses down, you know, so she wouldn't break her bones. But I don't know, she just did it all.

Interviewer: Did she ever hurt herself?

Don Crichton: Yeah, she would. She hurt her neck a couple of times and I think her shoulder. Yeah. Not anything serious.

Interviewer: How. Long was she on the show?

Don Crichton: I knew you were gonna ask me that. She was not on it. She left it. I'm not sure. I think she left it in 64.

Interviewer: Can you give me more?

Don Crichton: You know, she left the Gary Moore Show, I believe, in 1964, and we did a tour and she went to a certain amount of cities and I went with her and did a couple of numbers on it and a whole group of dancers. And, you know, when you're in New York in those days, all television was there, all the variety shows. And in that city, even though I'm sure she would go to the cleaners or a restaurant or something, they'd all say, oh, we love you. You have no idea how well known you are.And so we opened in Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, in this big stadium with a retractable roof and everything. And we were nervous, all of us, but we didn't know what to expect. And I'm standing in the wings. And they announced, ladies and gentlemen, Miss Carol Burnett. And she walks out and I tell you, we were overwhelmed. It's like a rock concert or one of the big people in music today. I mean, they just stood up and screamed, We love you, Carol. We love you. I mean, she was overwhelmed. You know, it was it was incredible. She had no idea the impact. And you don't till you go out into the country. And it was that way for the whole tour. It was great.

Interviewer: She was known just from Gary Moore?

Don Crichton: Yeah, yeah. She was known from the Gary Moore Show. He had a huge audience.

Interviewer: Can you describe what this concert consisted of? Like what was the show?

Don Crichton: Well, they introduced her and then we did a thing called Nelson and Ginnette, which she did with Julie Andrews on the first special. And we did the von Trapp family Sound of Music. She did sketches with Mark, Mark Martin and Rossie, Steve Martin. And I forgot his name and where she was a princess and got drunk. She did huge production number called Big D.. Are you from Big D? My. Oh, yes. And a couple other specials. She did some song spots and that was pretty much it. I don't think. She did questions and answers, yet that didn't happen till The Burnett Show. She had I'm not sure you know.

Interviewer: She sees a ship, obviously, and you don't remember her doing.

Don Crichton: I don't remember her doing questions and answers, no.

Interviewer: But there were some other elements that showed up. Didn't you do certain things, the charwoman?

Don Crichton: Yeah, she she. Yeah. Oh, yeah. Kenny Mitzie Welch helped her create it on The Garry Moore Show. Yeah. Yeah. The charwoman, which Ken Mitzie Welch is the special material writer. They wrote all her special as they wrote for her show. They're brilliant. They helped her, I believe, create the charwoman character. And it became a symbol for her. And so she did that. She did on tour. And she did it, of course, every closing of the Burnett Show.

Interviewer: And when you were touring around, tell me what it was like when she would when you would leave the theater after your.

Don Crichton: She would be mobbed. She would really be mobbed. You know, they wouldn't let her alone. That won her autographs. I mean, it was incredible, even in Las Vegas. She played the Sands Hotel. You. They were sold out before she opened. You couldn't get a ticket. They offered thousands of dollars for tickets, was great. And we would play certain places. And, of course, they always wanted her to go to certain functions. I remember this one time. I'm not going to remember where we were. Anyway, they said, oh, Carol, we'd love you to come Sunday afternoon and just hang out at our country club. She said, Oh, I don't know, you know, I'm so tired. I like to just lay back. Oh, don't worry. You just come and you'll hang out to me. Only you you know, you are in dress casual dress however you want to dress, you know. So she asked me in. And someone else to go with her. And we said, yeah. And we, you know, we dress a little schleppy, you know. So we arrive at the country club and we're met with this man in a beautiful suit and tie. And we look at each other and we walk into this party. And it looked like dynasty women with big hats and and those soft, flowery dresses and everything. Here we are in jeans and sweatshirts. Well, I got to tell you, so very funny. We were sitting down and and the gentleman that threw the party came over to Carol. He said, Oh. He said, Mr. Burnett, we're so glad you're here. And she said, you know, she said, I'm really I feel terrible. She said, we didn't know. We were told it was casual. We would address or somebody said, oh, don't worry, you're in show business. Yeah. Yeah.

Interviewer: And why did she end up leaving the Gary Moore show?.

Don Crichton: So I think she wanted to go on tour and she wanted to go out and branch out, you know, and she had a lot of specials she was going to do and and that's what she did. And then finally, you know, they offered her an hour show. Her own variety show.

Interviewer: And before that, what was she also wasn't she doing something at the same time that she was doing? So she was going between there and Broadway, wasn't she?

Don Crichton: Oh, yeah. Well, that was later. She she I said I'm not sure whether she did mattress at first when she was doing The Garry Moore Show, but then after the Garry Moore Show, we all did a show called The Entertainers, which was not her show, but I was featured on it, Carol. Other people. Bob Newhart. I think Catarina Valenti. And it was a musical show that was sort of successful. But she also had agreed to do a Broadway show, Fade Out, Fade, in which I was in as the lead dancer. So we used to run from rehearsals for a television show, get in a car and go to the Broadway show. And then on taping, you know, we'd get out early and run to the Broadway show and do it. It was for her. It was a tremendous schedule, you know. I mean, she was the star of the show and she got sick and was out of it. You know, people didn't want to see the show.

Interviewer: Let's talk about that first. What was the show about?

Don Crichton: What the show was about Hollywood. She was about a girl that was discovered. It was a George Abbott show, very movie, MGM Grand, very dream sequences and everything. And she did a number called a Shirley Temple number, which she had done before that stopped the show. And it was written by Julie Stein and Adolph Green and Betty Condon. It was a big success when she was into it, but when she was out of it, the people just didn't want to. See it? She got sick during the show and she had to leave it for a while and then come back. What happened was she had hurt herself and she was very sick and she got she couldn't move her back and everything was very bad. She just couldn't do the show. So it was really traumatic. You know, think you know, I think she just to hurt herself. I know. I know. I was in the shower and the play and television show, you know, and she just was exhausted from it. And unfortunately, in a Broadway show, when you're if you're in it in any kind of featured part, if you get ill, you know, two days are not enough to recover from something if you're really ill and they don't want you out if you're a big star because you're the main attraction. So it's difficult to get over any kind of illness or hurt or trauma, you know,.

Interviewer: So it sort of turned into kind of a whole thing, being that some of the producers were unhappy.

Don Crichton: Well, they were unhappy because she couldn't do it. And then they wanted to know if she was really sick. And that was a whole big thing. But then it was all resolved. She agreed to come back for a certain period of time, and she did. And then, you know, was over and she went on to other things. We all did. A difficult time.

Interviewer: In what way?

Don Crichton: Well, it was a difficult time because it was very stressful. You know, she is not a person that creates stress at all, nor does she want it or promote it. And it was just difficult because they wanted her in the show. And the doctor said she can't do the show. And you know, those things.

Interviewer: And for her personally, that doesn't.

Don Crichton: No, it was very difficult. You know, and when you know, you're really ailing and can't do it, and yet you're expected to do it and it was very demanding. You know, she was. Onstage, practically the whole show.

Interviewer: So just going back to The Gary Moore Show as well. Are there any looking back favorite moments with her in terms of singing and dancing and that sort of thing, did you do much about with her?

Don Crichton: Yeah, I did. And we all did. We did so many musical numbers. I mean, you know, when you do weekly television, sometimes you can't remember it. But she did some very famous sketches. She did receive the sketch, famous sketch, which got the pencil in her mind. And I think she I don't know if that's the show that she did. Meantime, which became sort of a signature song for a while. I mean, you just go like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. When you do, you. Same as her show. We would learn the show on a Monday and Tuesday. We would have to do run-Through is on Wednesday, block on camera Thursday and tape it Friday and then next Monday, start the new show. Yeah, it makes you make quick decisions and hopefully the right ones.

Interviewer: She said it was like doing a whole Broadway show.

Don Crichton: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

Interviewer: Talk about her as a as a singer, as a singer.

Don Crichton: I always felt that if she hadn't made it in television or as a comedian, she would have been a big, big Broadway star as as a singer. She was. She had great pipes, as we all know. And. And she never I don't think she ever warmed up. You know, it's amazing. She just walk out. And there would be, you know, like Merman. I heard that merman. Ethel Merman never warmed up. She just walked after doing a short walk out on the stage and just sing the song. She had really strong, wonderful pipes, a real belter. And I understand she was that way at UCLA. She could sing. Right.

Interviewer: But she was. How did she feel about her singing?

Don Crichton: I don't know if, Carol, in those days ever thought, gee, I'm great. I think she just. Wanted to do better and better and please everybody and just be cooperative. And I don't think she ever had a case on herself at all. I don't think she ever thought she was really great. And I sometimes I think the most gifted people don't. You know, there's always that that vulnerability and that need to please and be wanted that the audience feels that makes them relate to you.

Interviewer: And where do you think for her that that comes from knowing her?

Don Crichton: I don't know, because she has as you know, her childhood was not run of the mill, you know? I don't know. She said I once said to her, I said, how did you learn so much about socializing and and eating in restaurants and everything? She said, I learned everything from the movies. She should go to the movies like crazy. She learned everything from the movie, she said, and that's why on her show we did so many salutes to the movies and to movie stars.

Interviewer: What did she share with you about her childhood?

Don Crichton: Well, it's she shared things about her book, says it all. You know, I mean, she lived. She was really raised with her by her nanny. Her mother was there for a while. And mother was an alcoholic. Her father was. They lived in one room. You know, if you read I'm not saying anything that's not in the book. If you read the book. Her closet was the curtain rod in the bathroom, you know. And but they loved going to movies. That was her life, you know. And things just fell into place for her. She never knew. This is in the book. She never knew how she would get to UCLA, how she would go to college. One day, I think there was an envelope in the mailbox and there was tuition money. You know, it's just like the famous story when she wanted to leave UCLA and go to New York. You know, I don't know. Sometimes the universe takes care of you. It really does.

Interviewer: A remarkable number. Yeah. What didn't what did you already know, though, about her childhood before you would read the book? Did she share much of that?

Don Crichton: She shared some things. I knew that it was a difficult childhood, but she never. She never whined about it. She never complained about it. And if if you read the book, it's it's not a book about, oh my God, how much? It's a book of just telling how it is with a lot of love and no angst or anything like that.

Interviewer: Do you think she. I think it was in her book that she said that Nanny used to tell her that, you know, that thing of comedy is tragedy plus time.

Don Crichton: Well, I don't know.

Interviewer: I wondering in her case, do you think humor for her sort of came out of that? Do you think you know?

Don Crichton: Well, I don't know. I think Dick could tell you more. But I think at UCLA, she she did something and she was funny and she got hard. The last thing she thought, boy, this is really good. And I think that started the whole thing.

Interviewer: She also said in there that she was she really felt more comfortable when she was in a character rather than as herself. And I'm just wondering if you saw that at all, especially in that early years.

Don Crichton: Well, no, b b because I only saw her as characters, but I knew she loved that. But she also was very comfortable in real life. I mean, but she herself says she is a comedian, not a comic. She's not a standup comic. You know, if you expect her to go to dinner and expect her in those days or any day, her for her to be funny, forget it. No, she's I mean, she's great. She has a great sense of humor. But it's not one liners and wrong, that kind of thing. And she likes working with people to this day. She doesn't really love hosting or being alone in front of her peers. It's interesting. She does it.

Interviewer: She says that about singing as well. It's still to this day.

Don Crichton: I know she would sing these numbers and we'd just all go crazy and the audience would scream and carry on and yell bravo and everything. And I don't know if she ever felt really comfortable, you know? But as I said, I think that's part of the whole magic. I really do. I mean, she's comfortable now. You know, I mean, naturally.

Interviewer: Yeah. I think you're really right, though. It seems to be part of her appeal as a performer. Is that. That audiences felt that she's right. Like us. That's right. That's right. What else do you think? How did we see that? Do you think. I mean, cause. What was it about her show or what she did that she did feel?

Don Crichton: Well, I don't know. I think it's that thing that everybody has a name for with her. Is it magic, the factor or whatever it is? There's something that happens with movie stars. You can be the greatest stage actor. You can go into movies and somehow you don't register on the screen. It just happens to be what happens when that audience sees you or is in your presence something they feel. And it's just an inequality. I really do feel it's a vulnerability and a and a need to be loved and pleased. I really do feel that. And it comes from here. You know, it comes from way down inside that it just comes out naturally. And there isn't that there was never any phoniness about her. You know, there's not a phony bone in her body, really. Never was.

Interviewer: Do you think some of that through like doing the Q&A, for example, people audiences really felt they weren't just seeing her in here?

Don Crichton: Oh, definitely. Oh, definitely. It started by accident one time. I think when we were doing the Burnetts show, they were late starting. And Carol never liked to keep the audience waiting. And they said, we'll go out and talk to the audience. So she went out and talked to the audience and started these questions. And, well, I mean, everybody went, wow, this is it. And it became a part of the show. And that's really, I think, where people identified with her greatly because she was funny and glad she made fun of herself. She made fun of everybody in the whole situation. They loved questions and answers. And it was great for the show because, you know, if the show was long or are we, we would not have as many questions as they are doing, have it. It was a it was a buffer for the show, which was great.

Interviewer: But it seemed it started to seem like I've been watching a lot of the shows. It started to seem like when you look from the beginning, as the years went on, people started coming with like, oh, they knew they were gonna.

Don Crichton: Oh, yeah. Oh, sure. They'd come with with questions, you know, try to throw her or something like that, you know. And of course then the kids would come up and say, can I have a hug, you know, and. Oh yeah. I mean, this one woman came on, you probably saw it and she wanted to sing, you know, and and so Carol said so happy that we were doing a musical number around that number or something. And so the woman sang as she got up and really belted with Carol. It was a sensation, you know. And so, Carol, so we're going to salute that later in the show. The woman thought we just cut up and did this number. You know, they used to think that you just walked in on Friday morning and did a few dance steps. And you know the show. Yeah. But it was wonderful in those days. It was like playing in a big sandbox at CBS. I mean, everybody was Sonny and Cher did their show. Jim Nabors, the Smothers Brothers. I mean, all in the family, Ma, The Jeffersons, all the soaps. It was it was great. It was great. We used to the. Studios, we're connected with the ladies and men's room, you know. And so we go through the Johns over to Cher and see what she was wearing or see what was going on. And she'd come over and say, well, what's going on over here? It was great. It was, I would imagine, like movie studios were in the 30s and 40s.

Interviewer: what was unique about your show, The Carol Burnett Show? It was a time, as you're saying, of a lot of variety shows. But what made that one? I mean, it lasted longer than she did, right?

Don Crichton: It was her. The Burnett Show, I think, lasted for the 11 years. And the people fell in love with it because of Carol. The writing was good and the producing was wonderful. The producer, her husband, Joe, was the producer and he was great. I mean, it was a very contained show. And everybody did their job, knew their job and did it well. It was a well oiled machine and she was golden. It's the personality. You know, they just loved her.

Interviewer: Was it was it different in terms of format or anything than the other variety shows? Was there more? Was there anything groundbreaking about it?

Don Crichton: Well, I was groundbreaking insofar as the sketches usually were really above par. She sang great. We did wonderful musical numbers. I mean, we did great musical numbers. If you go back and look at those numbers today. I don't. From choreographing after the show went off the air. I think I don't know how we did it. I don't know how the man did it. Ernie Flatted was a genius. I mean, we did production numbers that were incredible. If you look at them, it would take a. Weeks to do them today. And you couldn't do a show like ours today. It would be so prohibitive cost was.

Interviewer: How was Carol as a dancer?

Don Crichton: She was. She was she she just got so nervous when she had to do it, but she was really good. As I said, if you gave her something to do. She'd do it. She'd get it. And if she didn't get it. So you'd change it a little bit. But she was terrific. But she was a nervous wreck, dancing and surface wrecks. The Professional Dancers Society here, which is a very big event every year, it's it's not televised or anything, which is great. Honored her. You know, so I think what happened is she got up and she said she was being honored because of my extensive dancing and everything. So myself and one of the other guys there, she said, so I'm going to leave stage like I always left stage. And we went and picked her up and carried her offstage.

Interviewer: You know, can you remember any particular dance that was. Being a favorite?

Don Crichton: No, no, they were well, I mean, you know, when we did Once upon a Mattress, the Spanish panic. I mean that was like, hello? But she was good. I mean, I'm telling you, she has the ability to look at something and see exactly what it is. No excess garbage. Nothing. And I don't know. She has that when she does a sketch. It's clean, if you know what I mean. You know, there's no excess stuff. She's not an ad-libber. She learns her lines. I don't know how she does it, but she has cue cards as a protection cue cards. Guy said she really needs some.

Interviewer: So what did she bring? In terms of how she worked with. The writers and so forth. I mean, they she was not a writer. But what did she bring?

Don Crichton: Well, her instinct is great to this day. Her instinct as a director and as a performer is incredible. What's right and what works. I think one of the reasons everything worked well, especially with the writers, is she had great respect for them. And sometimes I remember, you know, when you do weekly television, everything can't be golden. And there's a lot of things that don't work. And if a sketch was really not good, she wasn't one of these people who said, oh, this sketch is rotten. I don't we're not going to do it. No, I don't want to do this sketch. They would. She would invite the writers down and she and whoever was in it, Harvey or Tim or Vicky, whoever was in it, they would do the sketch and really perform it. And then the writers say you write doesn't work. But she would never kill something without showing them. What are we going to do? And so there was a great mutual respect. And it was really I mean, there's never been a job like that, truly, all of us. We knew it was a great show and we did it. But every day to look forward to coming to work and not knowing what you're going to see and the fun you're going to have. It was. Was an eye opening when we all left.

Interviewer: What how unusual was it or were you were you well aware of it? That her being the first woman to host a primetime comedy variety show just.

Don Crichton: I don't think we gave it much thought. Of course, Dinah Shore had had a variety show, but it wasn't the same type. But I don't think we gave it a thought. I was just something that was wonderful. And everybody loved her. You know, about her being a woman? Well, she was one of the few women that had a successful variety show other than Dinah Shore. I believe I'm right. And I don't know. We just didn't think anything of it. The audience loved the country, loved her, and it became a phenomena, you know.

Interviewer: I mean, do you think that especially in that time. Oh, you know. Common wisdom that women weren't funny. And yet here she was.

Don Crichton: You know, I don't know. I guess you're right. Yeah, I don't know. They just we just all took to it. We never thought about it. She was just golden and it was funny and great. And that was it. But I guess you're right. There weren't a lot of. There are a lot of comedians, women comedians, Phyllis Diller. And those people were everything. I guess there weren't a lot of people like her. She was unique. Carol, you're unique.

Interviewer: Oh, just going back to Once Upon a Mattress. Can you I think we I don't see how the TV version came about.

Don Crichton: Well, the first time, I think they just wanted the rights to it and wanted to do it because on our high end, you know, she would always do a special sometimes, too, but usually one is special. And they wanted to once upon a mattress. So the first version we did was in black and white. And then they did another version in color. And then that was it. And then, you know what? A few years ago or something, they did another version where she played the queen and she didn't play Winifred the lead, you know. And they wrote it. Of Mitzie Welch, wrote a extra number for her and that.

Interviewer: What was your favorite scene or moment for her in the first person you worked on with her?

Don Crichton: I think always shy. I'm painfully shy. You know, it's a great, great number for her. You know, they're all I mean, they're just great musical numbers for one effort. It made her a huge overnight sensation on Broadway.

Interviewer: And how was the specials?

Don Crichton: They were very good. They were excellent. Yeah, they were very well received, critically a great success. And they loved her. They were done by different people with a different cast. Always her. And even the last one, you know, got very good reviews.

Interviewer: So how did you become involved in The Carol Burnett Show? Did she call you?

Don Crichton: Well, I had moved to California. I decided, well, I've always wanted to live where the palm trees were and television was all moving out here. So I thought, well, I'll take a shot. I'll go larger because I always have been very lucky in work. So I got out here and I worked all the time right away. I got on a lot of different shows. Dean Martin Variety Show. I was on the Red Skelton Show and Carol called and she said, you know, she said, I'm doing a variety show. CBS wants me to do a variety show. And I'd love you to come on and, you know, do sketches and you will do numbers for you. And she says, I don't know if it's gonna be a success. Nobody holds up too much hope for. But why not? If you want to do it, I'd love you to do it. Absolutely. You know, we need you to think about. Are you going to have a job longer than a year? A year was long. So I left it the Skelton Show and joined her show. And 11 years later, we were still kicking. Yeah. Yeah, but I knew it was good. And I cannot tell you, I know everybody says this, but it went so fast. I mean, it really did. And that's because you have a good time. No, really. It was great. And then when the show, she decided to take the show off the air. CBS wanted her to keep it on. And they said, well, you take a year off if you want. Just come back. I said, now it's time to leave. And then I had decided that I don't want to perform anymore. And so it was a big life change for me. And I think for a lot of people, you know, 11 years is a long time.

Interviewer: What did you think of that decision?

Don Crichton: I understood it. I thought. I thought it was right. I thought she was right, you know. I certainly wanted to make a change. Not for me, but I felt she was right. She wanted to go on and do specials and do other things. And when you've been that successful and I know you've heard that before. Leave when they want more. No, don't wear your welcome out. Not when you have been that that successful for so many years. Yeah. Yeah.

Interviewer: Tell me about how she worked with Joe. What was their relationship?

Don Crichton: It was great. Joe was the producer on the show. And I think that's one reason why the show ran so well. He was the final decision maker. I mean, later when I worked for him on the specials, all the specials I did as a choreographer. If you wanted to do a number and he said, you sure that you think you want to do this? You said, yeah, OK, then go ahead and do it. He'd leave you alone. It was up to you to sink or swim. And he did that with everybody. But the good thing about it was when there was a decision to be made, whether it be a special or the weekly show, when things had to be cut, nobody months. But that's so great. Well, you can't put that part of the music because that's great. That number is great. Joe is the one that said we got to do it. This is what we're gonna do. And that's really why it worked so well, because you didn't first of all, CBS in those days let you will own the networks. They trusted us and. You know, later and today, it's it's just everybody says there's just tons of suits involved. You know, I mean, when you do a run-Through or something in later years or even today, I mean, there's just so many people that are producers and hyphenates and and this one and this and from the network, I mean, it's really a lot of decision making and I think that makes a difference.

Interviewer: And what about the sort of division of labor between Carol and Joe? I mean, did he handle the stuff that she didn't want to or. You know what I mean in terms of.

Don Crichton: Oh, sure. They agreed on here. And you listened to her look. And I'm sure when they went home at night, they talked about something, you know, but he let her out. Her job was to perform, learn the show and perform and do our best. And if something wasn't good, she wouldn't like running whispering Jose. Or she'd say, hey, where this is. We're having problems here. The writers are. I don't know about this. We got to look at this. You know, it was just a mutual collaboration.

Interviewer: So you just tell me about that we were mentioning.

Don Crichton: Are with chairman everything. Well, they used to call him savours, Tim would tell the director, you know, just stay on me in this spot because I'm I'm gonna do something. And they were little things that he would say, cause usually they were with Harvey because he would work at breaking Harvey up. And, of course, for Harvey would go out. Harvey would say, I'm not going to break up. I'm not going. Well, naturally, you tell yourself that enough. You're gonna break up. Right. Or you look at the dentist sketch or anything like that. But it was wonderful. And he could be it. He was great. Tim was unbelievable. He was just incredible. He would try to break people up in the mom sketch or something, and sometimes Carol would go. She was pretty good, you know. Was she tough? Yeah, she was pretty good about it. But, you know, it was like television. The audience loved it. I mean, in the end, as the world as the stomach turns to soap opera, we used to do, you know, great things that, you know, and then especially the famous one with the Gone with the Wind dress, you know, I mean, nobody knew anything about it except Harvey. She told Harvey. Because you have to tell Harvey, because he would have gone. But, you know, it's Mackey's idea. He created it when she went to the costumer. I'm sure you know that. And I never forget I was in it. I was a Confederate soldier. I got shot and I fell dead behind a couch. Well, my I'm right in view of the staircase. So she comes with this curtain rod. Who would think that a curtain rod would do that? I got to tell you. When I laugh, I don't. They have to edit it out of the sound. We had to stop. They had to stop tape. The audience was so hysterical. I think it's one of the longest or the longest lasting nine in television.

Interviewer: I think that's right. Still see that.

Don Crichton: And one of the things the first time Harvey appeared, his mother, Marcus. And as the stomach turns, you know, there were wonderful things are when Bob Mackie used to do you know, when she played Charles mother. I mean, it's hysterical in the same office, Charlotte, little bikini, but the beanbag boobs down to the waist, you know, was one of the man was golden. He was a genius.

Interviewer: How did Carol work that way? I mean, how did you see her find the character she played?

Don Crichton: Every time she did it, well, sometimes she'd find a voice or something many times. And she will tell you if someone's else's told you or you'll just cut it out. But it would be Bob Mackie. You know, he found like I'm Mrs. Wiggins, the one we're supposed to secretary. She went for fitting and she was having problems throwing out how do I want to do this? So she went for a fitting and Bobby put the skirt on her. And she said, well, it's great. You just have to take in the seat a little bit. And he said, no, stick your butt out. Well, you look at the character, that's it, she walks off their boat up. That gave her the whole persona. He is a genius. He really is. Yes. And is the collaboration between. Huh. Incredible.

Interviewer: Did she ever struggle with finding. You have a hard time with characters you didn't want to play.

Don Crichton: Yeah, I think sometimes. But, you know, I never saw I mean, she never would go, oh, I don't know how I'm going to do that. I'm sure she just spent a lot of time herself trying to find the character. Something would give her the character. It was a costume, a voice, an attitude or a wig or something. You know, she would find it.

Interviewer: And just going back to how she worked with Joe. Were things like contract negotiations and those sorts of things like who who handled that kind of.

Don Crichton: Well, Carol did not. Joe did. But also the people, the agents and the managers and everybody that ran the show would talk with CBS about contracts and everything. You know, that business she never got herself into.

Interviewer: And do you think that just not of interest or did she want to sort of keep.

Don Crichton: I don't think she was really interested in it. I don't think she was interested in it. Carol, never. She never took a job or made any decision because of money, ever. You know, because I don't know what I think was the Gary Moore Show, the agent said, well, gee, we have this gig in Vegas for for you. We'd rather you do this. And she said, no, I want to do the Gary Moore Show. Hello. Yeah. Now, we before we say that, you gotta I gotta check with Carol about that. It was either that or one other show that she did. But, yeah. She never bothered it. And why? You know, why bother herself with the business?

Interviewer: Did you know her first husband, Don?

Don Crichton: Not well. I had met Don. I had met actually at this Christmas party. She was with Don. She met me. And then I saw Don off and on in later years when they were after they had divorced and. But no, I never really knew him well.

Interviewer: You know why that.

Don Crichton: You know, who's to say maybe? You know, they were very young and they were in the business together. Who knows? You know, I know people would like to say always because she was a big deal and he wasn't or something. It's not that at all. People you just grow apart or or decide at a young age. This is not going to work.

Interviewer: That's right. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Don Crichton: They met at UCLA and they went to New York together.

Interviewer: And what about with her relationship with Joe? Personally? That marriage ended as well.

Don Crichton: It did. It lasted for a lot of years and they had three wonderful girls together at last. I think for 20, 21 years. But in the later years, they grew apart, you know, and is, as I said, who's to say, you know what? What makes something not work for people, you know? And I'm sure it's as any with anybody, it was a very, very difficult decision for both of them, for her, for everybody.

Interviewer: Were you surprised to see. People saw it coming. I think.

Don Crichton: I think people were surprised, you know. You know, I don't know, you know, even as well as, you know, someone you know, you don't live with them in their home. And when we go out, we had a great time, all of us. So, you know. But, you know, things happen unfortunate. And you go on, you know, it was a very difficult time as anyone that's ever been through a separation or ending a relationship or anything, it's as amicable as it is. It it's tough. You know, it really takes its toll.

Interviewer: And I'm sure their lives are so entwined professionally.

Don Crichton: Yeah. You know, I'm sure with the children, but, you know, they still love their children. Stay in touch. So I stayed in touch with the children till Joe passed away.

Interviewer: Tell me about your children. How many children she has?

Don Crichton: She has three. I'm sorry, Joe. Yes, Carol has three children by Joe, three girls. Carrie, Jodie and Erin. Carrie passed away four years ago, almost five years ago from lung cancer, which was. Really dreadful for all of us. The other two girls are still out there. Erin's doing well and Jodi's very independent and on her own. And then Carol does have eight stepchildren. Absolutely. Two of them passed away. You know, from Jo, Jo had them with a previous marriage, you know. But we know them all over the years, you know, when they were young.

Interviewer: How did she balance her work and family lives?

Don Crichton: Well, you know, I don't know, because in those years, I was there all the time. But she did it well. They always eat dinner together. They were always home. Television is not like theatre or movies even. You know, you quit at five o'clock. So you have your evening. And the kids would always be there for taping on Friday night. And then you have Saturday and Sunday off that they would laugh and scratch together and they weren't in school during the day. And she had people in the house, you know, a nanny and everything. So they they had a lot of time together. You know, it wasn't like. She's on location for four months. What do you do? You know. So was the best of all possible. I think that's why I like television, the immediacy of it, and doing something different every week. And you had regular hours. You know, I love theater. We all do. But you really only get to know people in the theater if you're working in a show. Nobody can eat at five o'clock in the afternoon. And if they don't work in the theater, they don't want to eat at 11 o'clock at night, you know? So tell us. It was kind of like a. An ordinary job for glamour in these hours.

Interviewer: I just wonder if you could tell me a little more about Carrie. I know she did go through a difficult. Period. And. Hard for the family, I'm sure.

Don Crichton: Carrie, when she was very young in her teens, yes, she went into rehab twice for alcohol and drugs and she came out of it and it was Carrie who wanted to go public with it, because if you if you research anything about Carol, she's never hidden anything from the public, nothing. And so they went on the cover. I forget what I think. People magazine and and Carrie sobered up. And I think she had a couple of. Relapses or something. But then she sobered up and she was great. Carrie was wonderful. She was a really she was a moving force in her own right. Great personality. Very talented. Very bright. Very, very good writer. Because they wrote a play together. Hollywood arms. Yeah, it was. It was a tragic thing, you know, and it's very, very difficult for me. I was there the day she was born in the hospital in New York City. You know, we all went over Kenny Mitzie Welch. Carol had given birth. Kenny Mitzie Welch, who wrote this brilliant special material. Kenny wrote a lullaby. And all the singers and dancers, we got permission from the hospital. I forgot hospital to go into the hospital. And we all stood in the room and sang. I'll I'll carry you, marry you Carry Louise. Well, it was great. It was great. It was really great. Carrie. Carrie. Louise Hamilton. Yeah, Louise. I think it was his mom, his name, I think. I think. But yeah, it was very difficult. And one of those things, you never. I think losing anybody is difficult. Losing a child is is most difficult. And you you really don't get over it. You just learn to live with it. You know, it's a very, very difficult time.

Interviewer: Do you think that. It's changed anything for Carol in terms of, you know. Reorganize her priorities or just sort of as it.

Don Crichton: I just know she always had her priorities pretty good. I think it's it's been a great tragedy for Carol in her life. They were extremely close. And it's been very difficult, you know, and you miss her all the time. But now she goes forward. She's in a wonderful relationship. She's married to a terrific guy. Now they get along just great. All of us that are friends are very grateful that. Life gave her that.

Interviewer: How important was it for her to have been able to work with Carrie? I know it was together. They told me so. They acted together?

Don Crichton: No, they acted together in a and, you know, that's. Carol and Carrie did several shows together. They did on Touched by an Angel. They did that. And. And actually, the woman that was the producer there is the one responsible for getting that whole thing in Pasadena, going for the Carrie Hamilton Theater. And Frank Gehry is going to do it and everything. And then they they wrote Hollywood Arms together and they wrote separately. And then they did a wonderful thing. And I'm not sure it might have been Carrie's idea. They each decided to keep a diary for six months or a year and then they would give it to the other. And it's I wasn't really to read the whole diary. That's very private. But she read me a few excerpts and it's really it's really amazing. It's kind of wonderful. They had a great bond.

Interviewer: Were you there for the opening of the play.

Don Crichton: Yes.

Interviewer: Can you talk about that?

Don Crichton: It was great. I loved it. It was fairly well received. I, I think it should have been received better than that because Linda Lavin was great. The woman that played her mother won a Tony Michelle Park for the role was a wonderful show. Very touching. Very funny in spots, but very touching. And Linda played her mother. I mean, her grandma, a nanny. And I don't know why it would make a great teleplay. There was some interests. But Carol wanted to do it in a in a certain way and everything. She wanted it to be. Right. I don't know what happens. You know, it takes so long to get something going. But it make a great teleplay to getting close on those characters. And they're wonderful characters, extremely well-written.

Interviewer: I wasn't fortunate to see the play.

Don Crichton: Yeah, yeah, it was really good. It is, yeah. But it's it's different. And Hal Prince directed it and he did a great job. A wonderful job.

Interviewer: Let's see, oh, I don't know, just one desk you mentioned about that it was Carrie's idea to go public with her recovery. And I'm just wondering if you saw the. The appearance they did on the Dinah Shore show?

Don Crichton: I didn't see it. I didn't know about it, but I did not see it. OK. But she was terrific. She did everything to fight this dreadful disease.

Interviewer: OK, OK. So I'm just. Can you tell me a little bit about, I guess, first the Julie Andrews special scheme first?

Don Crichton: Julie Andrews special came first. And somebody got the bright idea of putting them together and they just complimented each other. You know, we used to kid and say Julie brought out the dignity in Carol and Caroll, brought out the bawdiness in Julie. And, you know, they were great together. The first special we did was in black and white. And it was great. We did it at Carnegie Hall. And they'd never seen anything like that. You know, it just was very successful. And then second special was Lincoln Center. Oh. It was Lincoln Center that that picture I showed you for where we did the Madam Abara Now number and. Yeah. And that was very successful. There was always a medley and Julie would sing a song. They do a sketch together and three numbers together. And then there was the Beverly Sills special, which was done at the Met, which was really great. Beverly was the best. That she could tap dance. So they want to do a tap number. So Carol called me. She said, I want to be able to tap you gotta give me tap lessons. So I taught her how to do a time step and what not. And so the choreographer, Ernie was was, you know, able to do it and whatnot. But Beverly was amazing. And if just for your sake. I know. I know for that. If if you ever see it, the medley that Ken admits he did for it about ladies who sing the blues is probably one of the most brilliant pieces of musical material I've ever heard. It's really great. Combines opera and blues, and it's wonderful. That's OK. She won't want to use that actually,.

Interviewer: Name it if you could just name the Beverly Hills special song.

Don Crichton: All the medley from the Beverly Hills special. Yes. Kevin Mitzie Welch wrote this number called The Ladies Who Sing the Blues. And Beverly was wheeled out on a grand piano and Carol was wheeled out on an upright. And then they sang about they suffering all languages. She suffers in Italian and French. Carol suffers in the blues. It's great. It's really great.

Interviewer: It's pretty remarkable when you think about someone who didn't think they could sing really well, could be matched with anybody.

Don Crichton: She could sing with anybody, really anybody. And she should learn the harmonies so well. I mean, she was great. I'm sure after a while you can't do it. I mean, I'm sure after a while she had a certain amount of confidence, but she was always nervous and a good performer is always nervous. I did the Lucille Ball show, one of the series for about eight 10 shows. I played her daughter's boyfriend and it was like the third series or something. And, you know, we're waiting to go on, Lucy. And let's face it, the biggest thing in America now. So I'm standing outside of dressing room and she comes out and she is so nervous. And I thought she was as nervous as if it were her first show. And that is golden. That's what makes it work. Yeah, that's what I was talking about.

Interviewer: In fact, I think there's a story that Carol talked about when she, uh. Performed at the Blue Angel one time after John Foster Dulles, and she was feeling good. So while.

Don Crichton: Carol says she's absolutely right. An audience will tell you. They will tell you. You know, I'll let you know if they don't like it, and I'll let you know also you like it.

Interviewer: Exactly. And it had better be real, right? Yeah. Let's see. Oh, it's just going back briefly to The Carol Burnett Show. I'm not sure by this, but, um, did you or she or people in general know that it would be a success from the beginning after the first episode? Did you all think not something?

Don Crichton: No. Because actually in those days. Oh, she's so great at this. She remembers every day she ever did anything. I'm bad at it. But they moved us twice, I think, till we found our place on Saturday night. And they did that because they believed in the show. I mean, if you saw the show, I mean, it was. Nobody had ever seen anything like this. CBS fell in love with it, but they moved it. And those days they moved it. Now, if you don't last the first three weeks, you're out sometime. Most of the time. But they move the show and they found us our time slot on Saturday night at 10:00. And that was it. And we knew it was a big hit. You know, we were always thinking, oh, I wonder if we're gonna get another year. You always think that in the business. You know, I mean, listen, you know, you're only as good as your last job.Oh, yeah. Really? Oh, we're all out there. I say we're out there, like, hanging like a piece of meat in a butcher shop for people to come by. I say, well, that's a nice cut, but I think I'd rather that one.

Interviewer: You know, glamorous life. Yeah. Do you remember the first episode you remember anything about.

Don Crichton: Jim Nabors was the guest? Because you see the first episode of The Burnett Show. Jim Nabors was her guest because they were very close friends and she became like her lucky charm. He was the first guest all the time. Everybody was very nervous. I remember I can't remember the number. I did this. We did this number and our choreographer was great and he loved me and he did wonderful things for me. But I don't know, I was this Aztec person in this little bathing suit with this humongous headpiece with feathers on. I felt like such an idiot getting out to dance or, you know, I'll never forget it. Oh, my God.

Interviewer: I think I saw that.

Don Crichton: Oh, yes. I don't look at it. Oh, yeah, we did. Wonderful that, you know, the show is out in Colombia because the show was in syndication, but only a half hour show because we could they couldn't do the musical numbers because they couldn't reach an agreement with the musicians union, which is a shame. But it was very successful was the first time that ever happened. And I think the last time that the unions will let an hour show be made into a half hour show. But that show is out on DVD and Columbia Records, the our shows, but only the last, Carol. I hope they get this right. Only the last six years, the first five years are not out because it's joint ownership or something. So I don't know what happens. But those shows are some of the most brilliant. The first oh, the first five years. Yeah. So on.

Interviewer: Um, what do you remember was Carol nervous for the first episode you were saying?

Don Crichton: Sure. Oh sure. You're always there. She was always nervous. You know, that's the way it is.

Interviewer: Could you tell?

Don Crichton: Well, we've just. Well, I. I just we were all wrecks. You know, it's the first show. And you wanted to be a success. And there's always problems and there's always sound problems and. And this problem and that. And everybody's nervous and everybody's adrenalin is like this backstage, you know. But you get out there and and you're OK. Willing.

Interviewer: And, um, do you remember what she did when she first came out? Um, that first episode, which I mean. She was that bright orange here in that yellow dress.

Don Crichton: Yes, yes. Yes. I went crazy. Yeah, they went crazy. I mean, it's wonderful to go through her different looks. Oh, really? That's great.

Interviewer: Just the hairstyles.

Don Crichton: Yeah. Yeah. Isn't that the truth with all the ladies. I mean, hello. With all these hairstyles.

Interviewer: And what about the last? You tell me about taping that and what the emotions.

Don Crichton: Well, it was it was like I think it is on every show, whether it be a Mary Tyler Moore Show, any show that's had a successful run. I mean, they've all last year, we all knew what we had. But that last year when we knew that she was going to take the show off the air, we really sometimes, you know, you're, you know you're involved in something good. You love it and you appreciate it. But then all of a sudden when you think you're going to lose it, you think about it more. And it was very sad, very sad. And we're all crying. And, you know, she sang and everything, you know, was. Yeah. She said goodbye to all of us. But that's the way it is. That's the way it should go out. If you were happy to have it go, that's not so good, you know.

Interviewer: Yeah, that's right. What do you remember what you said?

Don Crichton: She just saying her signature song, Say Goodnight. God bless. You know, not good night. That's Red Skelton. Well, yeah. She did make a big thing, right? We all knew and she thanked people in the audience, but she didn't also want to be a blithering idiot out there. You know, it was difficult, very difficult for her. I mean, wow, you know, it's an end of an era in your life. A huge chapter in your life. And the excitement of going forward and going on to new things is is wonderful. But there's also that that fear of leaving something that's so secure and such a family, close knit family. We all knew everybody went through everybody's deaths and tragedies and births and what have you and sicknesses and illnesses, you know, you become very, very close.

Interviewer: And I mean, what do you think her legacy is? I mean, what's her? What impact has she had? Can you sort of see her in any of the current performers today or current shows or do you?

Don Crichton: I think for me, I think what Carol or the talent she had and the talent she brought to television will always be there. I don't think there's people that can do it today. I don't think there are very many writers that can write sketches like that. We've evolved into a whole different thing. I mean, I think television is wonderful today and they do great, great things. But that being able to sit down and write a sketch that was just purely funny where people just went and they just had a good time. And she will always be unique. I think I'm one and only. There's not anybody else like her. You know, she'll poo poo wit or something. But I'm you know, I'm out there a lot and I've done a lot of television. We all have. And she's very unique. She's a very rare bird. You know that. You love it. And it's timeless. If you look at the show, some of it, you know, you can tell it. It was old hat and some things are better than others, but it's still good sketches. Always hold up the good medley's. Hold up. You know.

Don Crichton
Interview Date:
2007-05-17
Runtime:
1:02:36
Keywords:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-3t9d50gd2h, cpb-aacip-504-ng4gm82c5s
MLA CITATIONS:
"Don Crichton, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 17 May. 2007, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/546
APA CITATIONS:
(2007, May 17). Don Crichton, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/546
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Don Crichton, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 17, 2007. Accessed July 02, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/546

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