Speaker I was aware of Carol when I was in college because she was doing Once upon a mattress. I think a little before I got to school, but we knew about her, we we knew of her as a musical comedy person. And and on The Garry Moore Show. But never in my life did I dream that I would meet her. Oh, my God.

Speaker Do you remember what your initial impressions of her were? Sort of. Was it was there something unique about her from those first times that you saw her?

Speaker Kenny Soames and I were called in for an interview and she was in a hotel in Manhattan.

Speaker And we walked around the block several times and we bought a comb, you know, like in the in a store downstairs. We went up and we decided that we were gonna be on our knees because we were so grateful that she was even interviewing us.

Speaker And when we opened the door, when she opened the door, actually, in my imagination, she was on her knees also.

Speaker So she was so easy to get along with. Immediately, immediately.

Speaker And I was in shock because nobody was hiring female writers. And there she was. And she's never changed since 40 years ago and she's never changed.

Speaker So tell me more about that, though, that the state of nobody, really nobody was hiring female writers for anything. What was kind of the landscape at the time?

Speaker Nobody was saying hiring female writers, and because Kenny was a male, it helped a little, but I was we were up for the Smothers Brothers show.

Speaker And the reason that they didn't hire us was because I was a woman and they didn't want anybody to be able.

Speaker They want people to be able to curse and carrying on in the writers room.

Speaker And they thought a woman would just not be a good match for like nine men who were on the show. And if it weren't for Carol who really, really helped me, I wouldn't be a writer.

Speaker Was that ever spoken in any way? Did she say, I want to love a woman writer? Was that ever sort of part of the discussion?

Speaker Well, it wouldn't have been the discussion with me. It wouldn't I wouldn't have known about any of the backstory about me getting hired, because your agent, you know, finally says you have a meeting. But there were 10 variety shows on when she was on. There were a hundred writers. And I was the only woman among souls, one in a hundred. And there were a couple of people were there a couple of women before me, but just a couple.

Speaker And I, I, I'm like on my knees to Carol still, because if it weren't for her, I don't think that I would have made it. And I don't think I would have stayed in the business. We were hired for six weeks and I told my mother I would be home very soon back to New York.

Speaker But do you think it was intentional on her part to have at least one woman on her staff, or do you think it was a conscious?

Speaker I think Carol realized that, you know, women may come up with ideas that men don't come up with. And I think that she you know, I'm sure there were discussions be, you know, about having a woman on the staff. And I think she thought it was a great idea. I'm saying I think because I've never had that conversation with her. It was just she treated me as if.

Speaker I work I you that it was that it made perfect sense that I would come and write for her like a writer, not a woman writer.

Speaker She treated me like a writer, not a woman. I know that. I mean, that was the great part, was just starting with women were just starting to infiltrate in comedy.

Speaker And what were you told about what kinds of things, you know, you were meant to be writing and what was kind of the assignment, as it were?

Speaker Kenny and I were hired to do six episodes, but then we were also hired to do six sketches before anybody else started working. And they were horrible.

Speaker I mean, you know, we thought they were wonderful, but it was like they were just bad. You know, people putting on green makeup and the boss was coming, you know. But the assignment was just to get in there and think of premises. And she had a few ideas about situations that she wanted, which was, Carolyn says, because she was raising her sister or had raised her sister. And so she had a couple of things that she was familiar with. Other than that, it was a free for all, which which is always great. And when a sketch works, then you think of a reason to repeated or repeat the theme.

Speaker Anyway, I'm sorry, it wasn't clear from the beginning, like what kinds of things worked for her and what I mean. She was clear about that. Or did you kind of have to figure that out or did anything work for her?

Speaker Everything works for Carol Burnett. I mean, you can do. You could write. We were a Girl Scout. We wrote soap operas. I mean, they were there was nothing that didn't work for her and that she couldn't do.

Speaker And there was nothing that she didn't try to do. I mean, she was dumb. She didn't insult you. You know, this is not good. She she would try. There was one sketch that was just miserable because it was were a sketch about a model who who became a show who wanted to do a movie. And I think that that subject was around because some models were doing movies. And I wanted her to do all the model moves.

Speaker And I she was acting in a serious part. And she it was very uncomfortable and we knew it pretty pretty early on, but she didn't say, you know, this stinks. She tried it. She tried everything. You know, one of my favorite stories about Carol is that erm how professional she was.

Speaker You know, I know there isn't a lot of adlibbing, Tim, Tim and Harvey, but she didn't particularly like it.

Speaker She like adlibbing that much.

Speaker She liked when it was done. But anyway, my favorite story about her as a professional is that there was. A dance number at the end of the show where a woman, a man from Las Vegas, was coming to rip off her clothes with a whip.

Speaker And it would be like, you know, one shoulder would go and the other shoulder would go and it was very intricate and we would have a dress rehearsal for camera on Thursday.

Speaker And he slashed her.

Speaker She went home and she she swears that she didn't sleep that night. You know, eyes wide open. And then in the dress rehearsal on Friday, we had two shows on Friday, dress rehearsal. He slashed her again. This is painful slashes. This is not comedy slashes. And when she finally did the number, he slashed her again.

Speaker So three times three slashes. But she went through with it. She didn't throw the finale out.

Speaker So I said anything to him or.

Speaker I don't know, she never said anything to him. I don't think she ever, you know, like would insult anybody.

Speaker What was her interaction with the rioters? I mean, I know it's sort of even the layout of the offices was kind of interesting, wasn't it, with a layout?

Speaker Yes. The layout of the roof was interesting. Candy and I had an office with no window.

Speaker Yeah, this is not because it was a woman. This is because we were the youngest people on the show and the newest to the business.

Speaker And she would she would wander in and out and we would speak to her and I. Right before this, we do the Steve Allen show. For just a short summer thing, I was really scared of him. And he's a very nice person. He was a very nice person.

Speaker But coward, wanderin. And you. I was totally not scared. I was totally comfortable with her. And talk about having a woman on the show.

Speaker She asked me where I had my haircut because I had very cute, short, perky haircut at the time. And as it was, a man named Leonard Bernstein cut my hair.

Speaker And and believe me, he was not the Leonard Bernstein of hairdressers. But she went to him and only had this conversation happened between two women who were working on the same show. And he cut her hair way too short. And this is my first year on the show. And I thought, oh, my God. Oh, my God. She had to wear wigs for months. And she still swears. She still swears that she slept in a hat every night.

Speaker It's not going to happen between men and female stars.

Speaker That's true. What was the initial? There was a test taping.

Speaker Do you remember that? What what what occurred with the test taping and sort of what the network felt about the show, what their thoughts were about how it would succeed or not succeed.

Speaker What I remember is they said they were not 100 percent behind it. The network thought that, again, you know, all these variety shows that were on. None of them had a female lead and they really expected it to fail. And so you're going on a show. You're so happy that you got the job and then you find out that they're not really behind it. She showed them this. It was great because it was successful right away. It didn't need to be it didn't need to build. It was. She was on. They loved her.

Speaker You said something when we spoke on the phone, it was sort of thought it was gonna be some little girl.

Speaker Well, you know, they just didn't have at that time, 1967. And, you know, I've dreamt of these moments when when I was young, then I would be at, you know, a much older person talking about the old days, 1967. You know, the female leads were in, you know, the half hour situation comedy because it's a ballsy type of thing to go out there and do sketches and fall through a window until you get Brasi in a dangerous sense. But it's it's a very strong.

Speaker Position. You have to take. And she did it and she did it from show one. I think originally they didn't have questions and answers. And nobody saw the real Carol. And once they added that, it seemed to. It made her very real to people and they loved her. They loved her. I mean, we know what cast we were going to deal with except for Tim Conway.

Speaker And we knew that she had a really handsome man as part of the cast. So you start thinking in terms of, you know, sketches between her and the handsome man. And we know she had a a younger sister who looked a lot like her.

Speaker So you think of those sketches also, but it was the questions and answers that brought her, I think, into people's homes and into their laps. And they love her.

Speaker And she initially didn't want to do it right.

Speaker Or questions and answer. I think it wasn't thought about. I think that the questions and answers came because they, you know, they felt the show and there was none of her in it.

Speaker And that sort of became, didn't it? I mean, people over the years, it seemed like people came. The audience came excited to have the craziest question, or it's like people really came with.

Speaker It's incredibly funny things, obviously unscripted radio, the audience loved the idea of questions and answers, and then, yeah, they were brimming. They were brimming. And you usually get an older audience. The first tape cassettes at. I have to go back.

Speaker Oh, my God. Editing. Yeah.

Speaker You usually get an older audience on the first taping because it's people are at work and it's 4:00 in the afternoon. And so the questions were very different in the afternoon than they were at night. And it would be the questions the afternoon were more. People wanting to tell her that they loved her. We always call that the blue haired audience. It's not because of the older crowd. And by the time the night performance was taped. It was a free for all. Of course, as writers, you get to you get to not have to write those three minutes. It was a luxury.

Speaker What was her role on the set with in terms of how the sort of duties were divided between she and Joe? Was it pretty clear cut?

Speaker Excuse me? You know, this is the one show that I worked on.

Speaker That I the writers never went down to the set. They were busy writing. And it was you didn't you didn't really. Go down to the stage and all during the week, during the night, even on Thursdays, but on Fridays, you were there constantly. I don't know Kenny mentioned to you, but Carol's dressing room.

Speaker She had to walk through the writers to get to her dress. And it's like you don't really want to have to do that. You want to just go there and think about your next thing. In the meantime, she walks through the writers. And so we were, you know, like a great show. Good job on that sketch. You know, great. But it was too much. It would be it would have been much better if there was another door. Thank you, CBS. Got the second she she never got. I don't know. She never got a private dressing room.

Speaker Did you see her evolve over the years that you were there as a performer? What? I guess. Think of her. Describe what you sort of saw her walking out in that first episode and then how she grew.

Speaker In the first episode. Carol was. She was young, you know, and I didn't realize it at the time because I just didn't realize. When you look back and see how young she was. To have an hour on her shoulders. It's an amazing thing. But at the very beginning, she was meeker. I'm not telling you being on stage. And I'm not talking about the show. But has she as the seasons in. My God, there were eleven of them. But as it grew and as it as the show was more successful.

Speaker She became, you know, more and more involved. And, you know, and realized it was her show and that that's, you know, how valuable she was to it.

Speaker And how would you see that, what kinds of things would you see?

Speaker He has she never changed, Carol. From day one to now. I think it's not that different.

Speaker On The Carol Burnett Show, she was pretty consistently just working hard. And I wish I could say, oh, she she changed completely, but she was brilliant when she started and she was brilliant when the show ended on other shows after this, which I hear because I didn't work on it.

Speaker She had a much bigger voice about what to do. And I was only there for I was there for years, one to four and then back on your six. So I don't know what happened in the last five years, but thank you, Carol Burnett, for it. If it weren't for her.

Speaker I would be.

Speaker I never would have been able to express myself, especially on paper.

Speaker It's such a great combination when you're, you know. And we were using pay. You are using computers.

Speaker To be able to have that combination of writing it and then have somebody doing it brilliantly and making it better.

Speaker How did she I mean, what did you bring to something that wasn't necessarily on the page? Were there things that you that you saw her do that were not in the script and you thought, wow, that's so wonderful.

Speaker What she brought to the pages that the writers wrote were intense character. So that if you were out, you know, this Girl Scout is very pushy. She would then put her layer and talent on top of it and make it very pushy and find a voice. And I'm not to about the voice, you know, in I'm doing a bit a voice specifically that she wanted to use for that character. You can't put that on paper. You know, you can say sternly or you can say intensely. But the brilliance of Carol Burnett is that she found different voices. And you know, the calm one for the soap opera. Different voices in, you know, in the movie takeoff's and just made. The characters alive.

Speaker And what about the physical bits, like I remember wrote about Lucille Ball that they literally wrote out every day, picks up the chocolate, puts it in her mouth. But somehow, just the way she did it was so. Was it the same with Carol? But were all those physical bits in written specifically or did she come up with those kind of as well?

Speaker And some physical bits are written into scripts. They are you know, she trips over a wire and falls and a window is in there.

Speaker And it has to be in there because it has to be in there for props. You need the wire for stage setting. You need the window. Hopefully it's going to shatter quickly and nicely and not hurt anybody.

Speaker But I don't. The nuances were all were hers. You know, I mean, you have to you have to write a script fully. But the small things that she did were definitely, definitely hers. I mean, it was different with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. This is not a bad deal.

Speaker How was she? Were there many other women of the time doing physical comedy the way she was, or was that something pretty unique to her?

Speaker Carol Burnett is so unique in her physical comedy, was very unique to her. And there were no other women.

Speaker I mean, there were no other women falling out of windows or, you know, really doing sketches.

Speaker No, it laughing happened a short while after she's started. But it was they were doing very small, you know, very quick sketches. So the intense character. That she put she layered on to what was written was unique to her. And she's still unique. I mean, when you look back at those shows. I mean, her her facial expressions, which you don't write in the script, you do, I mean, you couldn't possibly say she raises one eyebrow. He's so brilliant. I feel so lucky to have worked with her and as my first real job. If if you get a job where the show is successful. It helps you for 10 years. If you get a you know, if you get a job on a show that's a flop, it's just going to hurt you. So it was an extra added wonderful thing that. That she was successful. I mean, to me personally.

Speaker Right. How would you how can you compare her to Lucy?

Speaker I mean, was there. Were there differences? Was Carol doing something? Sort of. Yet, I mean, Lucy opened a lot of doors, broke a lot of barriers. Was Carol taking that a step further and how.

Speaker Well, Lucy was doing Lucille Ball is doing a half hour situation comedy where with a story that's well scripted and, you know, beginning, middle and end and everything. We had to. And Carol had to tell a story in five minutes. And so it was a it was even broader movements. I don't mean that it was like totally broad comedy, but it was. It was bigger. Then Lucille Ball or any of the comedians who had their own shows, which, you know, several of them did.

Speaker And was comedy changing at that time in general, too?

Speaker I mean, it seems like that show was kind of in between the sort of more broad slapstick and a transition to a more sort of intellectual comedy in a way. And it seemed like it was kind of it was able to do both. I don't know what you think.

Speaker The Carol Burnett Show, actually. There were subtle things as well as broad things and. Because she wasn't doing the same character week after week and telling a story through that, she was having to find the subtleties. And I think that I think it did change comedy in general because there were some things where we did with with such detail. We used to do. A thing on Nixon where the family was, the family was all together, it was like a fireside chat. I sound like a Valley girl. It was it was a fireside chat where we were we did a lot of political humor. Which was much smaller in nature than some of the other things. But we got away with it because of Carol's personality. The Smothers Brothers, the Smothers Brothers was starting, but they were so they were so they were so noisy about it and they were saying that we're making a difference and what they were saying, we're going to change the world. And not that they didn't land a lot of stuff, but we snuck it in. And they were brilliant.

Speaker I mean, like they think we would have the family and their maid would be there and she would. And. Carol would say, oh, she's just like one of the family and the maid said, except I live in the basement. And so, you know, it was it was not hitting the country over the head with political humor. It was there and it was funny and it was accepted, and I and I do think that a lot of those types of sketches. Big became subtler and did change comedy a lot.

Speaker When the networks were pretty preoccupied at the time with shows like the Smothers Brothers and so forth. Did they ever come down on on your show and say, OK, this one's gone a bit too far? Or were they just too preoccupied?

Speaker The sensors at the at the network, because she was quiet about things just like didn't notice.

Speaker And you always make that bark. And by the way, where with programs, practices, which is you put in more dirty stuff and you put in more political stuff or, you know, annoying stuff so that you can they they'll take it out.

Speaker But you'll get to have half of it in and with her again because she was not hitting. People over the head with it. We got away with a lot of stuff.

Speaker Of course, there were certain words you couldn't say.

Speaker Like Nepal's rich. Too bad. It's a funny word.

Speaker I mean, it's all changed now. That's true, Carol.

Speaker Was she comfortable with kind of this this push into slightly more subtly subversive material or did she ever say, I'm not going to do that? Or was she encouraging of it?

Speaker Carol was encouraged. Any type of writing. And if she was, you know, completely uncomfortable with something, you knew it. And because she's she voiced her opinion, I mean, she she voice your opinion frequently, but she didn't take out sketches and throw things away and be difficult frequently. So if this if she was uncomfortable with something, it went and nobody and nobody was worried about it ever again.

Speaker It was just a matter of her accepting most things so that it became she became. So she wasn't difficult. She was easy about it. And nobody wanted her to do something that she didn't want to do. And you know what? You kind of know that you kind of don't write sketches that this the Smothers Brothers did because it's for Carol. We'd like tailers, we tailor the material so we know you know it. After those first six sketches, you know, you kind of know what you liked and you wanted to please her. You wanted to make her happy and make her feel good. I mean, a lot of people.

Speaker Comedy writers have worked under very strenuous situations. This was and was only difficult and the fact that you wanted it to be really good.

Speaker Do you remember any specific time where she there was something she.

Speaker You know, in all my memory of the five years that I worked on the show, the only thing that I can really remember she did want to do was a model who within 10 to two movies, because it was just the movies weren't right and she was uncomfortable with it.

Speaker I'm not aware. And I know by the by the way, it's not that I'm not aware. I know that we handed a script in. And she did it, but we didn't and we. It wasn't a battle, it was we knew pretty much what she would like.

Speaker So you say I mean, it's interesting that there sort of more political stuff than you might think. What about with any sort of feminist undertones? I mean, that was the women's movement was was going on. Did you. Was that reflective, do you think, at all in the series as it went on?

Speaker I'm just remembering there was another sketch. She really didn't want to do.

Speaker And it was because we had we had a feminist on it on a talk show, and she was talking very strongly about the movement and everything. And then there was a mouse went across the floor and she said, eek a mouse and started acting like a very, you know, incapable woman.

Speaker And that was not the type of thing that, you know, I think it may have even been trashed in the writers room. It wasn't. It was not the type of thing that you wanted to say.

Speaker But, you know, just being a strong woman on television said a lot.

Speaker It really, you know, and she just she she didn't do characters that were wimpy. Or who would you know, who would fold easily or, you know, really be subjective to man?

Speaker She just she again, it's knowledge of knowing the star. And what they will like and what they can do. And and as a result, she came off as a very strong woman again, quietly. I don't mean the sketches were quite the sketches were noise, but didn't make a big deal out of it.

Speaker That's actually a rare second.

Speaker Carol is so unique. And it was her show was her name up there. And that's the difference between, you know, Imogene Calgon and a lot of people who preceded her who were very good also.

Speaker But this was a woman who had a whole hour on her shoulders every week. And so she burst into people's homes as I think the first woman to do this, to really be accepted to to have that, you know, ballsy attitude and yet be a woman. I mean, this was so great about writing for her. My first job. And I got to write female parts. You know, I didn't know how I would have done if it had been a male star, an all male writers.

Speaker What about also in those, especially in the early those first few years? I mean, Carol has said that especially early on, she did a lot of mugging and, you know, sort of more, you know, self-deprecating humor. I mean, she made fun of her appearance and stuff sometimes. Was that. Was that kind of a way for women to break in? Or was that Carroll's style or can you comment on that?

Speaker Was self-deprecating humor was really hard at that time. Joan, Joan Rivers and some other people actually, you know, making fun of yourself was a good thing. I don't think Carol knew how attractive. She was I mean, I really. And she was adorable and still is the greatest body. But I know because she had been the second banana and because she was, you know, in order to be heard, her voice had to be big and whatever, I think she had the confidence in how she looked after, you know, Bob Mackie was dressing her and she was I mean, to do so cute to me to this stage.

Speaker I look at her and I can't believe how good looking she is. But at the beginning, you know, maybe we did write some stuff that was self-deprecating, but.

Speaker I still do that. Still writing that, thank you.

Speaker I mean, when you say it was kind of the style of the time for women or or was it you need to women, you think, or men and women across the board, it just works. It's funny.

Speaker You know, when you're writing and performing and doing shows every week. You're not analyzing exactly what's happening in the world or what's happening, you know, to your body or watching what you're doing is trying to be funny and that you mean you might as well have it written on your far head, you know, like being funny. And so whatever is working at the time and all that kind of humor works. Loud humour works and self-deprecating and quiet. And she did it all, you know, so it it makes you laugh. It was in I think it was the most important quality that that sketch should have. And also, she you know, Carol was a you know, a thoughtful person. She was never going to slam other people and she was never going to be rude on stage and she was never going to do something that she felt in her heart was wrong. So once you have a star like that setting, no, at the time, but that sets the tone for the show. And that since the way people, the writers work, rather than being, you know, like totally nervous all the time, that the material is not going to be in or that it's going to be hated.

Speaker She set the tone, being a nice person and being accepting. And wanting funny.

Speaker It's it really it it goes down to every single person who works in the office or who works on stage. It's it's. I've seen it happen over and over again. And with Carol show, you didn't you weren't going to do something that was so rude. It wouldn't fit.

Speaker This seems like that is really rare.

Speaker I know it's to have that as your first job. Really spoiled me. You know, all I wanted was nice from then on. And I thought everybody was everybody isn't.

Speaker What about the movie spoofs? How did those become such a staple on the show?

Speaker Kenny and I were really lucky to do a lot of the movie spoofs because what did you got to do was sit and watch a movie. And it was it was it was great. And then everything became a staple because it worked once. And so the first movie spoof was really good. You were going to do more. And she was going to love to do more. And so every single thing started as as as once.

Speaker Was it something from her? I is it a movie?

Speaker Yes, she is. She, Carol is a real movie buff. And you probably know that she worked as an usher.

Speaker And I mean, her whole life was like how he would in movies and enjoying the old movies. And some of them Kenny and I had never seen.

Speaker Which was great, again, because you got to see them and you got to have like the morning off. And so it was a wonderful thing to do. And those sketches are classics.

Speaker I mean, you know, I mean, they really are. I mean, the Gone with the Wind, the one with the sponges where she was, like, dripping all over Esther Williams, she was playing. Oh, it was hysterical and. Yeah. I mean, a lot of them today any audience would really love. But if you're asking how they started it, really it really does start with one. The soap operas with which Kenny and I did started because.

Speaker I was thinking that.

Speaker What would happen if it was the last of like a 20 year soap opera? Going to be over? And so, Chilian, I like really gone into watching and whatever, and we wrote one soap opera, and it was based on being the last episode where everything had to be tied up. But it worked. And so, you know, you heard the doorbell. And so you take certain elements out of it that are working and I'm sure Carol was relaxed just to be in those positions.

Speaker We go after week, you know, of of knowing that something was a hit and was valued. And it's also easier on the writers when when that type of thing happens, because. You're going back to some familiar base where you if you're working on a sitcom. You know what your characters are going to do and you pull apart the family and put them back together again every week on a variety show. It's all new and different every single week.

Speaker Do you remember any specific sketches or episodes that were just. You can't believe how well they worked or that that you just found so funny or the audience thought was just. Some of some of the best, best moments when you were there.

Speaker You know, there is so much that is good to take out.

Speaker The best is really hard. But what comes to mind? There are a lot of the movie takeoff's, the soap operas, the fireside chats, the department's, you know, ones in the movie spoofs, specific takeoff's.

Speaker Well, I.

Speaker The Esther Williams, to me, was so hysterical because Carol had sponges in her bathing suit.

Speaker And so, you know, she was she was the star.

Speaker But but the star of the movie, she was Esther Williams. And when. Her co-star, and I guess it was Harvey, was in a suit.

Speaker And they hugged and she kept getting him wetter and wetter. Listen, there's nothing funnier than that.

Speaker And for the I was such a collaboration between writing and performing. And that's what's so exciting is when you're what you're writing can even be better. When you see it. So as far as the movie spoofs, I really do think that was the best of all of them.

Speaker What about the musical numbers in her? Were you involved in any way coming up with ideas for those or hers or her singing numbers?

Speaker We were not involved with the musical numbers. There were two people on the staff that really did a lot of that.

Speaker I mean, even if she was doing she did a lot of times where she says she sang a real song, but it was really made into a comedy know, some kind of comedic story. I don't know if those were written with you guys are in the music department.

Speaker You know, you hear this from everyone, which is that Carol Burnett would not sing as Carol Burnett. She she she couldn't go out there and sing as herself.

Speaker I mean, she wouldn't go from questions and answers to singing a song. And she has a gorgeous voice. So everything that she sang was part of the sketch or was part of like a separate little musical. But she did. But it was always as a character. The CHA woman was a it was Carol singing. But she had a she had to be dressed as the CHA woman in order to do it. It's really funny that that's how she felt.

Speaker I know it almost the charm women, especially those just kind of an excuse to get her to sing a song.

Speaker Right. You put her in a costume show saying interesting beautifully and she'll sing. I mean, even you could see, you know, a fairly straight song. And the chairwomen, they were they were very intense, great songs she would sing with, like with Steve Lawrence. She would do, you know, medley's with another person, but she would never get around on stage in a gorgeous Bob Mackie dress and sing. She just wasn't her.

Speaker I mean, like I saw when she was singing. By the time I get to Phoenix and she's saying it totally straight and beautifully, but the whole time she's like trying to leave her husband and she can't get out of the garage. I mean, is sort of classic type.

Speaker I mean, she.

Speaker Could have done fantastic numbers of just being in, like I said, and those gorgeous Bob Mackie gowns and come out and sing a number and it's always that's helpful to us, too, because if it's a two minute song, it's two minutes less. You have to write. But she couldn't do it.

Speaker And speaking of singing, you worked on a special that she did years here. Can you tell me about that?

Speaker Working on Sill's and Frenette at the Met? Was it was really a highlight for me. You cannot imagine going in to the Met. With these two fabulous people. And Beverly Sills willing to do sketches. And yes, you see, she's sang with Beverly Sills, who is the most enchanting experience I've ever had.

Speaker Well, she's worried about me would be for somebody who doesn't want to sing alone, to suddenly be singing alongside the world. Most of them intimidating her.

Speaker No, I would you know what Carol would not have signed on to do, especially where she was going to be totally intimidated. And by now, by the time we did Susan Burnett at the Met, she had already done all the ones she had done this type of special before. But it wasn't with Beverly Sills.

Speaker Anybody could be inhibited by Beverly Sills was, you know, a voice. But we we we we did the opposite type of thing. We had the two of them auditioning.

Speaker And Carol is obviously the girlfriend of the producer. She's going to get it. Despite the fact that Beverly Sills. I mean, music coming out of her mouth, I don't know where it comes from. So you play it off, that very, very thing, we we played off the idea that obviously Beverly Sills should have gotten a part. The Carol Burnett was going to get instead because she was like this tacky girlfriend. And so you're doing the opposite. And me is is always going to make it comedic.

Speaker Who thought the two of them together?

Speaker I don't. I was just I was just. In heaven, I'd say, well, you're going to. This is. It was snowing, was snowing. But Doug, gentle snow in New York, which rarely happens. The night of the taping. And you thought, here I am. It's Carol Burnett. Beverly Sills. It's snowing and I'm part of it. I I really couldn't quite believe it.

Speaker Sort of magical.

Speaker Yeah, it was just too good.

Speaker And how was that show received? How did how did it do?

Speaker The show is received very well, and I think it won a Peabody. And so there you go.

Speaker My God. And to sit here and say, I think won a Peabody. It's like nothing is important to you. But if it was that that show is pure magic.

Speaker One of the things I just want to ask. We're talking about women in comedy and was was one of the things you need to, Carol, to ask her.

Speaker Her ability to kind of combine it seemed like in an earlier day, women can either be funny or glamorous.

Speaker And she really did do both. In a way.

Speaker A Carol was funny and she was glamorous. She knows she was funny. I don't think she knows she was glamorous and end even though it was, you know, all put together well. I am sure this is why it appealed to everybody, even grandmothers watch with grandchildren. And it was it was an occasion every week. I mean, it's the kind of show I would dress for sitting at home and watch. And we always watched it, even though we had seen it and seen it and seen it all week. We watched it. She got the most amazing. You know, people to to be on the show also because it was that good.

Speaker You know, I mean, Lucy was on. She directed everything that week. Edgar May was on along Steve Lawrence.

Speaker But Carol was Carolyn. E.D. were supposed to be standing way backstage and he said, let's move up. And Carol said, no, this is where we're supposed to stand. And she said, come on, we're going up there. And she drag Carol up into the, you know, the very front of the stage. I'm sure the cameraman was scrambling around and it was it was a rehearsal, wasn't the actual air show.

Speaker And. They did it and they blasted the audience and they blasted the television audience. And I think Carol became more and more confident as time went by.

Speaker You remember how many Emmys it won or was nominated for.

Speaker It was nominated for an Emmy, every single year was on. I won one. Whereas it was amazing. It was amazing to be nominated. And they the first year they did it where part of it was in New York and part of it was in L.A., it was still you know, there's still a lot of television going on in New York and there is now. But there wasn't in them. And. It was so exciting. It's your first show you the only female comedy among 100 writers and variety show. And you get nominated for an Emmy. I mean, I should pay them.

Speaker Maybe I don't. It's not retroactive. I won't. Not paying anything back.

Speaker What would what do you think is her her biggest strength as a performer, as a comedian? Is it her timing or her physicality or what what is kind of.

Speaker Carol's performances were perfect. And I think it was that perfection that made it so classic and so outstanding. I mean, the the little moves that she did, the big moves she did. So it was just a combined talent that that happens so rarely. And she was so accepted. You know, she wasn't above the audience. She was really, you know, that girl that was part of the audience and the audience got to root for her.

Speaker And that's why it was a success. I mean, they didn't expect it to be a success. But the audience just got to, you know, hope that she will keep doing and she got to keep doing it. Her performance. It's very rare that you get that combination of somebody who is who looks wonderful and who does comany wonderfully.

Speaker A lot of the situation comedy, but she was the star of Variety television. I think she's the only really except for Tracy Yeoman, who she worked with later. And the two of them just really I mean, they they know the back story of characters. They can practically tell you where they were born.

Speaker You know, talk about that just with Carol specifically.

Speaker Yeah, I know I won't. Carol, new characters. I'm even even though they were written for her. But she knew every detail about them. She knew how they would dress.

Speaker Bob Mackie added to the comany. Bye bye, having the perfect costumes. But Carol would know how they dress. I think she would know who their parents were. I think she would know where the characters came from. It's it's it's knowing those people. And she's meaning, you know. You know, at least four or five new characters a week. But her process in developing them and knowing every detail about it. She probably knew what they would say, even though it wasn't in the script.

Speaker I think that's her genius. She really immersed herself.

Speaker She Myrt Carol, immerse yourself in characters. Which is why it was so strange that she then she had to go through the writers room to get onstage and to get offstage because once she put those costumes on. She was that person. And even though she was saying, hi, guys, how are you doing? Whatever. She went out there and she became her whole body became a character from her, you know, her head to her toes and in brilliant. I mean, it was just so brilliant. The way she created that part of the show was a wonderful collaboration between writing and performance. Nothing you wrote was messed up. By Carol Burnett.

Gail Parent
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
cpb-aacip-504-nk3610wh81, cpb-aacip-504-8k74t6fp6m
"Gail Parent, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 06 Jun. 2007,
(2007, June 06). Gail Parent, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Gail Parent, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 06, 2007. Accessed January 26, 2022


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.