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Carol Burnett Meets George Abbott

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As a student, Carol Burnett predicted she would move to New York City and work with George Abbott. Watch as she remembers how losing out on one role led to her being cast in “Once Upon A Mattress,” and meeting the famed director.

TRANSCRIPT

I went to UCLA and I dropped out because I, I got a chance to go to New York.

I had a benefactor who lent me a thousand dollars.

So I, uh, I quit school.

And so all of my buddies in school, they threw me a party and they said, 'So what are you going to do, Carol, when you get to New York?' You know, and I had all these dreams and I said, I'm going to go to New York and I'm going to be on stage.

And the first thing I do is going to be directed by George Abbott. Well, everybody who was worth their salt in the theater arts department at UCLA knew who Mr. Abbott was. And that he was the best. He was the king.

He was the one that you wanted to work for. It wasn't gee, I hope I will. I just knew it. I got on a plane.

I arrived and thought, well, I've got to meet George Abbott.

And, I was, you know, Richard Rogers daughter brought up by my father who said, 'Most people in the world get up every day, bored to death with what they're about to go off and have to do to make a living.

And I get up every day and look forward to what I'm going to be doing.'

And what I was thinking about was there must be something I love to do.

And I adored the theater, so I have to have to find something to do in the theater.

So that summer I was an apprentice at the Westport Playhouse and I'd go out and look for props.

And then from the age of about 21, when I first started to write children's songs, I figured I could sneak in the back door and nobody would notice, nor did they.

Of course, we auditioned 'Once Upon a Mattress,' which was then called 'The Princess and the Pea' for George Abbott, who said, 'Listen, I think it's swell. I like it very much, but I only have till May and you'll never have enough time to get it done by May. So if you can get it done by May, I have May free and I'll direct it.' Uh, so we got it done.

By then, I was living in New York, looking for jobs. Uh, I had an apartment, a small one room with my sister and I was married, in the room all in one room.

And I had auditioned for Rogers and Hart.

They were going to revive 'Babes in Arms' and Stanley Prager was directing and it looked pretty good that I was going to get the role.

I was so excited. And then Stanley came over and he said, 'You didn't get it.

They gave it to someone who had a name.' I said, 'Oh my God.' And meanwhile.

Nancy Walker had agreed to do the show, but we had already accepted the fact that George Abbott, he didn't want to direct a star. He wanted to create one.

And we couldn't find the right person. And Judy Abbott, George's daughter, who was his casting director called up one morning and said, 'There's a woman called Carol Burnett.' And I said to Marshall, who was down the hall, 'Now, what, what did you hear?

We're supposed to look at somebody called Carol Burnett.' He came galloping down the hallway and said,' I don't know why we didn't think of her.

She's brilliant!'. So I didn't get it babes in arms.

And I was so close and I cried, you know, I thought, oh, this would have been it. And I swear to God, within 30 minutes, the phone rang and it was Jean Eckart.

And she said, 'My husband and I are producing a show called Once Upon a Mattress.' And.

She said, 'What are you doing?' And she said, 'Nothing.' Well, come on down to 28th street and sing for Mary. It's.

Going to be directed by George Abbott. She.

Was unbelievable. And she was also too attractive.

She didn't look schlumpy enough. So we said, 'What's the ugliest thing you have in your wardrobe?' She said, 'Well, I have a tacky suit, sort of sitting --' 'Perfect.

Put on your tacky suit and come down on Friday when we have callbacks and audition for George Abbott.'. And I walked in, it was like a dream. And there was Mr. Abbott.

And I was in this kind of daze.

I was nervous, but I wasn't. I was like, here it is.

And I went home and the phone rang within an hour and he said, 'Can you sign for a year?' Oh, well, you know, and had I gotten the other one -- I wouldn't have had it.

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