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16 Facts About The Carol Burnett Show On Its 50th Anniversary

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After a short stint in the New York theater world, comedienne Carol Burnett landed a job as a regular on The Garry Moore Show in 1959. She caught the attention of CBS executives, who offered her her own series in 1967. With her husband Joe Hamilton at the helm, Burnett broke new ground as the first female host of a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons and earned a handful of Emmy Awards in the process. On the 50th anniversary of its debut, here are some fun facts about the show and the folks who made it so side-splittingly hilarious.

1. CAROL BURNETT’S MOTHER WANTED HER TO BE A WRITER.

As Carol Burnett painfully recalled later in life, whenever she’d expressed an interest in a career in the theater as a teen, her mother would always dissuade her and recommend that she would have better luck studying to become a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would add.

2. A TOTAL STRANGER HELPED TO LAUNCH BURNETT’S CAREER.

As she was nearing graduation from UCLA, Burnett and several fellow drama students were invited to a departing professor’s house to perform at his bon voyage party. She performed a scene from the musical Annie Get Your Gun and later that evening, while she was standing in the buffet line, a man she’d never seen before approached her and complimented her performance. He then inquired what she planned to do with her life. She confessed that she dreamed of going to New York one day for a career on the stage, but seeing that she barely had enough gas money to drive back to Los Angeles that evening, it would be a very long time before she’d make it to Broadway. The man told her he’d be happy to lend her $1000 to get her started, with three conditions: that she repay him without interest in five years, that she was never to reveal his identity, and that once she was successful she must pass a similar kindness along to another person in need. (After pondering the offer over the weekend and consulting her mother and grandmother—who advised her to steer clear of the strange man who was probably involved in human trafficking or something worse—she took a chance and accepted his check.)

3. VICKI LAWRENCE CAUGHT BURNETT’S ATTENTION BY WRITING HER A FAN LETTER.


CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Vicki Lawrence cut her hair in a short “pixie” cut as a high school senior, many of her classmates commented on her resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence’s somewhat overbearing stage mother encouraged her to write Burnett a letter, which she did, enclosing a photo and a newspaper article that mentioned her upcoming appearance in the Inglewood, California Miss Fireball Contest. To her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant to cheer her on. When Burnett had her baby, Lawrence took some flowers to the hospital, thinking she’d just drop them off. But when the nurse on duty saw her, she immediately mistook her for Burnett’s real-life half-sister Chrissie and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!” and ushered her into Carol’s room.

4. LAWRENCE ENDED UP PLAYING BURNETT’S SISTER ON THE SHOW.

When they were casting The Carol Burnett Show, the star remembered the teen and hired her despite her lack of experience. At first her only role was in the recurring “Carol and Sis” sketch, in which Lawrence played “Chrissie,” Burnett’s younger sister. Lawrence recalled in her 1995 autobiography that Burnett was very nurturing to all her co-stars, making sure everyone got their share of the best jokes, but it was Harvey Korman who took her under his wing in the beginning and taught her about timing, dialects, and working with props.

5. THE Q&A AT THE BEGINNING WAS BURNETT’S HUSBAND’S IDEA.


By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Hamilton was not only Carol Burnett’s husband, he was also the show’s executive producer. It was traditional at the time (and still is, in some cases) to have a stand-up comic step onstage before a show to tell some jokes and “warm up” the audience. Hamilton was wary of going that route, however; as Burnett later recalled, “He worried, ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” He thought it would be a good ice-breaker if Burnett herself went out front before the proceedings to welcome the audience and answer a couple of questions. Over the next 11 seasons, the question that she was asked the most was “Can you do your Tarzan yell?”

6. BURNETT ONCE USED HER TARZAN YELL AS A FORM OF IDENTIFICATION.

While shopping for nylon stockings at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman one day, the saleswoman recognized Burnett and asked for her autograph for her grandchildren. When it came time to check out, Burnett realized that she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet. She inquired if she could write a check. “I’ll have to see some ID,” replied the woman who’d requested an autograph just moments before. The floor manager intervened and told Burnett that she’d accept her check if Burnett would do her Tarzan yell. Burnett complied, prompting a security guard to kick open a nearby door, burst in and point his gun at her.

7. LYLE WAGONNER WAS THE FIRST CENTERFOLD IN PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE.

Joe Hamilton was looking for a handsome, “Rock Hudson-type” when casting the announcer for his wife’s show. Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner landed the job not only due to his devastating good looks, but also because he had a good sense of humor about how pretty he was. He was even good-natured about the teasing he got from his castmates after posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.

8. HARVEY KORMAN WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER HIRED.

The producers wanted a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but didn’t bother to actually ask Korman if he was interested in the job because he was already a regular on The Danny Kaye Show, and most likely he wouldn’t leave a steady job for an unproven new show. Burnett herself spotted Korman in the CBS parking lot one day and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. Unbeknownst to her, Kaye’s show was about to get the axe after a four-year run, so Korman cheerfully accepted her offer shortly after that first meeting.

9. TIM CONWAY RARELY FOLLOWED HIS SCRIPT.

Conway had been a frequent guest star on the show, and when Lyle Waggoner decided to leave the show in 1974 (he felt that he was being “underused”), Conway was hired to replace him the following year. Conway was legendary for veering off-script and ad-libbing for lengthy stretches, to the amusement of some of his co-stars (Korman) and annoyance of others (Lawrence, who sometimes resented Conway’s disruptions and spotlight-hogging). Lawrence finally slipped her own ad-lib in on one memorable occasion, as Conway rambled on and on about an elephant during a “Family” sketch. Her NSFW remark brought the rest of the cast to their knees and was said to be Dick Clark’s favorite all-time outtake on his Bloopers and Practical Jokes TV show.

10. MRS. WIGGINS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN ELDERLY WOMAN.

Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote (or ad-libbed) many of their sketches. His original concept had Mrs. Wiggins being ancient, slow, and forgetful. But costume designer Bob Mackie decided that Burnett had played too many “old lady” characters on the show and designed a very voluptuous look for her instead. He explained at the time that he had certain “ditzy” CBS secretaries in mind when he stitched the curvy costume together.

11. THE SHOW THAT BECAME MAMA’S FAMILY STARTED OUT AS A MUCH DARKER ONE-OFF SKETCH.

A sketch called “The Reunion,” which originally aired in March of 1974, featured the characters that eventually became known as “The Family.” In this initial installment, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the successful younger brother of Eunice, returning home for a visit after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were far crankier and more argumentative (and perhaps more representative of actual family life as they talked over one another and changed topics as soon as a thought occurred to them) than the cartoonish characters they eventually came to be on the syndicated series Mama’s Family. The piece proved to be so popular that 30 more “Family” sketches appeared over the next four seasons, with such guest stars as Alan Alda and Betty White turning up as members of the extended Harper family.

12. IT WAS BURNETT’S IDEA TO MAKE EUNICE AND HER FAMILY SOUTHERN.

The creators of "The Family" sketch were The Carol Burnett Show staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair. McMahon hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, and envisioned the Harpers to be of typical Midwestern stock, but as Burnett read the initial script she heard her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. She started speaking the lines with a pronounced Southern drawl, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed suit.

13. DICK VAN DYKE WAS A REGULAR FOR A SHORT TIME.

Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 to star in his own sitcom on ABC.  (The Harvey Korman Show was cancelled after five episodes.) Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a replacement, but he was never a very good fit. As Burnett commented after the fact, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.” Van Dyke wasn’t overjoyed with the job, either; he lived in Arizona at the time and the monthly 4000-mile commute was exhausting. He was released from his contract in November 1977.

14. BURNETT’S “WENT WITH THE WIND” CURTAIN ROD DRESS WAS BOB MACKIE’S BRAINSTORM.

Burnett’s Gone with the Wind parody has made many “funniest shows of all time” lists over the years, and one of the defining moments of the sketch was when Carol (as "Starlett O’Hara”) descends the stairs at Tara wearing the green velvet drapes with the curtain rod still in them and admits, “I saw it in a window and I couldn’t resist.” The original script called for Burnett to have the curtains tossed haphazardly over her shoulders, but Mackie decided that it would be funnier to create an actual dress and leave the hanger intact across her shoulders. He is slightly bitter all these years later that of all his magnificent creations, that “joke” dress has become his signature piece; of all the memorable glamorous gowns he’s created for celebrities over the decades, that curtain rod dress is the one that hangs in the Smithsonian.

15. CONWAY’S FAMOUS “DENTIST” SKIT WAS BASED ON AN ACTUAL INCIDENT.

When Conway was in the Army having some work done on his teeth, the dentist accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway exaggerated the experience to hilarious effect in a classic skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to contain his laughter. During a 2013 interview, Conway told Conan O’Brien that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.

16. THERE WAS ONLY ONE CELEBRITY GUEST THAT BURNETT WAS NEVER ABLE TO BOOK.

Over the 11 seasons the show ran, a veritable “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry did a guest turn, from Steve Martin to Julie Andrews to then-governor Ronald Reagan to Robin Williams to Ethel Merman. The only guest who Burnett dearly wanted to have but never did get was Bette Davis. Davis was willing to appear but demanded more money that the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton advised his wife that if they gave in to Davis’s demand, it would set an unpleasant precedent.

Additional Sources:
Emmy TV Legends.org YouTube interviews with Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, and Bob Mackie
“Carol Burnett and Tim Conway: Bonded through Comedy,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2010
“’Carol Burnett Show’ DVD Set is a Lost-Episodes Bonanza,” Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2015
“Carol Burnett Talks About Her Show and a New Award,” New York Times, September 9, 2015
“Van Dyke Leaves Burnett Show,” Ocala Star-Banner, November 25, 1977
Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, by Vicki Lawrence
This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (The Carol Burnett Show DVD extra)

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
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TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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15 Must-See Holiday Horror Movies
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
Echo Bridge Home Entertainment

Families often use the holidays as an excuse to indulge in repeat viewings of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Elf. But for a certain section of the population, the yuletide is all about horror. Although it didn’t truly emerge until the mid-1970s, “holiday horror” is a thriving subgenre that often combines comedy to tell stories of demented Saint Nicks and lethal gingerbread men. If you’ve never seen Santa slash someone, here are 15 movies to get you started.

1. THANKSKILLING (2009)

Most holiday horror movies concern Christmas, so ThanksKilling is a bit of an anomaly. Another reason it’s an anomaly? It opens in 1621, with an axe-wielding turkey murdering a topless pilgrim woman. The movie continues on to the present-day, where a group of college friends are terrorized by that same demon bird during Thanksgiving break. It’s pretty schlocky, but if Turkey Day-themed terror is your bag, make sure to check out the sequel: ThanksKilling 3. (No one really knows what happened to ThanksKilling 2.)

2. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

Fittingly, the same man who brought us A Christmas Story also brought us its twisted cousin. Before Bob Clark co-wrote and directed the 1983 saga of Ralphie Parker, he helmed Black Christmas. It concerns a group of sorority sisters who are systematically picked off by a man who keeps making threatening phone calls to their house. Oh, and it all happens during the holidays. Black Christmas is often considered the godfather of holiday horror, but it was also pretty early on the slasher scene, too. It opened the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and beat Halloween by a full four years.

3. SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)

This movie isn’t about Santa Claus himself going berserk and slaughtering a bunch of people. But it is about a troubled teen who does just that in a Santa suit. Billy Chapman starts Silent Night, Deadly Night as a happy little kid, only to witness a man dressed as St. Nick murder his parents in cold blood. Years later, after he has grown up and gotten a job at a toy store, he conducts a killing spree in his own red-and-white suit. The PTA and plenty of critics condemned the film for demonizing a kiddie icon, but it turned into a bona fide franchise with four sequels and a 2012 remake.

4. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (2010)

This Finnish flick dismantles Santa lore in truly bizarre fashion, and it’s not easy to explain in a quick plot summary. But Rare Exports involves a small community living at the base of Korvatunturi mountain, a major excavation project, a bunch of dead reindeer, and a creepy old naked dude who may or may not be Santa Claus. Thanks to its snowy backdrop, the movie scored some comparisons to The Thing, but the hero here isn’t some Kurt Russell clone with equally feathered hair. It’s a bunch of earnest kids and their skeptical dads, who all want to survive the holidays in one piece.

5. TO ALL A GOODNIGHT (1980)

To All a Goodnight follows a by-now familiar recipe: Add a bunch of young women to one psycho dressed as Santa Claus and you get a healthy dose of murder and this 1980 slasher flick. Only this one takes place at a finishing school. So it’s fancier.

6. KRAMPUS (2015)

Although many Americans are blissfully unaware of him, Krampus has terrorized German-speaking kids for centuries. According to folklore, he’s a yuletide demon who punishes naughty children. (He’s also part-goat.) That’s some solid horror movie material, so naturally Krampus earned his own feature film. In the movie, he’s summoned because a large suburban family loses its Christmas cheer. That family has an Austrian grandma who had encounters with Krampus as a kid, so he returns to punish her descendants. He also animates one truly awful Jack-in-the-Box.

7. THE GINGERDEAD MAN (2005)

“Eat me, you punk b*tch!” That’s one of the many corny catchphrases spouted by the Gingerdead Man, an evil cookie possessed by the spirit of a convicted killer (played by Gary Busey). The lesson here, obviously, is to never bake.

8. JACK FROST (1997)

No, this isn’t the Michael Keaton snowman movie. It’s actually a holiday horror movie that beat that family film by a year. In this version, Jack Frost is a serial killer on death row who escapes prison and then, through a freak accident, becomes a snowman. He embarks on a murder spree that’s often played for laughs—for instance, the cops threaten him with hairdryers. But the comedy is pretty questionable in the infamous, and quite controversial, Shannon Elizabeth shower scene.

9. ELVES (1989)

Based on the tagline—“They’re not working for Santa anymore”—you’d assume this is your standard evil elves movie. But Elves weaves Nazis, bathtub electrocutions, and a solitary, super grotesque elf into its utterly absurd plot. Watch at your own risk.

10. SINT (2010)

The Dutch have their own take on Santa, and his name is Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas travels to the Netherlands via steamship each year with his racist sidekick Zwarte Piet. But otherwise, he’s pretty similar to Santa. And if Santa can be evil, so can Sinterklaas. According to the backstory in Sint (or Saint), the townspeople burned their malevolent bishop alive on December 5, 1492. But Sinterklaas returns from the grave on that date whenever there’s a full moon to continue dropping bodies. In keeping with his olden origins, he rides around on a white horse wielding a golden staff … that he can use to murder you.

11. SANTA’S SLAY (2005)

Ever wonder where Santa came from? This horror-comedy claims he comes from the worst possible person: Satan. The devil’s kid lost a bet many years ago and had to pretend to be a jolly gift-giver. But now the terms of the bet are up and he’s out to act like a true demon. That includes killing Fran Drescher and James Caan, obviously.

12. ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE (2015)

Another Santa slasher is on the loose in All Through the House, but the big mystery here is who it is. This villain dons a mask during his/her streak through suburbia—and, as the genre dictates, offs a bunch of promiscuous young couples along the way. The riddle is all tied up in the disappearance of a little girl, who vanished several years earlier.

13. CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)

Several years before Silent Night, Deadly Night garnered protests for its anti-Kringle stance, Christmas Evil put a radicalized Santa at the center of its story. The movie’s protagonist, Harry Stadling, first starts to get weird thoughts in his head as a kid when he sees “Santa” (really his dad in the costume) groping his mom. Then, he becomes unhealthily obsessed with the holiday season, deludes himself into thinking he’s Santa, and goes on a rampage. The movie is mostly notable for its superfan John Waters, who lent commentary to the DVD and gave Christmas Evil some serious cult cred.

14. SANTA CLAWS (1996)

If you thought this was the holiday version of Pet Sematary, guess again. The culprit here isn’t a demon cat in a Santa hat, but a creepy next-door neighbor. Santa Claws stars B-movie icon Debbie Rochon as Raven Quinn, an actress going through a divorce right in the middle of the holidays. She needs some help caring for her two girls, so she seeks out Wayne, her neighbor who has an obsessive crush on her. He eventually snaps and dresses up as Santa Claus in a ski mask. Mayhem ensues.

15. NEW YEAR’S EVIL (1980)

Because the holidays aren’t over until everyone’s sung “Auld Lang Syne,” we can’t count out New Year’s Eve horror. In New Year’s Evil, lady rocker Blaze is hosting a live NYE show. Everything is going well, until a man calls in promising to kill at midnight. The cops write it off as a prank call, but soon, Blaze’s friends start dropping like flies. Just to tie it all together, the mysterious murderer refers to himself as … “EVIL.”

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