It was the last of the great TV variety series. From 1967 to 1978, “The Carol Burnett Show” was a staple of CBS’ prime time line-up, as it entertained viewers with original comedy sketches, impressive Broadway-quality musical and dance numbers (and mini-musicals), memorable characters, movie and TV parodies, top notch special celebrity guests and a line-up of regular cast members who ended up being just as popular as the show’s namesake.
Burnett, now 83, still has fond memories of fronting her variety series through 11 seasons from CBS Television City in Hollywood. In fact, she had so much fun doing it, she affectionately referred to her show as “the sandbox”. And thanks to a recently-released DVD boxed set of some of the “lost episodes” between 1967 and 1972, and a PBS special, future generations can appreciate why “The Carol Burnett Show” ranks up there as one of TV’s greatest variety series, along with “Texaco Star Theatre” with Milton and “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. And that appreciation is extended even further with the release of Burnett’s fourth book In Such Good Company.
The book is basically a collection of Burnett’s own anecdotes and reminiscences that deal with 11 years’ worth of personal and professional highlights of putting together her show. The impression you get after reading this book is that Burnett enjoyed each and every moment of these 11 years, and has a special degree of respect, admiration and affection for every person who work alongside her, many of whom were with the show for its entire run, whether it be her husband and executive producer Joe Hamilton, costume designer Bob Mackie, or her cast of regulars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway.
And Burnett recalls with great detail what made “The Carol Burnett Show” so special in the truest “behind-the-scenes” fashion. We find out why she had Jim Nabors (of “Gomer Pyle” fame) as the show’s guest star for every season premiere throughout the show’s run; the story behind the famous dentist sketch in 1969 (in which a bumbling rookie dentist played by Conway kept on accidentally injecting himself with novocaine, which resulted in Harvey Korman – who played the patient – vainly trying not to break up laughing); select highlights from Burnett’s Q&A sessions that began every show; how Bob Mackie came up with the famous curtain rod dress that Burnett wore during their famous “Gone with the Wind” parody (which got the show’s biggest and loudest laugh from the audience); how Burnett “fired” Harvey Korman in 1973 after he insulted then-guest Petula Clark during rehearsals, and told him that in order to be reinstated, he had to return to the studios the following day with a smile on his face; detailed descriptions of some of the show’s best known movie parodies (“Mildred Pierce”, “Gilda”, “Love Story”); having the golden opportunity to perform alongside a wealth of high caliber celebrity guests (many of whom were her movie idols) like Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Betty Grable, Bing Crosby, Vincent Price and Jimmy Stewart; and of course, the origins of some of the show’s most popular characters and sketches, from “The Family”, to “As the Stomach Turns”, to Stella Toddler, to the Charwoman. And as an added bonus, there is a detailed appendix at the end of the book that chronologically lists every broadcast, which includes the airdates and every guest who appeared on the show.
In Such Good Company will certainly delight classic TV buffs and fans of “The Carol Burnett Show”. It shows that she helmed the program with a great deal of care and affection, and developed a family-like atmosphere that helped bring the best out of every person who was involved with the show, whether it be in front of, or behind, the camera. And the end result paid off tremendously when the show aired every week, and steadily earned its reputation as an enduring piece of classic television. No wonder we were so glad to have this time together with Carol Burnett and company for 11 memorable years.
(Crown Archetype, $37)
By Stuart Nulman – mtltimes.ca