The comic legend recalls her favorite behind-the-scenes TV moments.
It was as if no time had passed when Carol Burnett confidently strode onto the stage of NYC’s sold-out Beacon Theatre for a recent event billed as “An Evening of Laughter & Reflection.” Just as she did during the opening segment of her classic skitcom The Carol Burnett Show from 1967 to 1978, she fielded questions from the crowd and ad-libbed witty answers. “What do you love to do in your free time?” one audience member asked. “George Clooney,” Carol deadpanned. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t like that.”
Clearly, at 83, Carol’s still got it. And she’s sharing it with her adoring fans, not only in her live shows but also in a new book, In Such Good Company. “Looking back, I can see we were charmed from the start,” she says of her CBS sketch comedy. “Everything miraculously fell into place with little or no angst!”
That includes the show’s peerless comic ensemble. “What are the odds of finding a talent like Vicki because of a fan letter sent by a 17-year-old?” Carol says of hiring Vicki Lawrence, after the teen had written to her because everyone said they looked alike. “I grew up there,” Vicki, 67, tells Closer of her
years on Carol’s show. “You don’t really work with Carol. You play with her. It was such a nurturing, fun environment. I was thrilled, but I think I was too young and naive to appreciate the enormity of it at the time.”
As for Harvey Korman, “He prided himself on being the consummate comedic actor, and that is what he was — except when it came to Tim Conway,” Carol says of his frequent scene partner, who was constantly cracking up Harvey. “Tim’s goal in life was to destroy Harvey.” And he often succeeded.
Still, Harvey could be moody, and after he was rude to guest star Petula Clark during rehearsal for an Elvis-themed sketch in the show’s seventh season, Carol fired him. He begged for his job back, and Carol relented, under one condition: “I want to see you cheerful,” she demanded. “In fact, it would tickle me pink to see you skipping around and hear you whistling in the hall!” The hatchet was buried, and Harvey remained best of friends with Carol until he passed away after an aneurysm in 2008 at age 81.
Carol, of course, endured other hardships in her life. Her alcoholic parents left her with her grandmother in an impoverished section of Hollywood during the Depression, and Carol’s daughter, Carrie Hamilton, battled drug addiction and died of brain and lung cancer at 38 in 2002. But through it all, Carol maintained her upbeat sense of humor and willingness to tackle any topic. The most embarrassing preshow query she’s ever received? “Whether or not I’d had a sex change. I think that takes the cake.”
Here’s the icing on top: “There’s been talk of doing a possible [new] show on Netflix,” Carol says. “They’re interested, so we’ll see.” That could make Carol’s legions of devotees break out into her patented Tarzan yells.