Though I was a little too young to have seen the episodes when they first aired (September 11, 1967-March 29, 1978), The Carol Burnett Show was an integral part of my childhood. I remember running home from school, throwing my bag down and turning on the television because The Carol Burnett Show came on at 4p.m., and I didn’t want to miss it. Carol Burnett broke new ground when the show first aired, as the first woman television variety show host without the aid of a man counterpart. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons, earned a handful of Emmys and even spawned a successful spin-off in the first-run syndication comedy sitcom Mama’s Family. Now, as The Carol Burnett Show turns 50-years-old, what better way to celebrate than to share some interesting facts and hilarious clips from what I consider to be one of the best television shows of all time.
The Cast: When the show first aired, the cast consisted of Carol, Vicki Lawrence (an 18-year-old unknown), Harvey Korman (who had been a regular on the Danny Kaye Show) and Lyle Waggoner (who was the first centerfold in Playgirl magazine). When Lyle left, a frequent and popular guest star, Tim Conway joined the show. Tim’s constant ad-libbing may have annoyed some cast members, but it made him a favorite among audiences. Finally Harvey left the show in its 10th season and Dick Van Dyke was brought in for a few months. Unfortunately, Dick couldn’t replicate the chemistry that Harvey had with the audience, so his stint as a cast member was short lived. However, he is in my favorite blooper from The Carol Burnett Show, a family sketch that shows Tim at his ad-libbing best. You can see Dick Van Dyke on the arm of the couch by Mama.
The Look: All of the costumes on The Carol Burnett Show were created by designer Bob Mackie, who had to design 60 or more costumes a week for the sketch comedy show. His designs helped the actors create their characters. For example, Mrs. Wiggins was supposed to be an elderly woman but Mackie had something else in mind when he created her curvy outfit. When Carol tried it on, it was tight around the knees and baggy in the behind. She asked him to take it up, but he said no. She needed to stick her behind into it. So Carol did, creating Mrs. Wiggins characteristic walk. However Mackie’s most iconic design for Carol was the Scarlett O’Hara curtain dress for their parody sketch of Gone with the Wind. This dress can be found in the Smithsonian, and you can even buy a Barbie doll with the dress on.
The Opening: Many sketch comedy shows would have a comedian come out and warm up the audience, but Carol’s executive producer worried that the comedian would be funnier than the sketches, so he suggested that Carol herself welcome the audience and do a quick Q&A. Having seen Gary Cooper do this sort of thing on his show, Carol embraced the idea. Over the next 11 seasons the question she was most asked was, “Can you do your Tarzan yell?” The yell was so well known that Carol was able to use it as a form of identification when she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet and was forced to write a check for some items at Bergdorf Goodman’s. Because she didn’t have ID, the floor manager told her she’d accept her check if Carol would do her Tarzan yell. So, Carol yelled, causing a security guard to burst into a nearby door and point his gun at her.
The Closing: Each episode of The Carol Burnett Show ended with Carol singing its theme song “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together.” This song was written by the show’s executive producer and Carol’s second husband, Joe Hamilton. As the song came to an end, Carol would tug on her ear, which was a special message to her grandmother, meaning “Hello” and “I love you.” Carol’s grandmother passed away while the show was still on the air, but Carol continued to signal her grandmother with her famous ear tug until the last show aired.
Finally, (because a friend of mine will kill me if I leave it out), I wanted to share one of my (and my friend’s) favorite sketches. Here is Tim Conway and Harvey Korman in “The Dentist” sketch. This sketch was based on a real event from when Tim was serving in the Army. He needed some dental work done, and the dentist he visited accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocaine. Of course, Tim ad-libs his way through the sketch as Harvey struggles to hold it together. In 2013, Tim told Conan O’Brien that Harvey was laughing so hard, he actually wet himself.
Now, if that didn’t make you laugh, you may need to watch it again. Of course, if it did make you laugh, you may want to watch it again.
If you love The Carol Burnett Show like I do, you might want to check with your local Half Price Books store or HPB.com for DVDs of the wonderful show. You can find lots of your favorite television shows at Half Price Books, like Soap, which is celebrating its 40th Anniversary this year or Rowan + Martin’s Laugh-In, which will be 50 next January. (We’ll talk more about that later.)
As for now, I’m so glad we had this time together to celebrate 50 years of The Carol Burnett Show. I guess it’s time for me to say so long.
Julie is Traffic Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.