The entertainment world has enjoyed a five-decade love affair with comedienne/singer Carol Burnett. A peerless sketch performer and delightful, self-effacing personality who rightfully succeeded Lucille Ball as the carrot-topped "Queen of Television Comedy," it was Burnett's traumatic childhood that set the stage for her comedy.
Carol's rags-to-riches story started out in San Antonio, Texas, on April 26, 1933, where she was born to Jodie and Louise Burnett, both of whom suffered from acute alcoholism. As a child, she was left in the care of a beloved grandmother, who shuttled the two of them off to Hollywood, California, where they lived in a boarding house and shared a great passion for the Golden Age of movies. The plaintive, loose-limbed, highly sensitive Carol survived her wallflower insecurities by grabbing attention as a cut-up at Hollywood High School. A natural talent, she attended the University of California and switched majors from journalism to theater. Scouting out comedy parts on TV and in the theater, she first had them rolling in the aisles in the mid-1950s performing a lovelorn novelty song called "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles" (then Secretary of State) in a nightclub act. This led to night-time variety show appearances with Jack Paar and Ed Sullivan and where the career ball really started rolling.
Carol's first big TV breaks came at age 22 and 23 as a foil to a ventriloquist's dummy on the already-established "The Paul Winchell Show" (1950) in 1955, and as Buddy Hackett's gawky girlfriend on the short-lived sitcom "Stanley" (1956). She also developed an affinity for game shows and appeared as a regular on one of TV earliest, "Stump the Stars" (1947) in 1958. While TV would bring Carol fans by the millions, it was Broadway that set her on the road to stardom. She began as the woebegone Princess Winnifred in the 1959 Broadway musical "Once Upon a Mattress" which earned her first Tony Award nomination. [She would later appear in three TV adaptations - Once Upon a Mattress (1964) (TV), Once Upon a Mattress (1972) (TV) and Once Upon a Mattress (2005) (TV).] This, in turn, led to the first of an armful of Emmy Awards as a repertoire player on the popular variety series "The Garry Moore Show" (1958) in 1959. Burnett invented a number of scene-stealing characters during this time, most notably her charwoman character. With the phenomenal household success of the Moore show, she moved up quickly from second banana to headliner and appeared in a 1962 Emmy-winning special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall (1962) (TV) co-starring close friend Julie Andrews. She earned the Outer Critics Circle Award for the short-lived musical "Fade Out, Fade In" (1964); and made her official film debut opposite "Bewitched" (1964) star Elizabeth Montgomery and Dean Martin in the lightweight comedy Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed? (1963).
Not surprisingly, fellow redhead Lucille Ball, who had been Carol's treasured idol growing up, subsequently became a friend and mentor to the rising funny girl. Hilarious as a guest star on "The Lucy Show" (1962), Carol appeared as a painfully shy (natch) wallflower type who suddenly blooms in jaw-dropping fashion. Ms. Ball was so convinced of Carol's talent that she offered Carol her own Desilu-produced sitcom, but Burnett had her heart set on fronting a variety show. With her own team of second bananas, including character crony Harvey Korman, handsome foil Lyle Waggoner, and lookalike "kid sister" type Vicki Lawrence, the "The Carol Burnett Show" (1967) became an instant sensation, and earned 22 Emmy Awards during its 11-year run. It allowed Carol to fire off her wide range of comedy and musical ammunition--whether running amok in broad sketch comedy, parodying movie icons such as Gloria Swanson, Shirley Temple, Vivien Leigh or Joan Crawford, or singing/gushing alongside favorite vocalists Jim Nabors, Steve Lawrence, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé. She managed to bring in huge stars not known at all for slapstick comedy, including Rock Hudson and even then-Governor Ronald Reagan while providing a platform for such up-and-coming talent as Bernadette Peters and The Pointer Sisters In between, Carol branched out with supporting turns in the films Pete 'n' Tillie (1972), The Front Page (1974) and Robert Altman's A Wedding (1978).
Her program, whose last episode aired in March of 1978, was the last truly successful major network variety show to date. Carol took on new challenges to display her unseen dramatic mettle, and accomplished this amazingly in TV-movie showcases. She earned an Emmy nomination for her gripping portrayal of anti-Vietnam War activist Peg Mullen in Friendly Fire (1979) (TV), and convincingly played a woman coming to terms with her alcoholism in Life of the Party: The Story of Beatrice (1982) (TV). Neither character bore any traces of the usual Burnett comedy shtick. Though she proved she could contain herself for films, Carol was never able to acquire crossover success into movies, despite trouper work in The Four Seasons (1981), Annie (1982) (as the hammy villainess Miss Hannigan), and Noises Off... (1992). The last two roles had been created onstage by Broadway's Dorothy Loudon.
Carol would return from time to time to the stage and concert forums with productions of "Plaza Suite", "I Do! I Do", "Follies", "Company" and "Putting It Together". A second Tony nomination came for her comedy work in "Moon Over Buffalo" in 1995. Carol has made frequent appearances on her own favorite TV shows too, such as "Password All-Stars" (1961) (along with Elizabeth Montgomery, Carol was considered one of the show's best players) and the daytime soaper, "All My Children" (1970).
During the early 1990s, Carol attempted a TV comeback of sorts, with a couple of new variety formats in "Carol & Company" (1990) and "The Carol Burnett Show" (1991), but neither could recreate the magic of the original. She has appeared, sporadically, on various shows, such as "Magnum, P.I." (1980), "Touched by an Angel" (1994), "Mad About You" (1992) (for which she won an Emmy) and "Desperate Housewives" (2004). Befitting such a classy clown, she has received a multitude of awards over time, including the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985. Her personal life has been valiant--tears in between the laughs. Married three times, her second union with jazz-musician-turned-variety-show-producer Joe Hamilton produced three daughters. Eldest girl, Carrie Hamilton, an actress and former teen substance abuser, tragically died of lung and brain cancer at age 38. Shortly before Carrie's death, mother and daughter managed to write a play, together, entitled "Hollywood Arms", based on Carol's 1986 memoir, "One More Time". The show subsequently made it to Broadway.
Today, at age 70 plus, Carol has been seen less frequently but continues to make appearances and sign off with her signature ear tug (acknowledging her late grandmother), reminding us all, between the wisecracks and the songs, how glad and lucky we all are to still have some of "this time together".
|Brian Miller||(24 November 2001 - present)|
|Joe Hamilton||(4 May 1963 - 11 May 1984) (divorced) 3 children|
|Don Saroyan||(15 December 1955 - 25 September 1962) (divorced)|
Shows off her left earring during all on-camera appearances as a way of saying "Hello" to her late grandmother. It was her grandmother who raised her and took her to the movies all the time.
On "The Carol Burnett Show" (1967), her favorite on stage Tarzan yell
Red hair and Hazel Eyes
Attended but did not complete her degree from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in 1954.
A.A. from U.C. Berkeley 
Born at 4:00am-CST
Was forced to drop out of the 1964 Broadway musical "Fade Out, Fade In" after sustaining a neck injury in a taxi accident. The show's producers sued her for breach of contract, but the suit was later dropped.
In 1981, she successfully sued the "National Enquirer" for libel, prompted by its article describing her alleged public drunkenness during an altercation with then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger while in a Washington restaurant. The case remains a landmark in the study of libel cases involving celebrities, even though the unprecedented $1.6 million verdict (including $300,000 in personal damages and $1.3 million in "punitive" damages) was later reduced on appeal and the case was eventually settled out of court. Burnett donated the money to charity. She said she pursued the lawsuit because, as the daughter of two deceased alcoholics, the gossip paper's fabrication wounded her emotionally and that they should be punished for their irresponsibility when writing lies about celebrities.
Daughter Erin Hamilton was Miss Golden Globe 1993.
Considered Jim Nabors to be her good luck charm. He appeared as a guest on the first episode of "The Carol Burnett Show" (1967), and when the show took off, she had him back on the first episode of every season.
When asked, on her show, who her favorite actor was, she replied, "Anthony Hopkins - you know, the little English guy?"
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy", by Ronald L. Smith, pg. 74-76. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
Lost her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, on January 20, 2002 to lung and brain cancer.
Once worked as an usherette at the Warner (now Pacific) Theater on Hollywood Blvd. One night, the movie playing was Alfred Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (1951), a film Carol had seen and loved. She advised a late arriving couple to wait until the next show, because the film was so good, it should be seen from beginning to end. The manager overheard her, rudely fired her on the spot, and humiliated her by ripping the epaulets off her usherette uniform. Decades later, when she was to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she was asked by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce where she would like it placed. Carol asked that her star be placed in front of the Pacific Theater. In her memoir "One More Time", she states the name of the manager who so rudely fired her, followed by an epithet that won't be repeated here. The star is at 6433 Hollywood Blvd.
1985: Inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.
Received a Special Tony Award in 1969. She was also twice nominated for the Tony Award - in 1960, as Best Actress (Musical) for "Once Upon a Mattress" and in 1996, as Best Actress (Play) for "Moon Over Buffalo.".
At age 10, comedian Jim Carrey sent her his resume.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush on 9 November 2005. Other recipients were Frank Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Gen. Richard Myers, Paul Rusesabagina, Andy Griffith, Aretha Franklin, Vint Cerf and his Internet codeveloper Robert Kahn, Jack Nicklaus, Alan Greenspan, and former congressman G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery.
Lucille Ball gave Carol her first baby shower.
Has appeared in three different television adaptations of "Once Upon A Mattress", the Broadway version of the fairy tale "The Princess and the Pea." In the 1964 and 1972 versions, she played Princess Winnifred. 33 years later, she played Queen Aggravain in the 2005 Disney adaptation.
On the morning of her fifty-sixth birthday, her good friend Lucille Ball died - April 26, 1989. That afternoon, Burnett received the flowers that Ball had ordered for her birthday.
In 1965, Carol broke her right leg playing softball.
Most familiar to children as the show-stealing Miss Hannigan in Annie.
Nominated for the 1960 Tony Award (New York City) for Actress in a Musical for "Once Upon a Mattress".
Nominated for the 1996 Tony Award (New York City) for Actress in a Musical for "Moon Over Buffalo".
Former stepmother of Jeffrey Hamilton.
Older sister of Chrissie Burnett.
Mother-in-law of Kurt West.
Fan of Jane Lynch.
Discovered protégé Vicki Lawrence at the age 17 and became a mentor to her.
Named recipient of the 2013 "Mark Twain Prize for American Humor" by the Kennedy Center [May 21, 2013].
Ex-sister-in-law of Dave Geisel.
Mentor and friend of Vicki Lawrence.
[about her youth] Sometimes a guy would ask me to jitterbug, but nine times out of ten, they were not only a foot shorter than I was, but geeks to boot.
Comedy is tragedy -- plus time.
Having seen Harvey Korman as Danny Kaye's second banana - this was like Carl Reiner to Sid Caesar and Art Carney to Jackie Gleason - I said, "We've got to get somebody like him." And when Danny's show went off the air, we said: "Duh. Why don't we get him?" When I do the Q&As, I talk about Harvey and pay tribute to him. He approached everything from an acting standpoint, and having the comedy chops to go with it, that's a jewel. When you play tennis, it's important to play with a better player because it makes your game better. Well, Harvey made my game better. I miss him dreadfully. And Tim Conway, God bless him, is just a genius when it comes to improvising, coming up with stuff that we never rehearsed.
I think the hardest thing to do in the world, show-business-wise, is write comedy. We had a great staff of writers, and if we had a sketch we were rehearsing and it wasn't working, we'd call the writers down and show them what we had come up with. And there were no egos. In 11 years, we never had a writer get angry because we made it a little bit more of our own and maybe a little improved. They would jump in and say, "Oh okay, how about this then, while you're doing that?" We were all in the sandbox together.
I was once asked to do my Tarzan yell at Bergdorf Goodman, and a guard burst in with a gun! Now I only do it under controlled circumstance.
I had the imprint as a child that if Mickey and Judy could put a show on in a barn and then it got to Broadway, well that's just the way things are! Inside I always knew I would be okay.
[on never trying stand-up comedy] I can't tell a joke to save my soul. It's just not my thing, though I love to listen to jokes. I remember Ed Wynn, a famous comedian who started out in vaudeville, once said "Stand-up comedians say funny things. Sketch comedians say things funny." Isn't that a good distinction?
I'm glad I was born when I was. My time was the golden age of variety. If I were starting out again now, maybe things would happen for me, but it certainly would not be on a variety show with 28 musicians, 12 dancers, two major guest stars, 50 costumes a week by Bob Mackie. The networks just wouldn't spend the money today.
|"The Paul Winchell Show" (1950)||$115/week|
(2006) Lives in New Mexico when not on location.
(2010) Release of her book, "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection".
(1988) Release of the book, "Laughing Till It Hurts: The Complete Life and Career of Carol Burnett" by J. Randy Taraborrelli.
(1986) Release of her book, "One More Time: A Memoir".
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