PBS showcases Carol Burnett in all her hilarity

  • By Kathy Blumenstock The Washington Post
  • Friday, November 2, 2007 2:34pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The classic bits from “The Carol Burnett Show” are all here: Starlet O’Hara clad in green drapes, complete with curtain-rod shoulder pads; frizzy-haired Eunice, shrilly badmouthing her family; and that unparalleled Tarzan yell.

A new PBS documentary, “Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character,” showcases the comedian’s signature creations and revisits a prime-time era in which variety shows reigned.

“There’s nothing like that on the air now,” said Burnett, 74, who rose to comic stardom as a cast member of “The Garry Moore Show,” seen in black-and-white film clips during the documentary. “You’ve got dance shows and singing shows, but the networks don’t trust the V-word now.”

Burnett said she was flattered when “American Masters” producers approached her about doing the documentary.

“It’s a living, moving scrapbook, and I thought it would be nice for my grandchildren and, someday, great-grandchildren to see,” she said. She had been impressed with the “American Masters” featuring Bob Newhart in 2006, she said, “but I don’t know where they found some of that (footage).”

The documentary includes Burnett’s reflections on her career, as well as interviews with colleagues and friends. Also featured: vintage film of appearances with Ed Sullivan and on Moore’s show, a weekly collection of songs, skits and stand-up that spotlighted Burnett’s versatile wit and timing.

The 90-minute program includes one of Burnett’s rarely seen performances of a novelty song that brought her national attention: “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles.” Dulles was then secretary of state.

“After I had done that number on the Jack Paar show, he (Dulles) was on ‘Meet the Press,’ ” Burnett recalled. “The interviewer asked him, ‘Mr. Secretary, what is going on between you and this girl who sings that love song about you?’ And he got this twinkle in his eye and said, ‘I never discuss matters of the heart in public.’ “

Burnett also has done a significant amount of film and stage work, and the special shows footage of her in the 1964 TV adaptation of her Broadway musical hit “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Her longtime friends and comic foils Tim Conway and Harvey Korman are among the interviewees, along with other cast members and writers from her CBS variety series.

Contemporaries Julie Andrews, Betty White, Florence Henderson and Phyllis Diller pay tribute. Also interviewed are performers influenced by Burnett’s career, such as Jenna Elfman and Tracy Ullman. Ullman was Burnett’s co-star in another TV version of “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Burnett’s own reminiscences include a look at her childhood. The daughter of divorced, alcoholic parents, Burnett was raised primarily by her maternal grandmother — the beloved “Nanny” who inspired Burnett’s familiar ear-tweak tribute. The shy Burnett found an outlet for make-believe in the movies she and her grandmother attended nearly every day.

“The exciting thing is, I grew up watching Betty Grable and Lana Turner, and they ended up being guests on the show,” Burnett said.

“The Carol Burnett Show,” spanning 11 seasons (from 1967-78) and capturing 25 Emmys, remains one of Burnett’s favorite experiences.

“We played for the studio audience, and we’d just go as if it were a live show,” she said. “I always believed if the 300 folks in the audience are gonna laugh, so are the ones watching at home. We didn’t do many retakes — unless the scenery fell down and hit someone.”

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Life

Rose Freeman (center) and Anastasia Allison of The Musical Mountaineers play atop Sauk Mountain near Concrete in October 2017. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Musical Mountaineers’ sunset serenade to launch Adopt a Stream campaign

The nonprofit aims to transform into an “accessible model of sustainability,” with solar panels, electric vehicles and more.

Coupeville Beekeeper Bruce Eckholm collects a swarm of bees in Oak Harbor (Photo courtesy of Gary Gillespie)
Coupeville beekeeper wards off large swarm

Oak Harbor residents were at home on Thursday when buzzing thundered from outside.

Leslie Davis, left, and Lyndsay Lamb, twin sister stars of HGTV's "Unsellable Houses" and 2004 Snohomish High School graduates, donated a private design session to the school's auction fundraiser for their 20-year reunion. (Photo provided)
Got $2,000? Bid on face time with HGTV’s ‘Unsellable Houses’ twins

The sisters are offering up themselves in a fundraiser for their Class of 2004 Snohomish High 20-year reunion.

2024 Genesis G70 Sport Prestige RWD (Photo provided by Genesis)
2024 Genesis G70 Sport Prestige RWD

In my humble opinion, the 2024 Genesis G70 Sport Prestige sport sedan… Continue reading

Hyundai developed the 2024 Hyundai Kona platform with an electrified powertrain first. Exterior design of the gas-powered Kona (shown here) reflects the company’s transition toward EVs. (Photo provided by Hyundai)
2024 Hyundai Kona subcompact SUV is a grown-up

The feisty original has developed practicality and sophistication.

Joe Nichols will play Renegades in West Palm Beach on Saturday.
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Country artist Joe Nichols comes to Tulalip Resort Casino on Saturday and the Edmonds Arts Festival offers three days of art.

Many famous design firms were built to last because sons joined fathers

Nineteenth-century silversmith Samuel Kirk’s legacy lives on today because his sons and grandson followed in his footsteps.

Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens to host 3-day plant-sale fundraiser

Described as “a gardener’s paradise,” the sale will feature plants and trees from individual gardeners and local nurseries.

Great Plant Pick: Bowle’s golden sedge

What: Carex elata aurea is a wonderful clump-forming, grass-like sedge with bright… Continue reading

Happy Father's Day greeting card for a gardener father. Garden tools in a round shape. Watercolor gardening tools with the sign "Happy Father's Day". Hand-drawn garden clipart.
Dads dig plants, too. This Father’s Day, find a gift to grow his garden

From maples and conifers to fountains, statuaries and tools, garden centers offer a diversity of gifts both fun and useful.

Louise Grevstad, 79, with her free ice cream outside of Safeway on Thursday, May 30, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edmonds woman screamed — and got her free Safeway ice cream

Louise Grevstad, 79, was shut out from deals because she doesn’t have a smartphone. She didn’t think it was fair. So she went to the media.

Sam Schrantz waves a transgender pride flag during the Stanwood-Camano Pride event at Freedom Park in Camano, Washington on Saturday, June 1, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
She was a ‘lone soul’ before starting a Pride event for rural Snohomish County

In recent years, groups have led celebrations in Stanwood, Arlington, Lake Stevens and elsewhere — cities where “we absolutely need to find each other.”

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.