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Carol Burnett special tonight on PBS

Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:18 pm

Check your local PBS listings for dates & times on ... ain-prize/

Carol Burnett takes home the Mark Twain prize

By Margy Rochlin

November 23, 2013 | 3:53pm ... lcover.jpg

Carol Burnett is famous for a lot of things: her boneless physicality and her full-bore Tarzan yodel. Then there was the experience in the 1960s with a CBS network executive. Upon suggesting to him that she headline a sketch comedy series, he told her it was a “man’s game” and then offered her a sitcom called “Here’s Agnes.”

Carol Burnett receives the Mark Twain for American humor in Washington, D.C.Photo: Scott Suchman

Part of what makes Burnett a pioneer is how out of touch she proved him: Her legendary variety series “The Carol Burnett Show” topped the ratings for its entire 11 years. But there was also something about how Burnett, now 80, ran the show that was distinctive: She and the cast — Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner — always radiated a happy team spirit. Calling from her home in Montecito, Calif., she says, “I wanted it to be a true rep company. You’re only as good as the show itself.”

To be sure, she set the amiable tone, but she also hand-picked each ensemble member. She convinced Conway, post-“McHale’s Navy,” to stay in Hollywood. She offered Korman the gig as he was getting into his car at the CBS parking lot. She knew Lawrence had the goods while watching her in something called The Miss Fireball Contest. When told that the unassailable chemistry they all had indicated that she has a keen eye for comic talent, Burnett replies, “I don’t brag about much, but yes, I do.”

Burnett dressed as her trademark charwoman character, on “The Carol Burnett Show.”

On Sunday PBS will air “Carol Burnett: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize,” a broadcast of the ceremony where Burnett received the top honor for American humor. There were the usual tributes by marquee-topping names (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Martin Short and Julie Andrews, among others), but even without the charming speeches, this show would be worth watching just for the clips — a greatest hits of Burnett characters, including the distracted secretary, Mrs. Wiggins, the deluded Eunice, and, of course, Starlet O’ Hara from the “Gone with the Wind” parody. In it, her Southern belle traipses down a staircase wearing a gown jerry-rigged from velvet drapes and a curtain-rod, a get-up now on display at the Smithsonian.

“That was Bob’s idea,” says Burnett of the show’s costume designer, Bob Mackie. She recalls how when she went in for her costume fitting for Starlet, Mackie — whose unique high-low talents she’d spotted while watching a Mitzi Gaynor TV special — had had a brainstorm. “He motioned for me to come into the next room and there it was, on the curtain rod, and I fell on the floor,” she says. “I said, ‘This is going to be one of the greatest sight gags ever.’ And it was.”

Burnett as Starlet O’Hara with Harvey Korman in a “Gone with the Wind” sketch.

As Nora Desmond, Burnett spoofed the Hollywood film “Sunset Boulevard.”

Burnett’s hard-won journey to becoming comedy royalty has been well-documented: The daughter of two alcoholics, she was raised by her grandmother. Post-graduation from Hollywood High, she was too strapped to afford the $42 tuition for UCLA until an envelope containing a $50 bill magically appeared in her mailbox. (To this day she doesn’t know who sent it.) She was a journalism major until a walk-on as a hillbilly in a college production earned roaring laughs from the audience. She never looked back.

Along the way, she’s written three best-selling books, and won six Emmys and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“A lot of things come to her, and she deserves all of them,” says Conway with genuine emotion. Then in a flight of whimsy he adds, “But she’s tired of lifting them so I have a little panel truck that I run around in and I collect all the trophies for her.”

“Surreal” was how Burnett remembers the star-studded evening, which included Tony Bennett bringing her to tears with his rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Asked why her Mark Twain Prize was so long in coming — Tina Fey, after all, received hers at 40 — Burnett admitted she’d been offered the award in years past but there were always scheduling conflicts. Besides, she adds, now she can savor the moment more.

“I’m kind of glad it worked out this way,” she says. “At this time in my life this is quite a boost.”

Carol Burnett - Funniest Moments Pt. 1:

Re: Carol Burnett special tonight on PBS

Sun Nov 24, 2013 7:01 pm

Nice, thank you for the heads up elvis4life.

I really wish whoever owns the rights to her old TV Show would put it back on TV in re-runs. Is it her that is preventing this or whoever owns those shows, because you can only get these shows by buying the DVD's. They have been hawking those DVD's on TV for years now, just like the the "Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts" which are great also. Are they making alot of money in selling them only as DVD's, i dought it, so why not put them back on TV, i don't get it. :smt017

Re: Carol Burnett special tonight on PBS

Sun Nov 24, 2013 8:50 pm

Carol played Steve McGarrett's aunt on this week's episode of (the new) Hawaii 5-0. She did a fine job.

Re: Carol Burnett special tonight on PBS

Sun Nov 24, 2013 10:14 pm

She was on "The Talk" just the other day. She has not aged at all. But then again it could be plastic surgery.

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