You have to be of a certain age to have fond memories of the 80 year-old Burnett. For many, she will remain one of the most popular women in television that was, if not more so, at least as popular as Lucille Ball. And Burnett had been on Lucy’s show a few times.
Burnett was the queen of television comedy variety shows. For 12 years her Carol Burnett Show ruled the ratings on CBS and her crew of “regulars” that included Tim Conway, Lyle Waggoner, Harvey Korman, and Vicki Lawrence, put on sketches with a number of “stars” who would drop by the show to participate in the fun.
Part of the fun of the program was seeing the comics working so well together and obviously loving what each person brought to the show, often cracking each other up during performances.
To say that the Mark Twain Prize is overdue would be the understatement of the century. While Ms Burnett hasn’t been around that long, she has performed in enough television, plays, and films to fill a century’s worth of time.
Burnett’s CBS show ran for a record 12 years and after the show finished several “specials” were aired that kept the show’s format but did not have Waggoner or Korman.
Carole Burnett has been one very busy comedienne. She has been on 65 television programs, including her own; worked on 19 films; performed in 14 stage plays; wrote her autobiography and co-wrote a play with her daughter.
Burnett has won 18 awards for her television performances and for her show. She’s been nominated 29 times for same. She also has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She has been a firm favourite with fans for years and she always has time for them, giving autographs and taking the time to talk to them. She has always said that she has no time for “stars” who complain about lack of privacy.
She got her professional start in show business when an un-named beneficiary gave her and her, then, husband a thousand dollar interest free loan each so they could head off for New York to find work. The only provision was that they pay the loan off within five years and that they help others out after they had succeeded.
In 1966, Lucille Ball became a close friend and a mentor to Burnett. After Lucy guested on Burnett’s highly successful CBS-TV special Carol + 2 she had Burnett reciprocate by appearing on The Lucy Show. Ball reportedly offered Burnett her own sitcom called Here’s Agnes, that would have been produced by Ball’s and husband Desi Arnaz’s Desilu Productions.
Carole Burnett declined the offer, not wanting to commit herself to a weekly series. The two remained close friends until Ball’s death in 1989. Lucy sent flowers every year on her birthday. When Burnett awoke on the day of her 56th birthday in 1989, she discovered via the morning news that Ball had died. Later that afternoon, flowers arrived at Burnett’s house with a note reading, “Happy Birthday, Kid. Love, Lucy.”
Many people are referred to a “institutions” and Carole Burnett fits that description better than anyone ever described as such. She has always been funny, entertaining and touching in her comedy; whether it was on her own show, or someone else’s.
Considering that Mark Twain was one of America’s great comedic personalities, it seems only right that Carol Creighton Burnett should win the prize bearing his name.
It just shouldn’t have taken so long.
By Michael Smith