Carol Creighton Burnett (born April 26, 1933) is an American actress, comedian, singer, dancer and writer. Burnett started her career in New York. After becoming a hit on Broadway, she made her television debut. After successful appearances on The Garry Moore Show, Burnett moved to Los Angeles and began an eleven-year run on The Carol Burnett Show which was aired on CBS television from 1967 to 1978. With roots in vaudeville, The Carol Burnett Show was a variety show which combined comedy sketches, song, and dance. The comedy sketches included film parodies and character pieces. Burnett created many characters during the show's television run.
After spending her first year in New York working as a hat check girl and failing to land acting jobs, Burnett along with other girls living at The Rehearsal Club, a boarding house for women seriously pursuing an acting career, put on The Rehearsal Club Revue on March 3, 1955. They mailed invitations to agents, who showed up along with stars like Celeste Holm and Marlene Dietrich, and this opened doors for several of the girls. Burnett was cast in a minor role on The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show in 1955. She played the girlfriend of a ventriloquist’s dummy on the popular children’s program. This role led to her starring role opposite Buddy Hackett in the short-lived sitcom Stanley from 1956 to 1957.
After Stanley, Burnett found herself unemployed for a short time. She eventually bounced back a few months later as a highly popular performer on the New York circuit of cabarets and night clubs, most notably for a hit parody number called "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles" (Dulles was Secretary of State at the time). In 1957, Burnett performed this number on both The Tonight Show, hosted by Jack Paar, and The Ed Sullivan Show. Burnett also worked as a regular on one of television's earliest game shows, Pantomime Quiz, during this time. In 1957, just as Burnett was achieving her first small successes, her mother died.
Burnett and Larry Blyden from The Garry Moore Show, 1960.
Burnett's first true taste of success came with her appearance on Broadway in the 1959 musical Once Upon a Mattress. The same year, she became a regular player on The Garry Moore Show, a job that lasted until 1962. She won an Emmy that year for her "Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series" on the show. Burnett portrayed a number of characters, most memorably the put-upon cleaning woman who would later become her signature alter-ego. With her success on the Moore show, Burnett finally rose to headliner status and appeared in the 1962 special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, co-starring her friend Julie Andrews. The show was produced by Bob Banner, directed by Joe Hamilton, and written by Mike Nichols and Ken Welch. Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Music. Burnett also guest-starred on a number of shows during this time, including The Twilight Zone episode "Cavender is Coming" and a recurring role as a tough female Marine in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.. Burnett became good friends with the latter show's star, Jim Nabors, who would later be her first guest every season on her variety show.
In 1963, Lucille Ball became a friend and mentor to Burnett, and after having the younger performer guest star on The Lucy Show a number of times, Ball reportedly offered Burnett her own sitcom called "Here's Agnes", to be produced by Desilu Productions. Burnett declined the offer, however, deciding instead to put together a variety show. The two remained close friends until Ball's death in 1989.
The hour-long Carol Burnett Show, which debuted in 1967, garnered 23 Emmy Awards and won or was nominated for multiple Emmy Awards every season it was on the air. Its ensemble cast included Tim Conway (who was a guest player until the ninth season), Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and the teenaged Vicki Lawrence (who was cast partly because she looked like a younger Burnett). The network did not want her to do a variety show because they believed only men could be successful at variety, but Burnett's contract required that they give her one season of whatever kind of show she wanted to make. She chose to carry on the tradition of past variety show successes.
A true variety show, The Carol Burnett Show struck a chord with viewers. Among other things, it parodied films ("Went With the Wind" for Gone With the Wind), television ("As the Stomach Turns" for the soap opera As the World Turns) and commercials. Musical numbers were also a frequent feature. Burnett and her team struck gold with the original skit "The Family", which eventually was spun off into its own television show called Mama's Family, starring Vicki Lawrence.
Burnett opened most shows with an impromptu question and answer session with the audience, lasting a few minutes, during which she often demonstrated her ability to humorously ad lib. On numerous occasions, she obliged when asked to perform her trademark Tarzan yell.
Burnett ended each show by tugging her ear, which was a message to her grandmother who had raised her. This was done to let her know that she was doing well and that she loved her. During the show's run, Burnett's grandmother died. On an Intimate Portrait episode on Burnett, she tearfully recalled her grandmother's last moments: "She said to my husband Joe from her hospital bed 'Joe, you see that spider up there?' There was no spider but Joe said he did anyhow. She said 'Every few minutes a big spider jumps on that little spider and they go at it like RABBITS!!' And then she died. There's laughter in everything!" Burnett continued the tradition of tugging her ear.
The Carol Burnett Show ceased production in 1978, and is generally regarded as the last successful major network prime-time variety show. It continues to have success in syndicated reruns.