5:14pm

Sat October 6, 2012
Television

A Comedienne's Crowning Achievment

Originally published on Sun October 7, 2012 11:26 am

On Saturday nights in 1973, if you were a fan of good television, you stayed home.

CBS's Saturday Night lineup started at 8:00 PM with All In The Family, then M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and — at 10:00, the network's capstone — The Carol Burnett Show.

"A lot of time people stayed home," the legendary comedienne tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "People come and say to me, 'it was appointment television when you guys were on Saturday nights. I grew up on the show. It reminds me of when I was with my family and we would watch it.' It does my heart good to know that."

Now, the glimmer of that classic night of television is a little closer. A new DVD collection from Time Life features full episodes of The Carol Burnett Show, released for the very first time, and hand-picked by Burnett as some of her favorites from the show's 11-year, 25-Emmy-winning run.

She talked to Guy Raz about the collection, some of her favorite moments and why she doesn't do her Tarzan yell in public anymore.

Interview Highlights


On one of her most famous sketches, "Went With The Wind," and the curtain-rod dress


"We wanted to do a capsulized version of Gone With the Wind. Our writers who wrote that were two young people, one of whom did his thesis on Gone with the Wind, so he knew every single scene... That costume was Bob Mackie's idea, our costume designer. It was his idea to make the dress a curtain rod dress. Originally it was written that I would just fling the dress over me and come down the stairs, but it was Bob's genius that came up with that."

On her favorite audience Q & A

"There was one lady who wanted to sing, and so I said, 'Okay, come on up.' She was fearless and the audience started to laugh and she calmed them... and I said, 'So what do you want to sing?' and without even looking at me she looked towards the band and she said, 'You Made Me Love Ya in the key of G!' I mean, it was like she took over. She started signing and the band was playing, and she was pretty good. She was wailing away. I knew the song, so I joined in with her, and we are having a great duet ... Until the end, the ride out, the tail end of the song. I knew it one way, and she knew it as another way, and it started to kind of peter out, and she looked at me and said, 'Well, you screwed it up.' You can't write that stuff. It was just brilliant, I loved it."

On appearance for women in comedy

"I wanted to go into comedy, and musical comedy, really. I was in California and I was going to UCLA, and I knew I certainly didn't have movie star looks. I remember seeing pictures and photos of Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, who were kind of average looking. I said, well that's for me, then, to go back to New York, and try to be in musical comedy on Broadway... Larry Galvary, who was one of the top comedy writers around, he created M*A*S*H... He was quoted as saying, 'Carol Burnette is almost very pretty." The interviewer who told me this asked me my response and I said, 'Well tell Larry that's almost very nice of him.'"

On the story behind Harvey Korman and Tim Conway's famous sketch, "The Dentist"

"Tim came up with the whole Novocain thing, which Harvey had never seen, and Harvey was helpless in that chair. Tim started shooting himself with the Novocain, and then finally destroying himself throughout the sketch. Poor Harvey was helpless. Harvey literally wet his pants. He was so mad at himself about laughing so hard. It was a classic. I think it's in some dental schools now."

Why she doesn't do the Tarzan yell unless you're ready for it

"One time I was at Bergdorf Goodman years ago, and I was buying some stockings. I was late for rehearsal. It was around 10 in the morning, and the store had just opened... It was empty, the lingerie floor. The customers really hadn't come in yet. The sales lady was very sweet. She recognized me and she asked me for like five autographs for her grandchildren, so I signed them and everything. She got the stockings, and I mistakenly didn't bring my right credit card. I said, 'Gee, I'm sorry, I didn't bring my card. Can I write you a check?' She said, 'I'll need some identification.' ... She said, 'Miss, I know who you are, but we need to have identification if we accept a check. Let me ask the floor manager.' ... So she walked over to [her] and she kind of waved and smiled, and she said [she] will approve your check if you do the Tarzan yell. Now, it was empty, so I said okay. So, I did the Tarzan yell and immediately behind the sales lady there was an exit door. It burst open and there was a security guard with a gun. So, I only do the Tarzan yell when people expect it."



Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. On Saturday nights in 1973, if you were a fan of great television, you stayed home.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From Television City in Hollywood...

CAROL BURNETT: Our lineup on Saturday night was pretty incredible.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

CARROLL O'CONNOR: (Singing) Boy, the way Glenn Miller played...

BURNETT: It was "All in the Family"...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ALL IN THE FAMILY")

JEAN STAPLETON: (Singing) Songs that made the hit parade...

BURNETT: ..."M.A.S.H."...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BURNETT: ...Mary Tyler Moore...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW")

SONNY CURTIS: (Singing) You might just make it after all...

BURNETT: ...Bob Newhart...

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BURNETT: ...and us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: The us was the legendary Carol Burnett, who for 11 years on CBS was a capstone to those evening's classic American TV. And now, she's offering fans a bit of the old glow of that living room television. A new DVD collection compiles 16 of Carol Burnett's favorite shows from her decade in primetime. I spoke with Carol Burnett this week about her favorite moments in the collection, about her career and why "The Carol Burnett Show" is her proudest achievement.

BURNETT: People come up and, you know, say to me: It was appointment television. It reminds me of when I was with my family and my - or my grandmother or my parents, and we would watch it. It does my heart good, let me say that, you know, to know that. And then we're on - a lot of our sketches are on YouTube. So now I'm getting mail from teenagers...

RAZ: So great.

BURNETT: (Unintelligible) 11- and 10-year-olds and stuff, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: "Went with the Wind" is...

BURNETT: Yeah.

RAZ: ...one of the most famous sketches you ever did.

BURNETT: Yes.

RAZ: In fact, 20 minutes long. It's - watching it is like watching - almost like watching a Neil Simon play.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: (as Starlet O'Hara) What am I going to do? Captain Butler is coming over. And he's got money, and I got to get it. And look at me. I look like the inside of a goat's stomach.

Well, that costume was Bob Mackie's idea, our costume designer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: (as Starlet O'Hara) Help me take these down.

He designed everything everybody wore on every show, which sometimes would go up to maybe 65, 70 costumes a week.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: (as Starlet O'Hara) Because I've got me a dress to make.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Character) Yeah.

BURNETT: And it was his idea to make the dress a curtain rod dress. Originally, it had been written that I would just fling the draperies over me and come down the stairs. But it was Bob's genius that came up with that.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

HARVEY KORMAN: (as Rat Butler) Starlet, I love you. That gown is gorgeous.

HARVEY KROMAN: (LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: (As Starlet O'Hara) Thank God. I saw it in the window, and I just couldn't resist it.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: One of the most amazing things about watching this show - even now - is the audience Q and A part.

BURNETT: Mm-hmm.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You plan on making any more movies?

BURNETT: Yes. I have great plans to make movies, yes. The producers don't have plans to call me, but I have great plans.

RAZ: And it was like the live show. It's improv right there.

BURNETT: Yes.

RAZ: It's just always these amazing, unscripted moments.

BURNETT: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: Did I ever go to acting school? Yes, I did. I took acting at UCLA, and then I went to Jeff Corey's class out here for a short while. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Has it done any good, do you think?

BURNETT: I don't know.

There was one lady who wanted to sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

TERRY MCCANN: I'd like to sing a song for the little lady from New York.

BURNETT: You want to sing?

And so I said, OK. Come on up.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: Oh, come on up.

You know, and she was fearless. And the audience started to laugh, and she calmed them down. And I said, what's your name?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: What's your name?

MCCANN: Terry McCann.

BURNETT: Terry, what do you want to sing?

And without even looking at me, she looked towards the band, and she said: "You Made Me Love You" in the key of G.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

MCCANN: "You Made Me Love You" in the key of G.

(LAUGHTER)

(Singing) You made me love you...

BURNETT: I mean, I was like, sheesh. It's over.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

MCCANN: (Singing) I didn't want to do it...

BURNETT: And she started to sing, the band was playing, and she was pretty good.

RAZ: Yes.

BURNETT: And she was wailing like...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

MCCANN: (Singing) I do, yeah, I do...

BURNETT: And I knew the song, so I joined in with her.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

CAROL BURNETT AND TERRY MCCANN: (Singing) Now, honey, give me, give me, give me what I cry...

BURNETT: And the audience is with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

MCCANN: (Singing) You know you have the brand of kisses that I'd die for...

BURNETT: Until the ride out of the tail end of the song, I knew it one way, and she knew it another.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

MCCANN: (Singing) Love you...

BURNETT: And she looked at me, and she goes, well you...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SONG")

MCCANN: Well, you screwed it up.

BURNETT: I'm sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: You can't write that stuff. I mean, it was just brilliant. I loved it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SONG")

MCCANN: (Singing) You...

RAZ: I'm speaking with the legendary comedienne Carol Burnett. Her new DVD collection from Time Life is called "The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: There's another amazing moment on this collection. It's the sketch called "The Dentist"...

BURNETT: Oh.

RAZ: ...with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.

BURNETT: Yeah.

RAZ: And I've got to ask you to tell the story of that sketch.

BURNETT: Well, it was written differently. And Harvey and Tim had rehearsed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

VICKI LAWRENCE: (as Character) Dr. Kiefer just graduated from dental school. As a matter of fact, you are his very first patient, so he may be a little nervous.

KORMAN: (as Character) He won't be the only one.

BURNETT: It was taped...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

LAWRENCE: Dr. Kiefer.

BURNETT: ...from the early show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

TIM CONWAY: (as Character) Yes, nurse.

LAWRENCE: (as Character) Your first patient is waiting.

BURNETT: Then comes the late show. The first one was the dress show, the second was the air show.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

KORMAN: (as Character) Doctor, if it's going to hurt, please give me something to kill the pain.

CONWAY: (as Character) Yeah, OK. Well, I got some Novocain right here.

BURNETT: Tim then came up with the whole Novocain thing...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

CONWAY: (as Character) OK. Novocain. Novocain: take the firm hold of a hypodermic needle, right.

BURNETT: ...which Harvey had never seen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

CONWAY: (as Character) There will be a little bit of pain, and then numbness will set in.

BURNETT: And Tim started shooting himself with the Novocain and then finally destroying himself throughout the sketch.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

CONWAY: (as Character) Well, I guess we'll get right to it.

BURNETT: And poor Harvey was helpless. We've told this story - Tim talks about it - that Harvey literally wet his pants. He was so mad at himself about laughing so hard, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

CONWAY: (as Character) Yeah, I'll be right with you.

BURNETT: I never wanted to break up. Harvey certainly didn't because he was a consummate comedic actor. But I didn't want to stop because I wanted everybody to know that we were in a sense doing a live thing. It was the danger and the spontaneity that I think people are just - they locked into.

RAZ: Ear tugs don't make much noise...

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: Right.

RAZ: ...so...

BURNETT: Oh, no. You don't want me to.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: Do you still do the Tarzan yell?

BURNETT: Yeah, I can still do it. But it's - one time, I was at Bergdorf Goodman years and years ago, and I was buying some stockings. And it was - I was late for rehearsal. It was around 10 a.m. and the store just opened. And so this sales lady was very sweet, and I mistakenly didn't bring my right credit card. And I said: Oh, gee, I'm sorry. I don't have my card. Can I write you a check? And she said, well, I'll need some identification.

But I just - she said: No, Miss. I know who you are. She said, but let me ask the floor manager across the floor there. She was at the end of the room behind a very pretty desk. And she said: Let me ask Ms. Carlton. So she walked over to Ms. Carlton, and Ms. Carlton kind of waved and smiled. And then the saleslady came back, and she said: Ms. Carlton will approve your check if you'll do the Tarzan yell.

Now, it was empty, you know, right. And so I said, OK. So I did the Tarzan yell, and immediately, behind the saleslady there was an exit door, it was burst open. And there was a security guard with a gun. So I only do the Tarzan yell when people expect it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: (Singing) I'm so glad we had this time together...

RAZ: That's legendary comedienne and actress Carol Burnett. Her new DVD collection from Time Life is called "The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection." It's out now. Carol Burnett, thank you so much for joining us.

BURNETT: Thank you for asking me. I really appreciate it. And it was nice talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW")

BURNETT: (Singing) We have to say so long. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.