Carol Burnett is a much-loved-and-respected American comedienne, actress, singer and writer, who has been hailed as “Queen of Television Comedy”. She is best known for her incredibly successful variety comedy show ‘The Carol Burnett Show’, which ran for 11 glorious years, winning 22 ‘Emmy Awards’ in the process. Burnett displayed her range of talents in both comedy and singing and masterminded the show’s success by being involved in all the creative aspects of the show. However, all her fame and success did not come easy to her, as she had to battle poverty and alcoholic parents since childhood. Her grandmother, who brought her up, was a big pillar of strength in her troubled life, also nurturing her talents by fostering in Carol a love and passion for the movies. Initially wanting to pursue journalism and then wanting to become a playwright, Carol’s interests subsequently turned to acting. Buoyed by the positive responses to her acts in the ‘University of California’, she dropped out of the University to try her luck in Hollywood. However, what followed thereafter had little to do with luck as Burnett went on to have a great acting career, spanning TV Shows, films, musicals and plays. Till today, this ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ inductee continues to be an inspiration for numerous aspiring comedians.
Childhood & Early Life
Carol Burnett was born to Ina Louise, a publicity writer for movie studios, and Joseph Thomas Burnett, a movie theatre manager in San Antonio, Texas. Both her parents were alcoholics.
In the late 1930s, Carol’s parents divorced and she was sent to stay with her maternal grandmother in Hollywood, California. Carol, her half-sister Chrissie and her grandmother stayed in a boarding house.
Carol attended Hollywood High School, and later won a scholarship to the ‘University of California’, where she studied Theatre and English at the ‘University of California’ in Los Angeles.
In 1954, both Burnett and her then boyfriend Don Saroyan dropped out of college and moved to New York, hoping to land acting jobs.
In New York, Burnett worked first as a hat-check girl and later as a theatre usher. In 1955, she got her first Television role in the children’s show ‘The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show’, in which she played the girlfriend of the ventriloquist’s dummy.
After working briefly for the sitcom ‘Stanley’, which was soon discontinued, Burnett next tried her hand at performing at nightclubs and cabarets in New York. She was also chosen as a host of the game show ‘Pantomine Quiz’.
One of her songs in her performances was very popular, a parody titled ‘"I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles’. In 1957, she performed this song on two TV shows, ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’.
1959 was a landmark year for Burnett as she starred in a Broadway musical ‘Once Upon a Mattress’. She also landed a role as a regular in the comedy ‘The Garry Moore Show’, which went on to have a successful run for three years.
Over the next few years, she did a variety of Television roles like ‘Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall’, ‘The Entertainers’ and ‘The Lucy Show’.
In 1967, she finally achieved her ambition of featuring in a variety comedy show in ‘The Carol Burnett Show’. The long-running show was a huge success, and allowed Burnett to fully showcase her comic and musical talents.
After ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ ended in 1978, Burnett featured in dramatic roles in films like ‘Pete ‘n Tillie’, ‘Friendly Fire’, ‘Life of the Party: The Story of Beatrice’ and ‘Annie’.
She occasionally did theatre during this period, featuring in the plays ‘Plaza Suite’, ‘I Do! I Do!’, ‘Follies’, ‘Company’ and ‘Putting It Together’.
During the early 1990s, she tried to start another variety show, with attempts like ‘Carol & Company’ and ‘The Carol Burnett Show’. However, these shows could not match the original’s success.
In the mid-1990s, she portrayed a supporting character in the comedy ‘Mad About You’ and also returned to Broadway after 30 years in the comic play ‘Moon Over Buffalo’.
2005 onwards, Burnett has made quite a few well-received special appearances on TV shows such as ‘Desperate Housewives’, ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’, ‘The Bonnie Hunt Show’, ‘Hot in Cleveland’ and ‘Hawaii Five-0’.
Carol Burnett was a regular in the comedy variety series ‘The Garry Moore Show’ for three years. She played a lot of characters in the show, the most popular one being that of a charwoman, which Burnett used again later on.
Carol Burnett was the main host on the legendary CBS show ‘The Carol Burnett Show’, which was an outstanding success and was broadcast for 11 years. Carol displayed her acting prowess in the show by portraying a wide range of characters, and also her imitation and musical abilities.
Awards & Achievements
In 1962, Carol Burnett won her first ‘Emmy Award’ for her role in ‘The Garry Moore Show’ in the category ‘Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series’.
In 1970, she won a ‘Golden Globe Award’ for hosting the show ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ in the category ‘Best TV Actress – Musical/Comedy’.
In 1974, she won an ‘Emmy Award’ for the show ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ in the category ‘Outstanding Music-Variety Series’.
In 1975, she had a star embedded in her honour on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’.
In 2005, she was honoured with the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ by then-president George W. Bush.
Personal Life & Legacy
Carol Burnett married Don Saroyan in 1955 and later divorced him in 1962.
In 1963, she married Television producer ‘Joe Hamilton’, with whom she had three children. The couple divorced after 21 years of marriage.
In 1981, she filed a lawsuit against the tabloid ‘National Enquirer’ for libel, after the tabloid had printed a story which implied that Burnett was drunk in a restaurant. The judgement was in her favour and she eventually reached an out-of-court settlement with the tabloid.
In 2001, she married musician Brian Miller, to whom she is still married.
In 2002, she suffered an excruciating tragedy as her elder daughter Carrie Hamilton, a singer and actress herself, succumbed to lung and brain cancer. Subsequently, Burnett set up the ‘Carrie Hamilton Theatre’ at the ‘Pasadena Playhouse’ in her honor, and also chronicled her relationship with Carrie in the memoir ‘Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story’.
This famous co-host of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ would smile at the camera and tug her ear at the end of every show. This routine was a mark of her appreciation and love for her grandmother.
This well-known American comedienne received a resume from one of her fans, a 10-year old boy who himself was an aspiring comedian. The actress replied to his letter with a personal letter of encouragement. The boy, named Jim Carrey, went on to become one of the biggest actors in Hollywood.