In In Such Good Company, Carol Burnett pulls back the curtain on the twenty-five-time Emmy-Award winning show that made television history, and she reminisces about the outrageously funny and tender moments that made working on the series as much fun as watching it.
Carol delves into little-known stories of the guests, sketches and improvisations that made The Carol Burnett Show legendary, as well as some favorite tales too good not to relive again. While writing this book, Carol rewatched all 276 episodes and screen-grabbed her favorite video stills from the archives to illustrate the chemistry of the actors and the improvisational magic that made the show so successful.
Putting the spotlight on everyone from her costars to the impressive list of guest stars, Carol crafts a lively portrait of the talent and creativity that went into every episode. With characteristic wit and incomparable comic timing, she details hiring Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and Tim Conway; shares anecdotes about guest stars and close friends, including Lucille Ball, Roddy Mcdowell, Jim Nabors, Bernadette Peters, Betty Grable, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, Gloria Swanson, Rita Hayworth, and Betty White; and gives her take on her favorite sketches and the unpredictable moments that took both the cast and viewers by surprise.
This book is Carol's love letter to a golden era in television history through the lens of her brilliant show. Get the best seat in the house for "eleven years of laughter, mayhem, and fun in the sandbox."
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I recently had the extreme pleasure of receiving the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and in accepting the honor I talked about how much I loved going to the movies with my grandmother, Nanny, as a kid. My favorites were the comedies and the musicals. I think that’s when I fell in love with the idea of, someday, being a musical comedy performer. Since there wasn’t television “back in the covered wagon days,” when I was growing up, I never imagined that my dream would be realized by having my own weekly musical comedy variety show on the small screen. But that’s exactly what happened.
I’ve been thinking about that time a lot, and since my memory is pretty good, I decided to put my thoughts down on paper for anybody who might be interested in what we did and how we did it.
In doing the research for this book, I watched all 276 shows, even though at times I felt like Norma Desmond watching herself on the screen in Sunset Boulevard!
When I was watching the first few episodes, the first thing I noticed was how I looked. I laughed out loud at my various hairdos, with different shades of red, remembering that I (amateurishly) dyed my hair myself every week using Miss Clairol, because I hated to waste my time sitting in a beauty parlor.
What really stand out are the changes that evolved. Of course the hairstyles, makeup, and costumes were constantly changing. Remember, this was the late sixties into the seventies . . . bell-bottoms, miniskirts, etc. The makeup was exaggerated—heavy eyeliner and large Minnie Mouse false eyelashes . . . upper and lower! Even Bob Mackie, our brilliant costume designer, who surprised us every week with his creations, both beautiful and comedic, would admit that he missed the mark on some occasions. But they were rare.
One of the things I noticed was how I evolved over those eleven years. I went from the “zany, kooky, man-hungry, big-mouthed goofball,” which was who I had fashioned myself into during my early years, including my time as a regular on the Garry Moore television show, into a somewhat more “mature kook.”
I always loved doing the physical comedy—falling down, jumping out of windows, getting pies in the face—however, around thirty-seven, thirty-eight years old, three or four years into the show, I found myself enjoying tackling more sophisticated and complex satires and some of the sketches that had a tinge of pathos. “The Family” scenes with Eunice, Mama, and Ed always touched me deeply, because as crazy as they could get, there was always an element of reality—these were people suffering disappointment and regret, raging against fate, doing the best they could.
Naturally, there were a lot of sketches and musical numbers I had completely forgotten. Some of them made me laugh, and some, I admit, made me cringe! But overall, I was transported back to the most wonderful and pleasurable phase of my career.
What follows are many outstanding memories of what occurred during a “regular show week.” I’ll share anecdotes about our cast members, many of our guests, recurring characters, favorite movie parodies, some of the funny and off-the-cuff questions from our audience and my responses—basically how we all played together in the sandbox—hilariously—from 1967 to 1978.
Some of these stories may be familiar to those of you who know me best, but they needed to be retold in order to give you the whole picture of those eleven wonderful years!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start over at the very beginning . . .
IN THE SANDBOX
When I was growing up, theater and music were my first loves, so my original show business goals revolved around being in musical comedies on Broadway, like Ethel Merman and Mary Martin. My stage break came in the spring of 1959, when I was cast as “Winnifred the Woebegone” in the musical comedy Once Upon a Mattress, a takeoff on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea.” It was an Off-Broadway production at the Phoenix Theatre, directed by none other than the iconic George Abbott, “Mr. Broadway” himself!
The show was originally scheduled for a limited run of six weeks, but it was so popular that it was moved to Broadway and ran for over a year. I got my wish; I was on Broadway! Because no one had expected the production to be so successful, there were numerous booking issues that caused our little show to be bounced from theater to theater—from the Phoenix to the Alvin to the Winter Garden to the Cort and, finally, to the St. James. There were a couple of jokes going around the business about the production during this period. I remember Neil Simon quipped, “It’s the most moving musical on Broadway! If you haven’t seen Once Upon a Mattress yet, don’t worry, it’ll soon be at your neighborhood theater.”
My second big break came in the fall of 1959 when I was asked to be a regular performer on The Garry Moore Show, a terrifically popular TV comedy-variety series. For almost a year, until the summer of 1960, I doubled up and did both shows. I would perform in Mattress on Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:30 p.m. and then do two shows a day on Saturdays and Sundays.
I would rehearse for Garry’s show eight to nine hours a day Monday through Friday, and then we would tape his show on Friday, in the early evening, which gave me just enough time to hop the subway and head downtown to arrive at Mattress in time for the 8:30 curtain!
I had no days off. Hey, I was young, I told myself—but evidently not that young, because one Sunday, during a matinee, I fell asleep . . . in front of the audience!
Normally, the scene involved Princess Winnifred trying her best to get a good night’s sleep on top of twenty mattresses, but she couldn’t. The mattresses were highly uncomfortable and lumpy, resulting in a very active pantomime in which I jumped up and down, pounding on the offending lumps, and finally wound up sitting on the edge of the bed wide awake, desperately counting sheep as the scene ended. Not this Sunday. As I lay there on top of twenty mattresses, I simply drifted off to dreamland. Our stage manager, who was in the wings, called, “Carol?” And then louder, “Carol!” I woke up with a start and nearly fell off the very tall bed. The audience howled, but the producers changed the schedule after that and moved the Sunday performance to Monday, so I could have Sundays off.
By that time The Garry Moore Show had switched to tape, like everyone else, but we still performed in front of a live audience as if it were a live show—no retakes, no stops. We wanted the excitement and spontaneity that went with the feeling of live theater—which was exactly what made the show so good, every Tuesday night on CBS.
The musical numbers and the writing were certainly worthy of being on the Great White Way; in fact, our junior writer was Neil Simon, whom we called “Doc.” He had worked for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows. It’s a little-known fact that Neil wrote Come Blow Your Horn, his first play, while he was working for Garry, who was one of his first investors!
Garry’s show was a great learning experience for me. I remember sitting around the table reading the script the week that the famous vaudeville performer Ed Wynn was the guest. Then in his seventies, he had begun his career in vaudeville in 1903 and had starred in the Ziegfeld Follies beginning in 1914. He told great stories about those days. He got on the subject of “comics vs. comedic actors.”
Garry asked him what the difference was.
“Well,” Ed said, “a comic says ‘funny things,’ like Bob Hope, and a comedic actor says things funny, like Jack Benny.”
That’s what I wanted to be . . . someone who “says things funny.”
I left Mattress in June of 1960, while I was still a regular on Garry’s show, but I really never dreamed television was going to be my “thing,” even though I found myself falling in love more and more with the small screen. Garry’s show allowed me to be different characters every week, as opposed to doing one role over and over again in the theater. In essence we mounted a distinct musical comedy revue every week—week in and week out—in front of a live studio audience, just like in summer stock.
However, I still harbored my dream of starring again on BROADWAY and being the next Ethel Merman.
CBS asked me to sign a contract with them after I had been on Garry’s show for a few seasons. The deal I was offered was for ten years, from 1962 to 1972, paying me a decent amount to do a one-hour TV special each year, as well as two guest appearances on any of their regular series. However, if I wanted to do an hour-long variety show of my own during the first five years of the contract, they would guarantee me thirty one-hour shows!
In other words, it would be my option! CBS would have to say yes, whether they wanted to or not!
They called this “pay or play” because they would have to pay me for thirty shows, even if they didn’t put them on the air. “Just push the button!” was the phrase the programming executives used. This was an unheard-of deal, but I didn’t pay much attention to it, because I had no plans to host my own show—never dreamed I’d ever want to. I was going to focus all of my energy on Broadway.
A MAN’S GAME
By 1966 I had married Joe Hamilton, who had produced Garry’s show, and we had our adorable daughter, Carrie, and another baby on the way. My Broadway career had not panned out, which was why we were in Hollywood to begin with, and I was as in demand as a carton of sour milk. We were sitting on orange crates and packing boxes in the living room of a Beverly Hills home we had somehow managed to scrape together the down payment to buy.
We had to do something to earn some money. It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s; 1967 was a few days away and our five-year deadline on the pay-or-play clause was about to expire. Joe and I looked at each other, looked around the furniture-less living room, and picked up the phone.
Mike Dann, one of the top executives at CBS in New York City, took the call and sounded happy to hear from me. He asked about our holidays and I said they had been lovely, but I was calling to “push the button” on the thirty one-hour comedy-variety shows they had promised me in my contract five years ago.
Mike honestly didn’t remember any of this. He was completely in the dark. Joe took the phone and reminded him in great detail. My guess is that more than a few lawyers were called away from their holiday parties that night to review my contract.
When Mike called the next day, he said, “Well, yes, I can see why you called, but I don’t think the hour is the best way to go. Comedy-variety shows are traditionally hosted by men: Gleason, Caesar, Benny, Berle, and now Dean . . . it’s really not for a gal. Dinah Shore’s show was mostly music.”
“But comedy-variety is what I do best! It’s what I learned doing Garry’s show—comedy sketches. We can have a rep company like Garry’s, and like Caesar’s Hour. We can have guest stars! Music!”
“Honey, we’ve got a great half-hour sitcom script that would fit you like a glove. It’s called Here’s Agnes! It’s a sure thing!”
Here’s Agnes? No thanks . . . we pushed the button.
CBS scheduled our show’s premiere for Monday, September 11, 1967, opposite I Spy and The Big Valley, both of which were among the top-watched shows on TV. It was pretty obvious the network didn’t think we’d last the whole season; otherwise they would have given us a more forgiving slot where we’d have had more of a chance to get some traction. In truth, we weren’t sure we’d last, either. We sighed and decided we’d at least get our thirty shows. We could start unpacking, because, for a year, the bills would get paid.
It was all a gamble, but despite everything, many of the original staff members from Garry’s show, like head writer Arnie Rosen, director Clark Jones, choreographer Ernie Flatt, lead dancer Don Crichton, and many more, took the plunge and followed us to California.
Lyle Waggoner came on board to be my handsome foil—I winced in embarrassment while rewatching the shows when I saw myself going gaga and swooning over him, which was a running gag for the first few seasons. Eventually, much to my relief, we deep-sixed the “swooning over Lyle” bit and he morphed from just being the show’s good-looking announcer to getting laughs as different nuanced characters. He turned into a very good sketch performer.
Vicki Lawrence had no professional experience when we brought her on. It was fascinating to watch her grow out of her awkward, young teenage stage and into a very clever and confident comedienne and singer/dancer.
Harvey Korman was a consummate comedic actor from the get-go, but I also saw him evolve over the years in ways that were astonishing. He never fancied himself a singer or a dancer. If our choreographer, Ernie Flatt, tried to give him a dance step to execute, he would freeze in his tracks, but if you gave Harvey the role of a dancer, he would improvise dance steps that made him look like Gene Kelly . . . well, I won’t go that far, but you’d swear the guy was born to move. It worked the same way with singing; he could sing up a storm if he was playing the part of someone who could sing!
We did a lot of movie takeoffs on the show, and I swear he seemed to channel those famous actors—Ronald Colman in our version of Random Harvest, Zachary Scott in Mildred Pierce, and who could ever forget his Clark Gable in our Gone With the Wind parody?
Tim Conway was a frequent guest in the early years and joined us every week in the ninth season! Much more about him—and the rest of our gang—later . . .
We all played together in our crazy, creative sandbox and delivered a fresh, Broadway-like musical comedy review each week, and boy did we have fun . . . for eleven years!
Table of Contents
In the Sandbox 4
A Man's Game 9
Variety Shows in the Seventies 14
A Typical Week 19
Let's Bump Up the Lights! 24
Some of My Favorite Q&As 29
Our Gang 35
Vicki Lawrence 35
Harvey Korman 45
Lyle Waggoner 47
Tim Conway 50
Those Behind the Scenes for the Entire Eleven-Year Run 56
Bob Mackie 56
Ernie Flatt 62
Don Crichton 64
Artie Malvin 65
Our Sound Effects 70
CBS Censorship 72
The Writing Staff 73
"Life Once Removed": A Conversation with Larry Gelbart 77
Explaining a Punch Line 79
Our Recurring Sketches Over the Years 80
The Charwoman 80
"Carol and Sis" 83
George and Zelda 85
"The Old Folks" 86
"As the Stomach Turns" 88
Speaking of Martha Raye … 91
The Queen 93
Stella Toddler 96
Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball 100
"Mary Worthless" 102
Another One That Bit the Dust 104
A Bad Idea for a Number 105
Fred and Marge 107
"The Family" 108
Betty White 116
Cary Grant and "The Family" 121
The Famous Blooper 126
Cracking Up 129
"The Pigeon Lady" Gets Back at Tim 134
Characters and Auras 141
The Movie Parodies 144
"Mildred Fierce" and "Torchy Song" 145
"The African Queen" 154
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé 155
"Went With the Wind" 162
Our Trips to England, Ireland, and Italy 170
"And Then Somebody Asked Me …" 176
A Miracle Moment 181
Down Memory Lane with Some of Our Guests 185
Jim Nabors 185
Ken Berry 189
Bernadette Peters 190
Alan Alda 192
Sammy Davis, Jr. 195
Roddy McDowall 199
Vincent Price 203
Donald O'Connor 205
Lucille Ball 206
"Lovely Story," "The Funn Family," and Other Guests 211
"Pillow Squawk" 211
Rock Hudson 218
"Double Calamity" 221
"Caged Dames" 229
Shirley MacLaine 233
"Lovely Story" 236
"The Funn Family" 239
Mickey Rooney 251
Nanette Fabray 254
Embarrassing Moments 256
"Are Those Your Own Teeth?" And Other Questions I've Answered 260
The Night I Got Even 266
Ken and Mitzie Welch 269
The Mini-Musicals 272
Lights, Camera, Action: More Movie Parodies I Loved 295
"Sunset Boulevard" 295
A Woman's Picture 298
"To Each Her Own Tears" 299
Lana Turner 305
"High Hat" 306
Rita Hayworth 309
"The Doily Sisters" 313
Betty Grable 323
Stress Relief 328
The Flip Shows 329
More Special Memories about Some Other Amazing Guest Stars 333
The Jackson 5 333
Ray Charles 335
Carol Channing 338
Jerry Lewis 341
The Only One, but Who Needs More? 344
Sid Caesar 344
Carl Reiner 349
Bing Crosby 351
Jonathan Winters 354
Dick Van Dyke 355
James Stewart 358
The Night I Fired Harvey 365
The Emmys 374
A Conversation with Dick Cavett 378
Harvey Leaves Our Show 385
Our Final Season and the Last Show 387
The Artist Entrance 397
Wrapping It All Up 399
Appendix 1 Shows and Guests 401
Appendix 2 Writers by Season 421
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this book from start to finish. Reading it took me back to the days when I could just sit back, relax and laugh my head off for one of television's best and most beloved comedy shows. Highly recommended.
I thought the book would be insightful look at Carol and her show, but found it to be a bore. Much is written about the skits and read like the scripts. Didn't hold my interest.
Loved this book, it was like watching the show all over again.
Love the Carol Burnett Show and wish I could go back and watch all the episodes like she mentions in her book. It’s like sitting with her in one of the specials with such a great set of reminiscences.
Brought back so many memories. I felt like I was watching the show again. So happy but so sad it's gone.
I've not read any of her other books, but I'm going to look into them. This was a great, easy enjoyable read. After reading this I'm going to see what I can find on YouTube to watch, and catch what I missed, her sketches.
If you grew up in the 1970's like I did, you'll remember The Carol Burnett Show as one of the funniest and most popular TV shows of that era. What I didn't realize was that it was on the air for 11 years. In Such Good Company is Carol Burnett's recollection of the show. And not just the show, but things connected to the show such as how the regulars were hired and how they evolved, her guests and her relationships with them, the costumes, her cameramen and so on. The title fits the book as she speaks fondly of everyone, gives credit to everyone else and reminisces about the show. The only reason I did not give this book five stars is that I thought the play-by-play of some of the sketches in the book was a little tedious. The writing felt like you were sitting down and talking to Carol. She shared so many anecdotes about the sketches that I loved that I found myself smiling and remembering my youth. I absolutely loved the Mama sketches and the Gone with the Wind sketch was one of my favourites. Many of the other descriptions has me remembering things that I had forgotten. I definitely need to check out clips on youtube. A great, relatively quick read that was thoroughly enjoyable.
I've only seen bits and pieces of the Carol Burnett show through advertisments but have always heard about from my parents. I needed something to read and thought it would be interesting. and fun It was. I love the writing style Carol uses. I felt that she was next to me telling me the stories in person. I loved the information she provided about some of her favorite sketches, finding the cast, and the characters she used. One of my favorite parts was the Carol gave a little history about the special guests they had over the years, and how some celebrities responded to being parodied. My other favorite part was the stories that had Tim in them. I loved how he would just flip a sketch on its head and cause the other cast members to break. I laughed out loud when I got to Vickie Lawrence's payback, if you will. Overall, it is a fun and enjoyable read.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I had watched a lot of the Carol Burnett shows, but there were a lot that I had missed. They were detailed in the book. Some were very funny, some were so so. I will never forget the iconic spoof of Gone With the Wind where she is wearing that curtain including the drapery rod. Also the family spoofs where Carol plays Eunice and Vickie plays Mama. Those were hilarious skits. I had no idea that Vickie was discovered by a picture in a newspaper as a finalist in the "Miss Firecracker" pageant and that Carol saw her picture and saw that she was so similar to her. What a coupe for Vickie Lawrence. There were so many awesome stars that were on the Carol Burnett show that I had no idea. Reading the book was like taking a trip back through movie star history. And reading about how the shows were rehearsed and then taped was very interesting. There were several times when I just totally laughed out loud at the antics of Tim Conway and what he would do to Harvey Korman. Of course, I remember seeing it on the show, but hearing the background of what really happened was especially funny. I'm sitting here writing this in zombie land because I stayed up all night reading this book because I could not put it down. The cast of characters is amazing. It's like the who's who of old time Hollywood. So many big stars that are gone today were on the Carol Burnett show. And she knew them and was friends with them. It was just so totally interesting to hear her thoughts about how they were personally. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Who doesn't want to hear how celebrities are "behind the scenes". Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review. I was extremely entertained and now have increased my movie star trivia.
This behind-the-scenes look at the eleven seasons of the Emmy Award-winning Carol Burnett Show is just a delight. It recalls so many fun characters, guests, skits and general hilarity, but it also shares some of what was going on in the background. Do you know how the show found its way on-air? That’s an interesting tale. Do you know how the main stars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway ended up on the show? Read some lovely anecdotes about guest stars and friendships that lasted decades. Part of the beauty of this book is you feel like you’re sitting chatting with Carol Burnett. Her voice is so authentic and you’re suddenly transported back to the fun of the show with all its laughter, music and even some characters who tugged at our heartstrings. You’ll be glad you spent some time together with one of comedy’s most iconic stars and you’ll be In Such Good Company.
If you ever enjoyed the Carol Burnett Show, then this audio is a must have for your library especially since it’s narrated by the lovely and very talented Ms. Burnett herself. With Ms. Burnett’s delightful way of entertaining, you will be in tears from laughter in no time. She even includes her famous Tarzan yell and the show’s closing song, I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together. As Ms. Burnett explained how the show and actors came together, the wonderful scenes I remembered from my youth played through my mind’s eye. She tells how certain legendary skits came about. She also tells the work and the laughter that went into taping the show in front of a live studio audience. The story is told in such a manner it takes you down memory lane revisiting the antics of the entertaining show along with the talented actors that were guests. Ms. Burnett relates the information in a conversational manner making you feel it’s your own personal one-on-one conversation with the actress. IN SUCH GOOD COMPANY highlights why the Carol Burnett Show was a golden nugget of entertainment for families for 11 years. Ms. Burnett even explains why a variety show like that would not be possible today. This is a delightful story that will touch your heart and make you smile despite yourself. FTC Full Disclosure – A copy of this audio book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The thoughts are completely my own and given honestly and freely.
In Such Good Company by Carol Burnett is a highly recommended collection of reminiscences from the shows 11 year run on TV. If you fondly remember the Carol Burnett Show or remember highlight clips from the show, then you will likely enjoy these glimpses into the variety show that ran from 1967 to 1978. Burnett shares many outstanding memories of what occurred during a regular show week, anecdotes about the cast members, some guests, recurring characters, favorite movie parodies, some of the funny and off-the-cuff questions from the audience and her responses. CBS scheduled the debut show to run Monday, September 11, 1967. The show featured comedy sketches and musical performances. The original cast members included Lyle Waggoner, Vicki Lawrence and Harvey Korman. Tim Conway was a frequent guest who permanently joined the cast later. The schedule for preparing for the show was like a school schedule and never varied, week to week. The cast always knew what was next and when to report. Burnett gives credit to all the various people who helped make the show the success it was, especially the writers. Appendix 1 lists the shows and the guests for each season. Appendix 2 lists all the writers of the show by the season. Along with an outstanding variety of guests, there were others that helped with the show who were less well known. Bob Mackie designed as many as sixty to seventy costumes a week for eleven years. Don Crichton soon became the lead male dancer. Ernie Flatt was the brilliant choreographer. Artie Malvin was the special musical material writer. Harry Zimmerman conducted and orchestrated a live twenty-eight-piece orchestra. Ross Murray handled all the sound effects. Their censor was Charlie Pettyjohn, who came to every run-through and taping. Recurring sketches that many people will recall include: The Charwoman; Carol and Sis; George and Zelda; The Old Folks; As the Stomach Turns; The Queen; Stella Toddler; Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball; Mary Worthless; Fred and Marge; and The Family. Burnett shares many memories of guest stars who appeared and their performances. The list of artists and entertainers is incredible. The long run ended when the final two hour special was was taped on March 17, 1978, and aired March 29. At the end, the show had won twenty-five Emmy awards. Although it is full of memories of the show, this is not a negative tell-all slam of people who behaved poorly. It is positive and upbeat even when there are problems. The only bad guest is never named, an accomplishment that should be applauded alone in this time of tell all about everyone. This might not be the tell-all book some people would hope for, but it is an excellent trip down memory lane on what Time magazine listed as one of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time." Thoroughly enjoyable! Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.