16 Fun Facts About The Carol Burnett Show

CBS
CBS

After a short stint in the New York theater world, comedienne Carol Burnett landed a job as a regular on The Garry Moore Show in 1959. She caught the attention of CBS executives, who offered her her own series in 1967. With her husband Joe Hamilton at the helm, Burnett broke new ground as the first female host of a TV variety show. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons and earned a handful of Emmy Awards in the process. To celebrate the legendary comedienne's 85th birthday, here are some fun facts about the show and the folks who made it so side-splittingly hilarious.

1. CAROL BURNETT’S MOTHER WANTED HER TO BE A WRITER.

As Carol Burnett painfully recalled later in life, whenever she’d expressed an interest in a career in the theater as a teen, her mother would always dissuade her and recommend that she would have better luck studying to become a writer. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would add.

2. A TOTAL STRANGER HELPED TO LAUNCH BURNETT’S CAREER.

As she was nearing graduation from UCLA, Burnett and several fellow drama students were invited to a departing professor’s house to perform at his bon voyage party. She performed a scene from the musical Annie Get Your Gun and later that evening, while she was standing in the buffet line, a man she’d never seen before approached her and complimented her performance. He then inquired what she planned to do with her life. She confessed that she dreamed of going to New York one day for a career on the stage, but seeing that she barely had enough gas money to drive back to Los Angeles that evening, it would be a very long time before she’d make it to Broadway. The man told her he’d be happy to lend her $1000 to get her started, with three conditions: that she repay him without interest in five years, that she was never to reveal his identity, and that once she was successful she must pass a similar kindness along to another person in need. (After pondering the offer over the weekend and consulting her mother and grandmother—who advised her to steer clear of the strange man who was probably involved in human trafficking or something worse—she took a chance and accepted his check.)

3. VICKI LAWRENCE CAUGHT BURNETT’S ATTENTION BY WRITING HER A FAN LETTER.

CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Vicki Lawrence cut her hair in a short “pixie” cut as a high school senior, many of her classmates commented on her resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence’s somewhat overbearing stage mother encouraged her to write Burnett a letter, which she did, enclosing a photo and a newspaper article that mentioned her upcoming appearance in the Inglewood, California Miss Fireball Contest. To her surprise, a seven-months-pregnant Burnett showed up at the pageant to cheer her on. When Burnett had her baby, Lawrence took some flowers to the hospital, thinking she’d just drop them off. But when the nurse on duty saw her, she immediately mistook her for Burnett’s real-life half-sister Chrissie and exclaimed, “Wait until you see the baby!” and ushered her into Carol’s room.

4. LAWRENCE ENDED UP PLAYING BURNETT’S SISTER ON THE SHOW.

When they were casting The Carol Burnett Show, the star remembered the teen and hired her despite her lack of experience. At first her only role was in the recurring “Carol and Sis” sketch, in which Lawrence played “Chrissie,” Burnett’s younger sister. Lawrence recalled in her 1995 autobiography that Burnett was very nurturing to all her co-stars, making sure everyone got their share of the best jokes, but it was Harvey Korman who took her under his wing in the beginning and taught her about timing, dialects, and working with props.

5. THE Q&A AT THE BEGINNING WAS BURNETT’S HUSBAND’S IDEA.

By CBS Television - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Joe Hamilton was not only Carol Burnett’s husband, he was also the show’s executive producer. It was traditional at the time (and still is, in some cases) to have a stand-up comic step onstage before a show to tell some jokes and “warm up” the audience. Hamilton was wary of going that route, however; as Burnett later recalled, “He worried, ‘What if the guy is funnier than the rest of you?’” He thought it would be a good ice-breaker if Burnett herself went out front before the proceedings to welcome the audience and answer a couple of questions. Over the next 11 seasons, the question that she was asked the most was “Can you do your Tarzan yell?”

6. BURNETT ONCE USED HER TARZAN YELL AS A FORM OF IDENTIFICATION.

While shopping for nylon stockings at New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman one day, the saleswoman recognized Burnett and asked for her autograph for her grandchildren. When it came time to check out, Burnett realized that she didn’t have her credit card or driver’s license in her wallet. She inquired if she could write a check. “I’ll have to see some ID,” replied the woman who’d requested an autograph just moments before. The floor manager intervened and told Burnett that she’d accept her check if Burnett would do her Tarzan yell. Burnett complied, prompting a security guard to kick open a nearby door, burst in and point his gun at her.

7. LYLE WAGONNER WAS THE FIRST CENTERFOLD IN PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE.

Joe Hamilton was looking for a handsome, “Rock Hudson-type” when casting the announcer for his wife’s show. Former encyclopedia salesman Lyle Waggoner landed the job not only due to his devastating good looks, but also because he had a good sense of humor about how pretty he was. He was even good-natured about the teasing he got from his castmates after posing for the centerfold of Playgirl magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.

8. HARVEY KORMAN WAS THE FIRST CAST MEMBER HIRED.

The producers wanted a “Harvey Korman-type” for Burnett’s second banana, but didn’t bother to actually ask Korman if he was interested in the job because he was already a regular on The Danny Kaye Show, and most likely he wouldn’t leave a steady job for an unproven new show. Burnett herself spotted Korman in the CBS parking lot one day and “practically threw him over the hood of a car” begging him to join her show. Unbeknownst to her, Kaye’s show was about to get the axe after a four-year run, so Korman cheerfully accepted her offer shortly after that first meeting.

9. TIM CONWAY RARELY FOLLOWED HIS SCRIPT.

Conway had been a frequent guest star on the show, and when Lyle Waggoner decided to leave the show in 1974 (he felt that he was being “underused”), Conway was hired to replace him the following year. Conway was legendary for veering off-script and ad-libbing for lengthy stretches, to the amusement of some of his co-stars (Korman) and annoyance of others (Lawrence, who sometimes resented Conway’s disruptions and spotlight-hogging). Lawrence finally slipped her own ad-lib in on one memorable occasion, as Conway rambled on and on about an elephant during a “Family” sketch. Her NSFW remark brought the rest of the cast to their knees and was said to be Dick Clark’s favorite all-time outtake on his Bloopers and Practical Jokes TV show.

10. MRS. WIGGINS WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AS AN ELDERLY WOMAN.

Conway created the Mr. Tudball/Mrs. Wiggins characters and wrote (or ad-libbed) many of their sketches. His original concept had Mrs. Wiggins being ancient, slow, and forgetful. But costume designer Bob Mackie decided that Burnett had played too many “old lady” characters on the show and designed a very voluptuous look for her instead. He explained at the time that he had certain “ditzy” CBS secretaries in mind when he stitched the curvy costume together.

11. THE SHOW THAT BECAME MAMA’S FAMILY STARTED OUT AS A MUCH DARKER ONE-OFF SKETCH.

A sketch called “The Reunion,” which originally aired in March of 1974, featured the characters that eventually became known as “The Family.” In this initial installment, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the successful younger brother of Eunice, returning home for a visit after winning a Pulitzer Prize. The family members were far crankier and more argumentative (and perhaps more representative of actual family life as they talked over one another and changed topics as soon as a thought occurred to them) than the cartoonish characters they eventually came to be on the syndicated series Mama’s Family. The piece proved to be so popular that 30 more “Family” sketches appeared over the next four seasons, with such guest stars as Alan Alda and Betty White turning up as members of the extended Harper family.

12. IT WAS BURNETT’S IDEA TO MAKE EUNICE AND HER FAMILY SOUTHERN.

The creators of "The Family" sketch were The Carol Burnett Show staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair. McMahon hailed from Kansas City, Missouri, and envisioned the Harpers to be of typical Midwestern stock, but as Burnett read the initial script she heard her own Texan and Arkansan family members speaking. She started speaking the lines with a pronounced Southern drawl, and Vicki Lawrence soon followed suit.

13. DICK VAN DYKE WAS A REGULAR FOR A SHORT TIME.

Harvey Korman left The Carol Burnett Show at the end of season 10 to star in his own sitcom on ABC.  (The Harvey Korman Show was cancelled after five episodes.) Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a replacement, but he was never a very good fit. As Burnett commented after the fact, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.” Van Dyke wasn’t overjoyed with the job, either; he lived in Arizona at the time and the monthly 4000-mile commute was exhausting. He was released from his contract in November 1977.

14. BURNETT’S “WENT WITH THE WIND” CURTAIN ROD DRESS WAS BOB MACKIE’S BRAINSTORM.

Burnett’s Gone with the Wind parody has made many “funniest shows of all time” lists over the years, and one of the defining moments of the sketch was when Carol (as "Starlett O’Hara”) descends the stairs at Tara wearing the green velvet drapes with the curtain rod still in them and admits, “I saw it in a window and I couldn’t resist.” The original script called for Burnett to have the curtains tossed haphazardly over her shoulders, but Mackie decided that it would be funnier to create an actual dress and leave the hanger intact across her shoulders. He is slightly bitter all these years later that of all his magnificent creations, that “joke” dress has become his signature piece; of all the memorable glamorous gowns he’s created for celebrities over the decades, that curtain rod dress is the one that hangs in the Smithsonian.

15. CONWAY’S FAMOUS “DENTIST” SKIT WAS BASED ON AN ACTUAL INCIDENT.

When Conway was in the Army having some work done on his teeth, the dentist accidentally injected his own thumb with Novocain. Conway exaggerated the experience to hilarious effect in a classic skit that left Harvey Korman struggling to contain his laughter. During a 2013 interview, Conway told Conan O’Brien that Korman actually wet himself from laughing so hard.

16. THERE WAS ONLY ONE CELEBRITY GUEST THAT BURNETT WAS NEVER ABLE TO BOOK.

Over the 11 seasons the show ran, a veritable “Who’s Who” of the entertainment industry did a guest turn, from Steve Martin to Julie Andrews to then-governor Ronald Reagan to Robin Williams to Ethel Merman. The only guest who Burnett dearly wanted to have but never did get was Bette Davis. Davis was willing to appear but demanded more money that the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton advised his wife that if they gave in to Davis’s demand, it would set an unpleasant precedent.

Additional Sources:
Vicki!: The True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, by Vicki Lawrence
This Time Together, by Carol Burnett
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (The Carol Burnett Show DVD extra)

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor

Dash/Keurig
Dash/Keurig

If you're looking for deals on items like Keurigs, BISSELL vacuums, and essential oil diffusers, it's usually pretty slim pickings until the holiday sales roll around. Thankfully, Amazon is starting these deals a little earlier with their Big Fall Sale, where customers can get up to 20 percent off everything from home decor to WFH essentials and kitchen gadgets. Now you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for the deal you need. Make sure to see all the deals that the sale has to offer here and check out our favorites below.

Electronics

Dash/Amazon

- BISSELL Lightweight Upright Vacuum Cleaner $170 (save $60)

- Dash Deluxe Air Fryer $80 (save $20)

- Dash Rapid 6-Egg Cooker $17 (save $3)

- Keurig K-Café Single Coffee Maker $169 (save $30)

- COMFEE Toaster Oven $29 (save $9)

- AmazonBasics 1500W Oscillating Ceramic Heater $31 (save $4)

Home office Essentials

HP/Amazon

- HP Neverstop Laser Printer $250 (save $30)

- HP ScanJet Pro 2500 f1 Flatbed OCR Scanner $274 (save $25)

- HP Printer Paper (500 Sheets) $5 (save $2)

- Mead Composition Books Pack of 5 Ruled Notebooks $11 (save $2)

- Swingline Desktop Hole Punch $7 (save $17)

- Officemate OIC Achieva Side Load Letter Tray $15 (save $7)

- PILOT G2 Premium Rolling Ball Gel Pens 12-Pack $10 (save $3)

Toys and games

Selieve/Amazon

- Selieve Toys Old Children's Walkie Talkies $17 (save $7)

- Yard Games Giant Tumbling Timbers $59 (save $21)

- Duckura Jump Rocket Launchers $11 (save $17)

- EXERCISE N PLAY Automatic Launcher Baseball Bat $14 (save $29)

- Holy Stone HS165 GPS Drones with 2K HD Camera $95 (save $40)

Home Improvement

DEWALT/Amazon

- DEWALT 20V MAX LED Hand Held Work Light $54 (save $65)

- Duck EZ Packing Tape with Dispenser, 6 Rolls $11 (save $6)

- Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Garage Auto Vacuum $111 (save $39)

- Full Circle Sinksational Sink Strainer with Stopper $5 (save $2)

Home Décor

NECA/Amazon

- A Christmas Story 20-Inch Leg Lamp Prop Replica by NECA $41 save $5

- SYLVANIA 100 LED Warm White Mini Lights $8 (save 2)

- Yankee Candle Large Jar Candle Vanilla Cupcake $17 (save $12)

- Malden 8-Opening Matted Collage Picture Frame $20 (save $8)

- Lush Decor Blue and Gray Flower Curtains Pair $57 (save $55)

- LEVOIT Essential Oil Diffuser $25 (save $5)

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Surprising Facts About Britney Spears

Britney Spears performing in Germany in 2008.
Britney Spears performing in Germany in 2008.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

While it’s now well-known that Britney Spears got her start as a member of Disney’s The Mickey Mouse Club, the show didn’t immediately catapult her to superstardom. Spears was still practically an unknown when she released her first single “...Baby One More Time” in 1998. Needless to say, that anonymity didn't last.

Spears quickly became the poster child for pop music at the turn of the century, redefining the genre with ensemble dance numbers, a not-that-innocent onstage persona, and the occasional Burmese python. From her brief stint on Broadway to her trailblazing Las Vegas residency, here are 10 facts about the star who inspired an entire generation of kids to choreograph dance routines during sleepovers.

1. Britney Spears was an Off-Broadway understudy at age 10.

In 1992, Joel Paley and Marvin Laird were busy auditioning hopefuls for Ruthless!, a spoofy Off-Broadway musical about a young girl willing to kill her competition for the starring role in a school production. They had already cast their leading lady—future Broadway heavyweight Laura Bell Bundy—and were worried an equally talented understudy would prove impossible to find. “And that’s when we found Britney Spears,” Paley told the New York Post. Spears, then 10 years old, was a triple-threat, complete with “confidence and a great mom.” She stayed with the show for about eight months, until the repetition started to bore her. Her successor was another future star: Natalie Portman.

2. Britney Spears went back to being a regular kid after the Mickey Mouse Club ended.

Spears first auditioned for The Mickey Mouse Club at age 8, but producers told her she was too young for the show. Her second tryout was successful, and she joined Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, and a few other budding entertainers as Disney’s new class of Mouseketeers in 1993. But when the program ended two years later, Spears didn’t head to Hollywood. Instead, she went home to Louisiana and enrolled in high school.

“I was so bored,” Spears told Rolling Stone in 2011. “I was the point guard on the basketball team. I had my boyfriend, and I went to homecoming and Christmas formal. But I wanted more. I mean, it was fun while it lasted, but then I got the record deal, and I left.”

3. Britney Spears almost headed up a girl band.

Before she embarked on a solo career, Spears was briefly the frontwoman for a girl band called Innosense, which was created by Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC manager Lou Pearlman. The group—which also included Awkward star Nikki DeLoach—was originally meant to be America’s answer to the Spice Girls, but Spears left before the project got off the ground, and the band never amassed a very large fanbase. Innosense did, however, get to open for Spears at a few concerts in 2000.

4. The music video for “...Baby One More Time” was all Spears’s idea.

Music video director Nigel Dick's original idea for the "...Baby One More Time" video envisioned Spears alighting from a spaceship and launching into a dance routine on the surface of Mars, which Spears vetoed immediately. Instead, she pitched a Grease-inspired scene in which a group of bored students dance around their school. Dick and the studio executives decided their teenage starlet probably had a good grasp on what would appeal to other teenagers, so they went with it. Spears also came up with the idea to wear school uniforms—Dick had planned to dress them in basic T-shirts and jeans. The director’s original idea did eventually make it off the cutting room floor; Spears’s “Oops!...I Did It Again” video, which was also directed by Dick, takes place on Mars.

5. Britney Spears auditioned for The Notebook.

Spears is no stranger to the screen. In addition to making memorable guest appearances on Glee, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Jane the Virgin, Will & Grace, and other shows, she starred in the 2002 romantic comedy Crossroads (written by Shonda Rhimes). Not long after its release, she was in the running to star alongside fellow Mouseketeer Ryan Gosling in 2004’s The Notebook. “She did an excellent job, actually,” Gosling said of her audition. The role of Allie Hamilton ultimately went to Rachel McAdams, who impressed Gosling and director Nick Cassavetes with her assertiveness and emotional range.

6. Britney Spears had a short-lived, long-distance dalliance with Prince William.

By Spears’s own account, reports of her romance with the future king of England hit quite wide of the mark, and the pair never actually met up. During an interview on The Frank Skinner Show in 2002, Spears admitted that Prince William was technically to blame for their missed connection. “We exchanged emails for a little bit, and he was supposed to come and see me somewhere,” she said, “but it didn’t work out, so that was it.” When Skinner expressed mock outrage that William stood her up, Spears demurred. “He’s a busy guy,” she said.

7. Britney Spears often travels under an alias.

Ms. Alotta Warmheart departing a Manhattan hotel in 2002.Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

As one of the most preeminent pop stars of the 21st century, Spears incites a media frenzy with virtually every move she makes. To give herself a little anonymity, she doesn’t always book hotel rooms under her own name. But her pseudonyms, which she often invents on the spot, don’t exactly fly under the radar. Spears divulged to James Corden during "Carpool Karaoke" that she’s been Alotta Warmheart, Anita Dick, and Chastity Montgomery in the past. Biographer Steve Dennis alleged that she has also used Mrs. Diana Prince (a nod to Princess Diana), Mrs. Abra Cadabra, and Queen of the Fairy Dance.

8. Britney Spears inspired a Barry Manilow album.

The paparazzi have ruthlessly documented Spears’s personal life in a way that many consider shamefully exploitative. Witnessing her battle for privacy escalate in 2007 actually inspired Barry Manilow’s 2011 album 15 Years. “She couldn’t have a life without [the paparazzi] pulling up next to her car and following her and driving her crazy," Manilow told the Los Angeles Times. “We all looked at it in horror, and [my collaborator Enoch Anderson] and I said, ‘Is this what happens these days?’ So it seemed like a thing to be writing an album about.”

In another section of the entertainment industry, screenwriter/director Shana Feste was watching with similar horror, which inspired her to develop the 2010 film Country Strong. In it, Gwyneth Paltrow plays a country music star navigating the many pitfalls of fame.

9. Britney Spears's “Do Somethin’” music video was banned in France.

In 2005, Spears released a highly imaginative video for her single “Do Somethin’” in which she and her friends fly through the clouds in a bright pink Hummer. They also evidently imagined that Louis Vuitton would take no issue with said Hummer’s upholstery looking suspiciously similar to Louis Vuitton’s Cherry Blossom pattern. Unfortunately, the Paris-based brand sued the record label. “We don't make dashboards,” a spokesperson said. The case was settled, but Sony BMG had to pay more than $117,000, and France was banned from airing the video. In the version currently on YouTube, there’s nary a cherry blossom in sight.

10. Las Vegas dedicated a day to Britney Spears.

Britney on her eponymous holiday in 2014.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Before Celine Dion came to town at the height of her career, the Las Vegas Strip had a reputation as the place “where musicians go to die,” i.e. where aging musicians can perform an entire concert series without all the tiresome travel necessary for a tour. Spears upped the ante in 2013 with a dynamic, high-budget residency complete with a fire ring, acrobatics, giant hamster wheels, and plenty of other gasp-worthy effects. The spectacle drew a younger crowd than usual and set a new precedent for Vegas shows; since then, the city has attracted performers who are currently ruling the charts, like Lady Gaga, Drake, and Cardi B. To acknowledge Spears’s impact and express gratitude, Las Vegas declared November 5 “Britney Day” in 2014. Spears was given a key to the city, and the first 100 people named “Britney” to arrive at the celebration got free tickets to see her show.