Carol Burnett is an American actress and comedian best known for starring in The Carol Burnett Show, one of the funniest variety shows in television history.
She was born in 1933 in San Antonio, Texas and studied theater and writing at UCLA with the original intent of becoming a playwright, but she needed acting experience in order to write for actors, so she began learning to do that as well, even though she was initially too self-conscious and never even dreamed of pursuing the stage.
All her fears went away when she performed and university audiences laughed at her natural comedic talent. Even back then she earned praise for her comedy and musical skills.
She moved to New York City in the fifties to pursue the stage. She gained recognition for a parody singing number that she performed on The Tonight Show and Ed Sullivan where she pours her heart out to Republican Cold War figure John Foster Dulles, with the joke being that there was nothing at all appealing about the boring Dulles that would inspire such a passionate song.
In 1959, she starred on Broadway in the play Once Upon a Mattress, for which she was nominated for a Tony. That same year she would join the cast of The Garry Moore Show, a CBS variety show that ran from 1950 to 1967 and launched the careers of other comedy greats like Jonathan Winters, Don Knotts and Don Adams.
Her rise to fame in that ensemble led to her first headliner the Emmy-winning Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall, co-starring Julie Andrews, with whom she would remain friends.
Burnett would also become friends with Jim Nabors, and Burnett and Nabors would later both appear periodicaly on each other’s shows, Burnett as a tough military figure on Gomer Pyle and Nabors as the guest host on every season premiere of Carol Burnett.
At the end of The Garry Moore Show, Burnett would take advantage of a stipulation in her CBS contract that said the network had to let her have her own variety show within five years after Garry Moore ended. Despite the network initially being against a variety show headlined by a woman, Burnett made an amazing series that lasted all the way from 1967 to 1978 and won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes in the process.
The Carol Burnett Show‘s ensemble cast included Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and Vicki Lawrence (all great) and the show would parody movies, TV shows, musicals, and commercials. It was also incredibly popular. One of the recurring sketches, “The Family,” was spun off into its own show, Mama’s Family.
Burnett opened most episodes with a Q&A session with the audience that was largely improvised. She often tugged her left ear as a secret greeting to her grandmother who raised Burnett since she was a child.
One of the most successful people in the entertainment industry, among her accomplishments are the Peabody Award in 1962, the Emmy and Golden Globe for acting in and producing The Carol Burnett Show, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1975, inductee into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985, Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, Mark Twain Prize in 2013, and Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors’ Guild in 2015.
She was the first celebrity to appear on Sesame Street when she guest-starred on the first episode in 1969, won an Emmy for her role in the sitcom Mad About You, was nominated for The Larry Sanders Show and Law & Order: SVU, and had significant roles in Hawaii Five–O and Glee (as the mother of Sue Sylvester).
She seems to be a magnet for awards. Even in 2017 she won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox. She will probably still be winning things until the end of time, and all of it will be deserved.
Fun fact: Her Tarzan yell was a signature Carol Burnett Show mainstay. It even came in handy one time when she lost her ID. She only pulls it out when necessary but it can be put to good use.