Carol Burnett Biography

26 April 1933, San Antonio, Texas, USA. An actress, comedienne, singer, director, producer, and writer, Burnett was raised by her maternal grandmother in Los Angeles and studied theatre arts and English at the University of California. After graduating she worked in summer stock before moving to New York in 1954. Unable to find work as an actress, she staged a show at the Rehearsal Club hotel in which she sang Eartha Kitt’s hit song ‘Monotonous’ from New Faces Of 1953. In 1957 she caused a stir at the Blue Angel nightclub with her rendition of ‘I Made A Fool Of Myself Over John Foster Dulles’. This parody aimed at teenage rock ‘n’ roll groupies was written by Ken Welch, a songwriter and vocal coach whose material was ideally suited to her ‘kooky’ style. Years later, he and his wife Mitzi wrote medleys for Burnett’s television specials with Julie Andrews and others.

In 1959 Burnett made an impressive Broadway debut as Princess Winnifred in Once Upon A Mattress, a successful musical based on the fairytale The Princess And The Pea. At around the same time she began appearing on The Garry Moore Show, and in the early 60s won an Emmy and several awards as the most popular female performer on television. In 1962 she and Julie Andrews won more Emmys for the special Julie And Carol At Carnegie Hall. The two performers were teamed again in similar concerts at the Lincoln Centre (1971) and in Los Angeles (1989). Signed to CBS Records in 1962, Burnett’s television career failed to take off during the next few years, and it was not until she returned to Broadway in the musical Fade Out-Fade In (1965) that her fortunes began to improve. Although the show itself - an affectionate look at the Hollywood of the 30s - was not well received, Burnett’s ‘genial comic impudence’ and ‘cheerful gaucherie’ were singled out for praise, and her impression of Shirley Temple on ‘You Musn’t Be Discouraged’ was hilarious. From 1967 CBS aired The Carol Burnett Show, a weekly prime-time variety show that featured a stellar line-up of guest stars and won 22 Emmys.

In 1978, after appearing in approximately 1, 500 sketches, Burnett had tired of the weekly grind and turned more to the theatre and feature films. In 1985 she was Carlotta Campion for two nights in the Stephen Sondheim tribute Follies In Concert, and performed marvellous renditions of the composer’s ‘survival anthem’ ‘I’m Still Here’. She returned to weekly television again in 1990 and chose an anthology format for her new series Carol And Company, which added to her list of honours that already included People’s Choice, Critics Circle, Photoplay and Golden Globe Awards, along with her induction into the Television Academy Hall of Fame. In 1993 she starred in two productions by the Long Beach Civic Light Opera: Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s Company, with Patrick Cassidy, and a new musical entitled From The Top. The latter was conceived and written by Ken Welch (of ‘I Made A Fool Of Myself Over John Foster Dulles’ fame) and his wife Mitzie, and comprised three one-act musicals. The first, My Walking Stick, is a back-stage vaudeville story set at the time of World War I, with songs by Irving Berlin; the second, called One Night In Marrakech, has words and music by Cole Porter; and the third and final piece, That Simpson Woman, is, naturally enough, an attempt to find a new angle on the famous Duke and Duchess of Windsor-in-exile saga, with a background of songs with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by a variety of composers. Television projects in 1994 included Carol Burnett: The Special Years, which featured some of the most memorable moments from her specials, and Men, Movies & Carol, a CBS variety programme spoofing the cinema, with Tony Bennett among the guest artists.

In 1996 Burnett returned to Broadway after an absence of some 30 years, and received a Tony nomination for her portrayal of Charlotte Hay in Ken Ludwig’s crazy comedy Moon Over Buffalo. Two years later she was back in Los Angeles, at the Mark Taper Forum, in Cameron Mackintosh’s Sondheim revue, Putting It Together.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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