On DVD from the ever awesome Time Life is a fantastic and funny collection of a time when comedy was everything with “The Carol Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes.”
During the late 1960s, CBS was “The Carol Burnett Show” (making jokes about the lettering) network giving the show great popularity and bring huge ratings. Want to know a secret? In the technology age you would think the first five seasons of the show would be readily available? Not so! They couldn’t be found on reruns, streaming, DVD’s or anywhere else.
Time Life has changed all that with The Lost Episodes of the show. Finally we can share once again the crazy moments in what are now known as the groundbreaking years of the show.
This 7-DVD set features 15 uncut episodes that you have to see to believe (and get your funny bone ready for some exercise in laughter) that are the originally aired episodes. Some of the moments include The Old Folks, The Ham Actors, Carol and Sis, Alice Portnoy and my all time personal favorite As the Stomach Turns.
Carol and friends loved doing television and movie parodies including Valley of the Dollars, Bony and Clod and Guess What’s Coming to Dinner. They also did a Salute to Warner Bros. Studios with Bugs Bunny in the every clever Mildred Fierce.
The guest appearing on the show are what always captivated me and the list of names are like the stars in the sky, almost endless with Jonathan Winters, Joan Rivers, Sonny & Cher, Paul Lynde, Art Carney, Betty Brable, Mickey Rooney and a host of others along with surprise appearances by Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope!
There is also over six hours of bonus features and interviews with Julie Andrews, Tony Bennett, Steve Carell, Kristin Chenoweth, Tina Fey and Burt Reynolds (oh that laugh of his!).
If this isn’t enough, how about bonus sketches, Featurettes of The Song and Dance: Crooners, Hoofers & Balladeers; Expecting the Unexpected; and The Making of a Mackie. The never-before-seen outtakes had my sides aching trying to catch my breath from laughing so be prepared for that! It’s over one thousand one hundred and seventy nine minutes of outrageous fun that you don’t want to miss.
Now, to tempt you further, how about a chat with the one and only Ms. Vicky Lawrence? Well, here it is in all its glory and let me just say that occasionally I do a quasi-controlled-geek-out when speaking to certain people and this fine lady definitely wins hands down.
Jeri Jacquin: Good morning Vicky.
Vicky Lawrence: Good morning Jeri, how are you?
JJ: I’m fine but I have to tell you I’m about to have a geek out moment and I apologize in advance. I am so thrilled to be talking to you right now I can hardly stand it! How are you?
VL: Oh thanks <laughing>
JJ: I’m letting you know that the word has spread that I’m talking to you today so if you ever wondered if you have a huge fan base in San Diego I’m telling you right now the answer is yes. Absolutely yes!
VL: That’s wonderful.
JJ: I have been watching your forever and I’m sure you get this question to the point of madness but I’d really love to know the full story of how you met Carol Burnett. Can you share that?
VL: I should bring my show down to San Diego. It is the first story I tell because a lot of people know I wrote a fan letter and there was a contest involved but many don’t know the details. I feel like it’s always the story I tell over and over. Everybody said I looked like her when I was a freshman in high school and in my senior year I entered a contest called Miss Fireball. The newspaper gal put in the paper that I looked like Carol Burnett. My Mom said ‘you know you should write her a fan letter’ because I was a big fan letter writer when I was a kid. Of course they were always to every cute young guy that was on television then. I had their autographs on their wall from Clint Eastwood to Johnny Walker to Fabian to Bobby Ridell and Paul Peterson – all these young guys I was in love with. I honestly, looking back, I had only seen her do Once Upon a Mattress on television and she was doing a show at the time called The Entertainer with Bob Newhart. John Davidson was a young singer on the show then and I kind of had a crush.
JJ: Oh stop it – the hair was sexy amazing!
VL: I know! So I did write her a letter and saying ‘I hope to meet one day because everyone says I look like you’ and I enclosed the article from the newspaper with a picture. The letter actually managed to hit her desk the day of the Miss Fireball contest. She got my Dad’s name out of the article, looked up our number and managed to call me to arrange for her to come and see the contest at Hollywood Park. That’s weird because Hollywood Park isn’t even there anymore. It’s hard for me to reference it because it’s going to be the Rams stadium at some point. That’s where I lived and learned how to drive in that parking lot. So Carol came out to the racetrack and her husband said ‘what is she – a jockey?’ <as a side note – I’m cracking up> She had two seats in the back asking that no one announce her but of course once they discovered Carol Burnett was in the stands I thought ‘well there goes my whole career’. I won the contest and we took this picture and Carol is writing a new book and she wants me to find the picture. It’s of her crowning me and I’m in my little outfit and she’s pregnant and huge with a turban on handing me my prize with the mayor next to us and that’s the picture that ended up in the paper. She sort of disappeared and it was my senior year of high school. So I’m going right along and its January when my Mom says they announced on the radio that Carol had her baby and she was in the hospital in Santa Monica. I was on my way to a recording session where I sang then with The Young Americans and I said to my ride let’s stop at the hospital on the way and I’ll run in and say hi. He said ‘you can’t run in and see Carol Burnett!’ I said I knew her married name and was going to give it a try.
JJ: Oh my!
VL: So we went to the hospital and I got some flowers, went up to the maternity ward where there was nothing going on and two nurses sitting there all quiet. As quietly as I could I said to them, “I’m here to see Mrs. Hamilton” and they burst out saying ‘oh my gosh you must be her sister Chrissie, wait till you see her and the baby!” and they took me right into her room. Yea, I mean in hindsight I suppose I would have been considered a stalker because I certainly wouldn’t have gotten away with it now. You would certainly get arrested <we are both cracking up now>
JJ: That is one heck of a stunt!
VL: Yes, and she told me she hadn’t forgotten about me and it was like the end of my senior year in June when I got a call from CBS wanting me to come down. They wanted to know if I’d be interested in auditioning to play her little sister in a show she was doing called The Carol Burnett Show. It was kind of traumatic at the time because I had to bow out of The Young Americans summer tour. The director sat me down and said listen to me, if the audition doesn’t happen you are not coming back in the middle of the tour, you are just not. Back then it was a major decision to make and I rolled the dice and did the audition.
JJ: The first time I saw the show I honestly believed you were sisters.
VL: I think that’s why she thought it would be a novelty to have someone who looked like her.
JJ: What was that experience like to be working with the woman who crowned you?
VL: It was a whirlwind! I started at my Dad’s alma mater which was UCLA and it would have broken his heart if I didn’t go. So I started and the deal was that I could go to college as long as I was on set by 11 a.m. every day. I took every class you could take at 7 or 8 a.m. then it was off to the studio. It was like going to the Harvard School of Comedy in front of American with all these amazing tutors. Saturday nights when the show would air it was like tutoring for me. I would watch it with my hand over my face peeking through my fingers. I was such a little geek. Harvey said in the beginning ‘forget stage right and stage left, you couldn’t even find the toilet’ so I think being the team player that he was, he went about training me to be a comedian.
JJ: They sent me “The Carol Burnette Show: The Lost Episodes” and I feel like they weren’t lost, they were just waiting for the perfect time to come out and play once again. It reminds us of what good television and hilarious comedy really is.
VL: It’s a television history lesson to watch those first episodes. It is watching the genesis and how it grew into The Carol Burnett Show. I wasn’t in a lot of those episodes because I was only contracted to play her sister then. A lot of the stuff is new to me and I hadn’t seen it. It has taken Carol all these years to negotiate the right to release these episodes and it’s finally happened.
JJ: You worked with some amazing people and you were so young at the time, did you take it all in then?
VL: I don’t think I appreciated who they really were. I was such a little geek. I was more concerned with dating all the ushers and dancers then, they were all so adorable. I was too young to know where I was. I told Carol the question I get all the time is ‘did you guys know what you were doing or know that it was going to last so long’ and she said you don’t think about it while you are doing it. You think about the paycheck and doing a good job each week. If it’s horrible you want to do better the next week. When she’s asked if she knew she was a pioneer for women she says ‘no, I was trying to do a good job being funny!’ She was told that a woman couldn’t do this, that a woman couldn’t do a variety show. She felt under the gun in that respect.
JJ: I understand that completely because my father never understood what was so funny about the show and why I wanted to watch “The Carol Burnett Show.” He honestly didn’t understand how a woman would get her own show. Actually in order to watch the show and see all of you I had to do specific chores to earn time. I hung clothes outside to dry and did yard work.
VL: Wow, that is really something yet that sentiment for women in television at that time existed. The thing is too back in those days there were only three networks. When I did my talk show in the early 90’s my daughter was going off to Stanford for college. During the summer she did an internship on my talk show. Everyday she would watch me go out and warm up the audience myself because Carol always said to do the Q&A and talk to the audience. She said it was an amazing way to feel comfortable around the people you are about to entertain. Everyday I was asked about how it all got started and every day she would listen to it again and again. One night after taping my daughter said, ‘Mom can I ask you a question”, I said sure. She said, “The Carol Burnett Show was really big huh?” because she was born at the very end of The Carol Burnett Show. I told her it was big. She said, “Everybody in the country watched it right?” and I said, “Well yes”. Her reply was, “You guys were part of television history weren’t you”, and I replied again, “Well, yes”. She said, “I missed it huh?”
JJ: Oh wow, that is actually pretty darn cool. That’s what is amazing about technology now though as much as it might drive us crazy. One of the good things is being able to obtain the DVDs and get to go back to that feel good laughable time. To see what brought joy and made people laugh. That’s what you’ve done for us and here’s my chance and probably my only chance ever to say thank you Ms. Lawrence, thank you for making me laugh then and for you and Carol making me laugh again now.
VL: Oh my gosh, that’s wonderful of you to say and it’s kind of cool. You know, when I started my one woman show we assumed my audience would be the people that were now older and watched the show. Actually there were so many college kids in the audience and we thought ‘what the heck?’ I was stopped during a performance one night by a bunch of young guys yelling at me and I said, “what?!” and they said there were so many things they wouldn’t have gotten through without Mama [Mama’s Family-1983 television series]. For those people who know Mama’s Family, they come to the show and listen to my stories about The Carol Burnett Show that I would tell and they find me backwards on YouTube. Carol said too that YouTube is largely responsible for the lifespan that the show has had because people found us that way and created this market where we can release these DVDs. They have a chance to experience the whole thing and be a part of it from the beginning the way it really was. It’s remarkable that it has held up like it has and has spanned this many generations, it’s incredible really.
JJ: One question I do have to ask because when I told people I was speaking to you, my friend Gina (Fontillas) who lives in Hawaii responded with “That’s the Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”. <she laughs> That was huge when we were in high school (1973 – YouTube and enjoy – you’re welcome!). Did you every think in a million years that spending so much time on the show that you would have the opportunity to get back to music?
VL: I was married for like about ten minutes to the guy [Bobby Russell] who wrote that song, yea that’s about it. I got the song and the dog! (yes, I’m cracking up so badly now) He wrote this song and didn’t like it. I kept saying – “but this song is a hit!” He wouldn’t demo it and I told him it was a smash. He said to me if I love the song so much I should do the demo. I did and took it to a producer in Hollywood. He tried to give it to everyone and no one wanted to do it because they thought it would offend the south and needed to be rewritten. Bobby said, “I hated the song when I wrote it so why would I do it again?” The producer said to go in with Vicky and we did and I was right, the dang thing was a huge smash! It was a dream come true.
JJ: Well the fact that so many people still know every word to the song is a true testament that girlfriend – you were right!
VL: Yes, I was absolutely right on that.
JJ: Was there a basis for the song or an event that happened?
(Giving some readers a heads up about the terms “Hi-Fi” and “45” that’s a small shiny round black object with grooves in it an a big hole that plays on a device called a Hi-Fi that has a needle that fits into the grooves of the round shiny black object which lets the music out for those that are curious)
VL: No, I don’t think so. To me that song was like the song that did it to me as a kid which was Ode to Billie Joe (Bobbie Gentry, 1967). It was just one of those great southern mysterious story songs. I remember buying Ode to Billie Joe on a 45 and putting it on the hi-fi in the living room. You know you had to keep putting the needle back every few go arounds so you could learn all the lyrics. I remember doing that trying to get every word. I be listening to a song now and just Google the words, back in the day you had to get the words all on your own! I remember the day I was doing it and my Mom screaming, “take that thing off you are driving me crazy!”
JJ: As much as I hate it I know we have to finish up so, for the readers, can you just share your feelings about the experiences you’ve had with two iconic shows and your career?
VL: Oh my gosh, it is a wash of incredible memories doing The Carol Burnett Show and it was not something I had intended to do. I thought I was going to graduation high school, go to college, learn to clean teeth, be a dental hygienist, married a rich dentist and hang it up. That’s really what the plan was because back in the day you got married out of high school or you got a responsible job. It never occurred to me that I would be kidnapped by show business! For me it has been one big, fun, huge adventure.
JJ: And it is still going strong.
VL: You never know what is going to happen. You just never know.
JJ: Again, I am geeking out on you one final time but thank you, thank you so much for talking with me today and I do hope you get your One-Woman show down here to San Diego. Me and my redhead will be in the front row! I might have to die my hair red for that.
VL: Like I always say, dye your hair and you too can be a natural redhead!
I cannot begin to tell you how difficult typing up this interview was because there was so much laughing. Vicky Lawrence reaffirmed (as if I needed it) that she is truly gracious with her stories and absolutely hilarious.
Hearing how she met Carol Burnett and became a part of such an iconic era of women in comedy is a pure joy. The release of “The Caorl Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes” is now available for everyone to enjoy and to find out how to get a set for your own home media library please visit www.timelife.com. Not enough Carol Burnett and company? Trust me, Time Life has that covered as well with more Carol Burnett DVDs filled with more performances and more comedy!
In the end — these truly are treasures from the vault!