When She Tugged on Her Ear, She Tugged At Our Hearts

Today’s topic had me thinking about how much better things are in a group.  Roses are beautiful on their own but pair them with some complementary-colored blooms and everything comes alive.  Juicy watermelon is perfect on a hot, summer day, but combine it with berries, kiwi, and peaches, and all the tastes meld together. One book is a treasure on its own, but put ten together, and you have a library. There’s never a bad choice when deciding between vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry ice cream, but someone invented Neapolitan so you could get all three.

This works for our show this week as well.  Look at the work of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner and you will find gems, but put them together and you have a sparkling jewelry box full of wonderful things.

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These performers came together between 1967 and 1978 working on The Carol Burnett Show. Let’s see how that came to be.

Carol Burnett – Carol is a truly versatile performer; she acts, sings, does comedy, dances, has been on the stage, and has appeared on the big screen as well as the small screen. America has always had a love affair with her.

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She was born in Texas and moved to Hollywood with her grandmother. One of her first jobs was working as an usherette.  She received an anonymous gift of money that covered a year at UCLA where she majored in journalism. At one point she decided to switch her major to theater arts and English and planned to be a playwright. She gained some experience performing in several college productions. Her good luck continued when she received another gift – a $100 interest-free loan to move to New York City to try her hand at musical comedy.  She worked as a hat girl and began her acting career.  She married Don Saroyan in 1955. In 1959 she got her first big break, appearing in the Broadway show, Once Upon a Mattress for which she received a Tony nomination. Around this time, she became friends with Jim Nabors; he would be a life-long friend and her daughter’s godfather. When the Carol Burnett Show started, he became the first guest every season and was her good luck charm.

Soon after she began appearing on television and won her first Emmy in 1962 for her work on The Paul Winchell Show. This was also the year she and Don divorced. In 1963, she married Joe Hamilton, and they had three children. Lucille Ball had become a mentor to her, and they also remained friends for life.  Lucy sent her flowers every birthday.  On her birthday in 1989, Carol awoke to the news that Lucy had died.  She received her flowers later that day.

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She did several specials with Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, and Beverly Sills. Carol had a clause that she could decide to do a permanent variety show which would expire in 1967. Carol decided to take advantage of the clause and do the variety show.  The network tried to talk her out of it because they said variety shows tended to be men’s territory.  They offered her a sitcom of her own, but luckily for us, she stuck to her guns.

In 1974, she went back to the stage to star with Rock Hudson in I Do I Do. In 1984 she and Joe divorced.  She would win her second Emmy for her work on Mad About You.

In 1995, she returned to Broadway to appear in Moon Over Buffalo which gained her a second Tony nomination.

Carol was the Grand Marshal for the 109th Rose Bowl Parade. She has written five books. She has remained close friends with many of her costars including her show cast, Jim Nabors, Betty White, Beverly Sills, Julie Andrews.

Not only did she help a young Vicki Lawrence, but other stars looked to her for help as well. Jim Carrey sent her his resume at age 10.

In 2001, Carol married again. Her current husband Brian Miller is a drummer for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Most recently she guest starred on several episodes of Hawaii Five-0.

Harvey Korman – Born in Chicago, Korman served in the US Navy during World War II. After the war, he studied at the Goodman School of Drama.  He attended classes at DePaul University and the Chicago Art Institute. During 1950, 1957, and 1958 he was part of the Peninsula Players in Fish Creek, Door County, Wisconsin.

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His first television role was on the Donna Reed Show in 1960. He also married that year and they had two children. He continued to act on television on such shows as Dr. Kildare, Perry Mason, Route 66, Jack Benny, Hazel, Here’s Lucy, and Gidget – 30 shows in all; he also appeared in many movies. You might recognize his voice if you watch The Flintstones; he played the role of the Great Gazoo. His first big break was on The Danny Kaye Show in 1963. With his expressive voice, he played a wide assortment of characters. In was due to his work on Danny Kaye, that Carol recruited him for her show in 1967.

In 1977, he made the tough decision to leave The Carol Burnett Show and star in his own vehicle, The Harvey Korman Show.  The show was about an out-of-work actor Harvey Kavanaugh who lived with his daughter. The critics thought Korman was wonderful in the show, but the show got very low ratings and was cancelled after six episodes. Then he was an out-of-work actor in real life. Dick Van Dyke had taken his place on the Carol Burnett Show so he could not return.

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After his show fizzled out, he went back to movies. In 1977 he divorced his first wife. In 1982 he remarried and had two more children.  Korman continued to make tv appearances on a variety of shows such as the Love Boat, Ellen, and ER. He also made movies. He is probably best known for two of his movies: Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety.  In 1983-84, he appeared in Mama’s Family with Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence. In 2008, he passed away from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm that was diagnosed four months prior.

Tim Conway – Conway was born in Ohio and joined the Army, serving at a radio station. After the war, he studied at Bowling Green State University, majoring in tv and radio. He married in 1961 and they had 6 children.

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He was discovered by Rose Marie and became a regular on The Steve Allen Show. He earned even more fame when he joined the cast of McHale’s Navy in 1962. McHale’s Navy had two different formats.  I was surprised to learn that Joseph Heller (author of Catch-22) wrote one episode but removed himself from the credits when he had an argument with the producer. Conway became very close to Ernest Borgnine and considered him his mentor. Later the two of them would work together in SpongeBob Square Pants as old superheroes.

After McHale’s Navy, he was cast in Rango. A comedy/western, Conway played Rango. He was an inept Ranger, but his father was the head of the Texas Rangers, so he was moved to a very quiet post.  Unfortunately, a crime wave broke out after his arrival. The show lasted for 17 episodes.

Conway got his own show in 1970, but it never really worked and was cancelled after 12 episodes. He played an airline pilot who was not very good at flying. He and his partner owned a decrepit airplane and they were always fighting creditors, barely making a living.

He was on Carol Burnett throughout the years of her show, and in 1975 he became a regular. When the show ended, he kept busy with television shows, appearing in more than 50 shows including Newhart, Larry Sanders, Drew Carey, Ellen, Yes Dear, Hot in Cleveland, Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Roseanne, and Ally McBeal. He also performed around the country with Harvey Korman and began making his Dorf videos. In 1984 he married his current wife.

 

Vicki Lawrence –  Vicki grew up in California. When Vicki Lawrence was 17, she wrote Carol a fan letter.  She was entered in a Miss Fireball contest, and someone told her she resembled Carol. She asked for some advice about her performance. Carol not only gave her advice – she drove all the way to watch the contest.  She told her they would talk about her career. A short time later, while Vicki was singing with the Young Americans, Carol offered the inexperienced girl a regular role on her show.

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Vicki was mentored by both Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett, and her talent blossomed during her years on the variety show. In 1974, she recorded the hit song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”

In 1983, she was offered her own show based on one of the Carol Burnett skits, Mama’s Family.

She hosted Win, Lose, or Draw and has appeared in stage performances. She spends most of her time now giving speeches for women’s groups and charities.

Lyle Waggoner – Born in Kansas City, Kansas, Waggoner was the heart throb of the show. He sold encyclopedias door to door. To jump start his career, he appeared in summer stock. He received roles in a lot of bad sci fi and beach party films. His career might have been different because he was in consideration for Batman, but the part went to Adam West. He was hired as the emcee of Carol’s show but progressed to being a part of the ensemble playing in a variety of skits. He left The Carol Burnett Show in 1973. He was offered a role in Wonder Woman in 1975. His career never picked up after that. He now runs a rental trailer company which is the largest one in Hollywood. He has been married more than fifty years, and he and his wife have two sons.

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The Carol Burnett Show

The show was the best and the last variety show to be on television. Carol wanted to develop her own cast. She handpicked her costars. She hired The Ernie Flatt Dancers to do all the choreography. The head male dancer for the run was Don Crichton.

Artie Malvin was the musical writer. Carol used a live 28-piece orchestra conducted by Harry Zimmerman for the first three years and Peter Matz for the final eight years. She had a guest star on every week, often a singer.  Some of the performers included Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Perry Como, Lena Horne, The Carpenters, Sammy Davis Jr., and Ray Charles.  Steve Lawrence was on 25 times and Eydie Gorme performed 13. Unfortunately, when the show went into syndication, it became a half-hour show, and the musical numbers were cut.

Sonny and Cher taped next door and Carol often popped in on their taping and Sonny and Cher visited her show.

Some of Carol’s favorite guests included Bernadette Peters, Alan Alda, Roddy McDowell, Paul Lynde, Bob Newhart, Rita Hayworth, James Stewart, Gloria Swanson, Vincent Price, the Smothers Brothers, Donald O’Connor, Lucille Ball, Rock Hudson, Mickey Rooney, Betty White, and Nanette Fabray. The only guest star Carol was not able to book was Bette Davis.  She demanded too much money.

The Carol Burnett Show received 22 Emmy Awards during the 11 seasons it was on the air. Harvey Korman was nominated for six of those and won four. Lawrence also received five Emmy nominations and one win.

Bob Mackie was her favorite designer, and he designed all the costumes for The Carol Burnett Show. Typically, he had to design 60-70 outfits per week, adding up to 18,000 over the course of the show.

For the first 3-4 minutes of each show, Carol appeared in a Bob Mackie creation and took questions from the audience. Some of these are the funniest parts of the show.

The cast would rehearse every day, and they did two tapings on Friday.  If the first taping went fine and they got what they needed, they would let Tim Conway improvise on the second taping and many of his unrehearsed moments made it into the show.

The show aired on Monday nights up against Big Valley and I Spy. In Season 5, they were moved to Wednesday nights up against Adam-12 on one network and Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father on the other. In 1972, they made their final move to Saturday nights. The final year they faced some stiff competition against The Love Boat.

Some of her favorite regular skits were Stella Toddler where Burnett played an older character who always seemed to get tripped, whacked by something, or knocked down; Mrs. Wiggins who was an inappropriately dressed and incompetent secretary to Mr. Tudball; a woman who watched commercials on tv —  a cast member showed an item each week that drove the woman crazy; Marion from Canoga Falls in “As the Stomach Turns”; Chiquita, Burnett’s imitation of Charo; Nora Desmond, a has-been silent film star and her butler Max; The Old Folks where Burnett and Korman talked on the porch reminiscing; and Shirley Dimple, based on Shirley Temple.

Carol loved the parodies they did of old movies.  Some of the original stars loved them, and some were quite unhappy with the comedies. Her favorite was “Went with the Wind” with Starlett O’Hara, Rat Butler, and Mr. Brashley. The curtain rod in the dress was conceived by Bob Mackie. Coming down the stairs, Starlett replies to Rat’s compliment on the dress, “Thank you.  I saw it in the window and couldn’t resist.” The dress is now at the Smithsonian Museum. She also liked “Pillow Squawk”, a Doris Day parody.

She was always complimentary about her entire cast. One of her quotes was “When you play tennis, it’s important to play with a better player because it makes your game better.  Well, Harvey made my game better. I miss him dreadfully. And Tim Conway, God bless him, is just genius when it comes to improvising, coming up with stuff that we never rehearsed.”

These compliments were returned by her costars. Harvey Korman was quoted as saying, “We were an ensemble, and Carol had the most incredible attitude. I’ve never worked with a star of that magnitude who was willing to give so much away.”

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Of course, everyone watches to see how Tim Conway makes Harvey Korman laugh during their skits.  Apparently, Tim had a knack for improving the scripts and throwing in lines and action that Korman didn’t anticipate. Here’s Tim Conway on Harvey Korman: “He was one of the brightest people I’ve ever met, but the man could not tie his own shoes . . .  I would put him on constantly . . . We were on an airplane and we refueled in Arizona. Taxing on the next runway, I said, ‘Harvey, I don’t know if the guy put the gas cap back on. It was on the wing and now it’s not.’ Harvey got worried. So, he got up and went to the pilot and said, ‘Your gas cap’s not on.’ The pilot just looked at him.  There is no gas cap.”

One of the memorable parts of the show is the opening and closing theme song.  She always ended the show with “I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started, and before you know it, comes the time we have to say so long.” Then she tugged her ear. She would tug on her left ear which was a message to her grandmother that things were going well, and she missed her.

No matter how many years go by, the show remains a timeless comedy.  It has a balance of silliness and savvy. It’s hard to believe that the generations growing up in the 1980s and 1990s have never seen a variety show.  I love to catch reruns of this show.  I laugh out loud through the show.  Thank you, Carol for spending time with us. The show currently can be shown on Me TV at 10:00 pm with Mama’s Family airing at 8:00 pm.

A Haunting We Will Go

The leaves are full of color and falling off trees, and every Friday night brings the sound of cheering and marching bands at high school football games.  That must mean that Halloween is right around the corner.  Sadly, the real evidence that Halloween is coming is all the Christmas decorations for sale in the stores, but that’s another discussion.

Let’s look at some of the best Halloween episodes from my favorite television shows from the past fifty years.

The Brady Bunch – “Fright Night” 1972

This spooky episode aired October of 1972.  The girls wake up in the middle of the night by mysterious sounds and a ghost hovering outside their window.  When their parents investigate the mystery, and find the attic window open, they assume it was the wind making a rocking chair move.  What they don’t realize is that the boys were pulling a prank on the girls. Marcia suspects the boys, so the girls come up with a prank of their own that includes having the boys sleep in the attic. Mike and Carol put a stop to the pranks. Alice mentions that she does not scare easily, so the kids team up to put her to the test. Alice thinks a burglar is in the house, and when she sees a bust that Carol has been sculpting of Mike for an art contest, she hits it, thinking she has the thief. Carol and Mike come home in the middle of the melee, lecture the kids, and take their allowance for two weeks as a punishment.

 

Cheers – “Fairy Tales Can Come True” 1984

It’s Halloween at Cheers and the regulars come in costume.  Cliff as Ponce de Leon starts up a conversation with a woman dressed as Tinkerbell.  They dance to “Moon River” and in character, they easily charm each other.  The next day when they are supposed to meet out of costume, Cliff gets the jitters.  “Tinkerbell” finally calls to say that she is nervous for the same reasons, and she slowly comes down the stairs to meet Cliff.  They pick up where they left off, dancing to “Moon River” as themselves. The subplot has Frasier out of town so he suggests Sam and Diane go to the Boston Pops concert as friends, their first time alone together since their break-up.

 

Dick Van Dyke – “Ghost of a Chantz” 1964

After Mel mixes up reservations at a lodge, Rob, Laura, Sally, and Buddy are forced to spend a night at an allegedly haunted cabin. They were told it’s haunted by Amos Chantz, who disappeared three years before, presumed to be murdered. Dispelling the haunted theory, the four friends take the cabin only to find a fireplace that lights itself, a creaky door, a rocking chair that rocks itself, and a mysterious face in the mirror.  Everyone but Rob is abducted by hooded figures. Anyone who watched Scooby Doo probably saw the end coming.  Suddenly, the face in the mirror becomes Mel Cooley and he reveals that the group was set up for a new hidden-camera program called “Sneaky Camera.”

 

Friends – “The One with the Halloween Party” 2001

Monica and Chandler decide to host a Halloween party. Monica wants him to dress as the Velveteen Rabbit, his favorite childhood book, but all she can find is a pink rabbit, more like Harvey.  His costume doesn’t seem so bad next to Ross who is Sput-nik, a cross between a satellite and a potato. Phoebe and Monica come as Catwoman and Supergirl and get into an argument about whether Ross or Chandler would win a fight.  Ross and Chandler have an arm-wrestling match and it goes on so long that Ross asks Chandler to let him win and he does. Rachel, in the meantime, is handing out candy to children.  She bores the first group with a fashion story, and when one girl finally likes her, she gives her all the candy and is forced to give money to the rest of the trick-or-treaters.  Finally Gunther arrives with more candy. Rachel decides she might not be ready for motherhood.

 

Happy Days – “Haunted” 1974

Ralph hosts a Halloween party each year, and this year he wants to hold it at the old Simpson House, rumored to be haunted. He asks Richie to check out the house when he takes Joanie to her Junior Chipmunk meeting.  At the house, Richie thinks he sees a headless ghost in the closet.  Richie goes to the party nervously.  He comes as a skeleton, Potsie is Superman but with an “F” on his chest, Ralph is Alfred Hitchcock, Fonzie is the Lone Ranger and his date is Tonto. Potsie and Ralph set Richie up with a date which turns out to be the dressed-up dummy in the closet which scared Richie originally. The show ends with Marion and Joanie sorting candy.  One good line comes from Howard who says that their carved pumpkin looks like Aunt Bessie.

 

Home Improvement – “The Haunting of Taylor House” 1992

This show is made up of a lot of small, funny moments. On “Tool Time”, Tim carves a pumpkin and instead of a small knife, uses power, always a disaster. At home, Tim turns the basement into the Catacombs of Terror, his version of a haunted house. Tim dresses as a woman, Jill as a carrot, Brad as Raggedy Andy, and Mark as his father.  Brad’s girlfriend, dressed as a biker chick, brings another guy to the party because she thinks Brad was insensitive. Tim makes it his mission to scare the poor boy as often as possible.

 

M*A*S*H – “Trick or Treatment” 1982

Halloween night 1953 finds the gang of the 4077th at a party at Rosie’s with Hawkeye as Superman, B.J. as a clown, Margaret as a geisha girl, Col Potter as a cowboy, and Klinger as Al Capone. Winchester, who doesn’t care for Halloween, is on surgical duty. Two marines need treatment, one for getting a pool ball stuck in his mouth and one who tried to punch an electrical fan at the party.  Party plans are put on hold when wounded arrive.  One man appears to be dead and has a toe tag.  However, Father Mulcahy realizes he is alive before the grave registrars take him away.  Like most M*A*S*H episodes, this one as some laugh-out-loud moments with bittersweet realizations of life in the trenches.

 

Mr. Belvedere – “Halloween” 1986

The subplot is that George, the always funny Bob Uecker, is about to join the Happy Guys of Pittsburgh on Halloween night, but George and Marsha discover the club has a dark side. Heather comes into the kitchen with a sexy French maid costume that her parents forbid her to wear to the school party.  When they leave the house, she puts it on anyway.  When she comes home and her parents are in the living room, she is wearing a suit of armor.  She tells them she disobeyed them and the senior guys gave her so much attention that she traded costumes.  Before we learn whom she traded with, her brother Kevin enters the house telling her she owes him as he is dressed as a French maid. Out of character, Mr. Belvedere goes wild toilet papering a house while taking Wesley trick or treating.

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Modern Family – “Halloween” 2010

Claire has decided to go all out completing a haunted house.  Phil, after learning their neighbors just divorced, worries that he needs to be more spontaneous to keep their marriage healthy.  His attempts all fail. Mitchell is happy to learn he can wear a costume to work, but after wearing Spiderman, quickly pulls a suit on over it when employees say only losers wear costumes. Gloria is mad at Manny and Jay making fun of her accent. When the haunted house starts, nothing goes right.  Alex is a bad actor as a prisoner, Cam keeps talking about his traumatic Halloween story, Jay can’t get the timing for the special effects, and Gloria has adopted an “English” voice. When trick or treaters are not scared, Claire walks out. Phil goes to talk to her and realizes their marriage is fine.  She was consumed by the haunted house because other family members have taken over Christmas and Thanksgiving which she used to host, and all she has left is Halloween. By the time they get back inside, the rest of the family has fixed the problems with the haunted house.

 

Newhart – Take Me to Your Loudon” 1987

George wants to dress up for the holiday, so he talks Dick and Joanna into having a party. George shows up as the Cowardly Lion, Dick as the Tin Man, Joanna as Vampira, Stephanie as a Princess, and Michael as a Canadian Mountie. This episode featured a take on Orson Wells narration of “The War of the Worlds”. Michael replays the radio episode, thinking everyone knows what it is, but many of the town residents believe they are being invaded. The town thinks Bob is the alien infiltrator.  He tries to explain it’s an old radio gag. When Darryl, Darryl and Larry show up and hear what everyone thinks, Larry says even he wouldn’t fall for that.

 

Ozzie and Harriet – “Halloween Party” 1953

Ozzie is not in the Halloween spirit.  His neighbor Thorny reminds him about all the fun holidays they’ve had in the past.  The boys decide that the problem is nobody plans anything so they take over preparations for the party. Ricky shows up in a skeleton costume because it makes him look thin and people feel sorry for him and give him more cake and ice cream at the school Halloween party. Ozzie comes to the party as a devil and Thorny is a Scotsman. Their wives let the guys know they just forgot two minor details: a location for the party and food!

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Yes Dear – “Halloween” 2001

On Halloween night, Greg has to wear a hot dog costume because that’s what Sam picked for him when he and his mom went to look for costumes.  Sam is a kitten and Kim a genie. Sam is scared by a neighbor.  When she says she’ll get candy, it’s the cue for her son to jump out of the bushes as a Wolfman. Sam begins crying, and his parents decide to get revenge on the family. They do the polite thing and write a letter.  They hide to watch the family’s reaction, only to see the couple laugh hysterically.  They decide to get eggs, toilet paper, and shaving cream instead.  Unfortunately, they had grabbed hard-boiled eggs, and they break a window.  To avoid being caught, they hide in the family’s car in the backseat. As they’re hiding, the mother hops in the car to drive to Las Vegas.

One thing I learned from reviewing these episodes, is that writers have a hard time coming up with creative Halloween titles; hence the title “Halloween” for one-fourth of these shows and the unimaginative “Halloween Party” and “Haunted” for two other episodes. If you want to celebrate Halloween by watching some of these fun shows, you’ll have to invest in DVDs.  Antenna TV is showing the Addams Family all day on Halloween and a variety of episodes on Sunday.  The only episode from this blog they have scheduled is Mr. Belvedere. Me TV will show “Trick or Treatment” from M*A*S*H on Sunday night.  On Halloween they are running their normal schedule but including Halloween episodes when available, so you can see the Brady Bunch’s “Fright Night.”

Before leaving Halloween episodes I do have to give a big shout-out to Last Man Standing for their Halloween show this year.  In order to get the family to abandon having Halloween parties, Mike talks everyone into dressing as each other, realizing that this will cause numerous hard feelings and no one will want a party in the future.  The party starts out that way but then the family has to tell Vanessa she was fired due to expenses and as they all gather around to make her feel better, she is so happy that she declares they will have a party every Halloween.  The impersonations they cast does of each other and the detailed costumes are worth watching the show for.

Next week on Halloween, we’ll take a closer look at the Halloween episodes of Bewitched.