Carol Burnett life and biography

Carol Burnett picture, image, poster

Carol Burnett biography

Date of birth : 1933-04-26
Date of death : -
Birthplace : San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2010-09-07
Credited as : Actress and comedienne, host of The Carol Burnett Show, won 2 Golden Bloge awards for comedienne

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In an article for the Los Angeles Times Lawrence Christon commented that "outside of Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore, there is probably no other comedienne in television who has been more popular than Carol Burnett, and certainly there has been none more beloved." Star of America's favorite weekly television comedy-variety hour from 1966 to 1977, Burnett would open each program by sitting down on the apron of the stage and answering questions from her audience, a practice that "made her seem so accessible, so real, to millions and millions of Americans," related Bruce Cook in a Tribune Books profile of the comedienne. "Whatever it was," the writer continued, "people now feel personally toward her in a way that they do with only a few other performers in the history of television."

Considering herself not a comic, but an actress who does comedy, Burnett began acting when she was a journalism student at the University of California at Los Angeles; a course in playwrighting required acting experience, and Burnett's first night on stage proved to be immensely gratifying. While she encountered the usual struggles of an aspiring young entertainer, they did not last long, and by 1959 Burnett was starring in the Broadway production "Once Upon a Mattress" and appearing regularly on television's "The Garry Moore Show." Critical acclaim and more television appearances followed; in 1963 Burnett began a series of landmark television variety specials that teamed her with a second female star like Julie Andrews, Dolly Parton, and Beverly Sills. The comedienne's own weekly show was also an enormous success, earning ten Emmy Award nominations during its eleven-year run.

Along with her distinctive voice, mobile face, and impeccable comic timing, the performer's small-screen success can be attributed to "her lightness and changeability and quick focus ... perfect ... for TV," noted Christon. Burnett's weekly show featured whimsical parodies that frequently relied on sight gags, mugging, and physical humor--a tendency that the comedienne has grown away from in recent years, turning to film acting and dramatic roles. In a Ms. interview with Susan Dworkin, Burnett reflected: "When I was starting out it was the era of mugging. And I had a great face for mugging.... It wasn't until the sixth of seventh year of our show ... that I started to realize I didn't have to do it, that I was a mature woman who could still be funny without crossing my eyes all the time. It was a sense of insecurity that made me do that, and a growing security that made me stop." "The difference between what Carol Burnett did to make us laugh all those years on television and what she does to ... turn our hearts [now]," remarked Dworkin, commenting on the performer's second career as a dramatic actress, "is a matter of skins. For farce, you put them on.... For drama, you take them off.... For years, it appears, Carol Burnett thought we might not see her without the drag.... But the masquerade is suspended."

Following her 1983 divorce from producer Joe Hamilton, Burnett fell introspective, thinking about her family and childhood and about the possibility of writing a memoir. For nearly three years the actress worked on One More Time, an autobiography comprised of chronological vignettes from the first half of her life, ending with her debut on Broadway and the rush of show business success. The memoir is presented in the form of a letter to her three daughters--a method, Burnett admitted, that kept her from being terrified at the thought of writing a book. Looking one more time at the odd family and difficult childhood that shaped her, the performer arrived at a new understanding of her past, feeling enormous release at the project's end. In addition, Burnett disclosed to Cook: "I found it was the hardest thing I've aver done in my life professionally. As a result, I'm prouder of it than anything I've done professionally."

For all her career achievements and public popularity, Burnett's early life was decidedly grim. Her alcoholic father seldom held a steady job; her mother, a frustrated small-time journalist, also turned to drink. There was an illegitimate half-sister, as well as Nanny, the peculiar, manipulative maternal grandmother with whom Carol shared a room. Frequently dependent on welfare, the family lived in a bleak Hollywood neighborhood, and Carol often found comfort in pretending she was somebody else. "Her family life was the very model of instability," wrote Robert Plunkett in the New York Times Book Review. "It is the bond between the gawky, insecure little girl and the eccentric old woman that makes this book special." Writing in the Washington Post, Brigitte Weeks reiterated: "Burnett appreciates her debt to this oddest of guardian angels: `[Nanny] tried to act like the weakest, but she was the strongest. She hung on.... She pulled us through.... She loved us, and she showed it.' That made the difference between disaster and survival."

Reviewing One More Time for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Christon stated that "this isn't a celebrity bio whose author has found a new milieu in which to perform a star turn." Weeks concurred: "Her tale is too straightforward--almost homely--to be just another reveal-all, rake-in-the-bucks job.... Surviving and struggling are what this book is about, and what give it life. When we get to the success story, the narrative becomes perfunctory and thin." Noting the memoir's "disjointed, breathless and sometimes downright confusing" presentation (Burnett refused the usual collaboration with a seasoned writer), the critic added, "[It] is not a polished performance with professional style and pacing. But ... it's often moving and always honest," and "we are humbled by the matter-of-fact way this fabulously successful comedian has come to see her bleak start in life." Christon, too, acknowledged the memoir's flaws but deemed it "moving just the same as an expression of a gentle, affectionate woman who endured a considerable amount of childhood pain and looks back on it now without rancor or self-pity." And pointing out how Burnett's "comic's instincts for the setup and the punch line" keep this Dickensian tale from becoming glum, Plunkett observed, "`One More Time' is a book the reader keeps rooting for, and if it never quite transcends its genre it remains a funny and moving story of how we all turn out to be the `hairpins' that we do."


Born April 26, 1933, in San Antonio, TX; daughter of Joseph Thomas (a movie theater manager) and Louise (a Hollywood movie studio publicity writer; maiden name, Creighton) Burnett; married Don Saroyan (an actor), 1955 (divorced, 1962); married Joseph Hamilton (a producer), 1963 (divorced, 1983); children: (second marriage) Carrie Louise (died, 2002), Jody Ann, Erin Kate. Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles, 1953-55.


Emmy Award from National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1963, for "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall," and 1972, 1974, and 1975, for "The Carol Burnett Show"; Peabody Award, 1963; National Television Critics Circle Award for outstanding performance, 1977; Best Actress award from San Sebastian Film Festival, 1978, for "A Wedding"; H.L.D., Emerson College, 1980; Gold Medal award from International Radio and Television Society, 1984; eight Golden Globe awards for outstanding comedienne of the year from Hollywood Foreign Press Association; four Entertainer of the Year awards from American Guild of Variety Artists; humanitarian recognitions including the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in 2003.


Actress and comedienne. Stage performances include "Once Upon a Mattress," 1959, "Fade Out-Face In," 1964, "Plaza Suite," 1970, "I Do! I Do!" 1973, and "Same Time Next Year," 1977-80; film performances include "Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed," 1963, "Pete `n' Tillie," 1972, "Front Page," 1974, "A Wedding," 1977, "Health," 1979, "Four Seasons," 1981, "Chu Chu and the Philly Flash," 1981, and "Annie," 1982. Television performances include regular appearances on "The Garry Moore Show," 1959-62; star of "The Carol Burnett Show," 1966-77 (syndicated as "Carol Burnett and Friends," beginning 1977), of variety specials "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall," 1963, "Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center," 1972, "Sills and Burnett at the Met," 1976, "Dolly and Carol in Nashville," 1978, "Burnett `Discovers' Domingo," 1984, and others; and of television plays and movies, including "6 Rms Riv Vu," 1974, "The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank," 1979, "Friendly Fire," 1979, "Life of the Party: The Story of Beatrice," 1982, and "Between Friends," 1983. Nightclub performer. University of California, Los Angeles, Franklin D. Murphy Associate and board of trustees member.


* What I Want to Be When I Grow Up, created by George Mendoza and Sheldon Secunda, photographs by Secunda, Simon & Schuster, 1975.
* One More Time: A Memoir, Random House, 1986.
* (With daughter Carrie Hamilton) Hollywood Arms, (play), produced in Chicago, IL, 2002.
* This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection, Harmony (New York, NY), 2010.


One More Time was written for the stage by Burnett and her daughter Carrie Hamilton and was produced onstage in Chicago in 2002.

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