On Saturday nights in 1973, if you were a fan of good television, you stayed home.
CBS’s Saturday Night lineup started at 8:00 PM with All In The Family, then M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and — at 10:00, the network’s capstone — The Carol Burnett Show.
“A lot of time people stayed home,” the legendary comedienne tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. “People come and say to me, ‘it was appointment television when you guys were on Saturday nights. I grew up on the show. It reminds me of when I was with my family and we would watch it.’ It does my heart good to know that.”
Now, the glimmer of that classic night of television is a little closer. A new DVD collection from Time Life features full episodes of The Carol Burnett Show, released for the very first time, and hand-picked by Burnett as some of her favorites from the show’s 11-year 25-Emmy-winning run.
She spoke to weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz about the collection, some of her favorite moments, and why she doesn’t do her Tarzan yell in public anymore.
On one of her most famous sketches, “Went With The Wind,” and the curtain-rod dress
“We wanted to do a capsulized version of Gone With the Wind. Our writers who wrote that were two young people, one of whom did his thesis on Gone with the Wind, so he knew every single scene… That costume was Bob Mackie’s idea, our costume designer. It was his idea to make the dress a curtain rod dress. Originally it was written that I would just fling the dress over me and come down the stairs, but it was Bob’s genius that came up with that.”
On her favorite audience Q & A
“There was one lady who wanted to sing, and so I said, ‘Okay, come on up.’ She was fearless and the audience started to laugh and she calmed them… and I said, ‘So what do you want to sing?’ and without even looking at me she looked towards the band and she said, ‘You Made Me Love Ya in the key of G!’ I mean, it was like she took over. She started signing and the band was playing, and she was pretty good. She was wailing away. I knew the song, so I joined in with her, and we are having a great duet … Until the end, the ride out, the tail end of the song. I knew it one way, and she knew it as another way, and it started to kind of peter out, and she looked at me and said, ‘Well, you screwed it up.’ You can’t write that stuff. It was just brilliant, I loved it.”
On appearance for women in comedy
“I wanted to go into comedy, and musical comedy, really. I was in California and I was going to UCLA, and I knew I certainly didn’t have movie star looks. I remember seeing pictures and photos of Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, who were kind of average looking. I said, well that’s for me, then, to go back to New York, and try to be in musical comedy on Broadway… Larry Galvary, who was one of the top comedy writers around, he created M*A*S*H… He was quoted as saying, ‘Carol Bernette is almost very pretty.” The interviewer who told me this asked me my response and I said, ‘Well tell Larry that’s almost very nice of him.’”
On the story behind Harvey Korman and Tim Conway’s famous sketch, “The Dentist”
“Tim came up with the whole Novocain thing, which Harvey had never seen, and Harvey was helpless in that chair. Tim started shooting himself with the Novocain, and then finally destroying himself throughout the sketch. Poor Harvey was helpless. Harvey literally wet his pants. He was so mad at himself about laughing so hard. It was a classic. I think it’s in some dental schools now.”
Why she doesn’t do the Tarzan yell unless you’re ready for it
“One time I was at Bergdorf Goodman years ago, and I was buying some stockings. I was late for rehearsal. It was around ten in the morning, and the store had just opened… It was empty, the lingerie floor. The customers really hadn’t come in yet. The sales lady was very sweet. She recognized me and she asked me for like five autographs for her grandchildren, so I singed them and everything. She got the stockings, and I mistakenly didn’t bring my right credit card. I said, ‘Gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t bring my card. Can I write you a check?’ She said, ‘I’ll need some identification.’ … She said, ‘Miss, I know who you are, but we need to have identification if we accept a check. Let me ask the floor manager.’ … So she walked over to [her] and she kind of waved and smiled, and she said [she] will approve your check if you do the Tarzan yell. Now, it was empty, so I said okay. So, I did the Tarzan yell and immediately behind the sales lady there was an exit door. It burst open and there was a security guard with a gun. So, I only do the Tarzan yell when people expect it.”