Saturday, September 28, 2019

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 5

MeTV has made the transition from previously unaired early Carol Burnett Show segments (from Seasons 1-5) to the long-in-syndication Carol Burnett and Friends (Seasons 6-10). Will they show segments from the final season 11 when Dick Van Dyke was a regular for part of that time? Anyway, for Part Five of my reconstructing Carol's beloved series, we pick up various airings from Amazon, YouTube and MeTV.

Season OneOct. 16, 1967: Phyllis Diller, Gwen Verdon, Bobbie Gentry, William Schallert
( r.) Carol, Phyllis Diller, Bobbie Gentry and Gwen Verdon
as the Beatles
Found on YouTube. Broadway dance legend Gwen Verdon and country-western star Bobbie Gentry are given solo spots and not integrated into sketches, as was the custom with most of the musical guest stars in later seasons. Bobbie sings her hit "Ode to Billy Joe," which Carol would later reference in the infamous Went With the Wind sketch ("Why Billy Joe McAllister, I thought you jumped off the Tallahatchee Bridge!"). Gwen performs a bizarre dance to the Simon and Garfunkel hit "Feelin' Groovy (The 59th Street Bridge Song)." (A bridge theme?) The chorus boys, who include Lee Roy Reams before he broke out and became a featured player in such Broadway shows as Applause and 42nd Street, are costumed by Bob Mackie as if they are in Dr. Seuss cartoon wielding Seussian instruments while Gwen is bedecked with flowers like a hippie goddess. Phyllis Diller delivers her usual comedy schtick of being unattractive and a horrible housekeeper. All three guests join Carol in a tribute to the Beatles, costumed as the Fab Four on the Sgt. Pepper album cover. They march through the studio audience, a rare staging for the show.

The comic highlight of the hour is a variation on the old burlesque trial sketch. The traditional template is the lascivious male judge who continually makes passes at the gorgeous buxom female witness accused of killing her husband. Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller played it in Sugar Babies. Here the genders are reversed and Phyllis is the whacky judge, Lyle Waggoner is the hunky witness, Carol is the buttoned-up prosecutor, and Harvey the stereotypical old Southern defense lawyer in a white suit thinking he is in Inherit the Wind. Phyllis practically has an orgasm over Lyle's bodacious biceps when he flexes them.

There's also a Jekyll and Hyde sketch with William Schallert (Patty Duke's father) as the famous split personality scientist and Carol as his long-suffering wife. For some reason, Harvey doesn't play this juicy role, but appears as Carol's lover.

Nov. 27, 1967: Don Adams, Lesley Anne Warren
Amazon Prime. Adams was one of the biggest stars on TV at the time thanks to his spy-parody smash
Don Adams and Carol.
hit Get Smart. He also provided the voice of popular cartoon penguin Tennessee Tuxedo. His fast-paced, clipped, nasal delivery made such lines as "Would you believe.." and "Sorry about that, Chief" national catchphrases. After two Emmys and the show's cancellation, his career faded. The sketches are pretty routine here with Carol as a careless housewife facing meticulous hubbie Don, and Don and Harvey comparing wives. There is one funny bit with Don as a talk show host dealing with network execs running the cameras and sound during a technicians' strike. Lesley Anne Warren was best known for playing Cinderella in Rodgers and Hammerstein's TV musical. Here she performs a solo number with the chorus boys and the 1920s musical finale with Carol.

Season Five
Nov. 24, 1971: Shecky Greene, Eydie Gorme, Harvey Lembeck's Improv class
This was a weird one, divided into two MeTV segments. One features a pretty routine sketch with Carol, Shecky (a semi-popular Catskill kinda comic of the era), Eydie, and Harvey reading jokey listings from that week's TV Guide. Then Carol and Shecky parody the trend of handicapped detective shows in Ironstreet and Wife. Carol is half-blind with a huge cast on her arm while Shecky
William Christopher on MASH
is hard of hearing and in a wheelchair withcasts on both legs. After the commercial, Carol and Sis want to clean the house while Roger (Harvey) wants to watch a football game. In the second segment, Carol introduces students from an improv class. They make up a pretty lame sketch about a newlywed couple. The only memorable thing about is one of the students is William Christopher who would later play Father Mulcahy on MASH and AfterMASH. Carol must have liked him because shows up in a later show as a priest (how prophetic).

Feb. 16, 1972: Kaye Ballard, Steve Lawrence
I used to think Steve Lawrence was a rather bland performer, a smooth singer with no personality or bite in his vocals. But some of his numerous Burnett guest shots show a real comic flair, as well as his appearance on the last season of Laugh-In (Interesting side-thought: compare Laugh-In, Carol Burnett and SNL for a doctoral thesis). In this cut-up MeTV segment, Steve delivers a credible Groucho Marx in As the Stomach Turns as Marion's goofball lawyer F. Lee Belly, and a riotous turn
Kaye Ballard (l.) and Eve Arden on The Mothers-in-Law
as an American GI behind enemy lines in the Wednesday War Movie send-up, Operation Minestrone. Kaye Ballard was always one of my favorites. She starred on a short-lived sitcom called The Mothers-in-Law in the 1960s and we used to imitate her exaggerated Italian gestures and catchphrases. ("Oh, reallllllly?")

As the Stomach Turns finally gets us out of Marion's living room and into the hospital where Marion is recovering from an accident. Kaye is Theda Gloom, the Voice of Doom, a nurse's aide constantly bursting into sobs instead of cheering up patients. As noted, Steve is Marion's lawyer dropping quips and wisecracks in Groucho drag and Harvey is a televangelist, ripping off Marion in return for his prayers. Then we get another brilliant movie parody, but this one is not based on a specific film but an entire genre: the World War II action pic combined with hints of Rossellini's neo-realism. Set in an Italian village, Carol does her best Anna Magnani while Kaye suffers in a fat suit as her protective mama. Steve stumbles in as a wounded Yankee spy. Of course he and Carol fall in love as Harvey and Lyle as Nazi officers attempt to capture Steve. Very clever.

I also found Kaye's socko solo number from this episode (cut from MeTV) with the dancers on Kaye's YouTube channel. Attired in a colorful Bob Mackie outfit, Kaye sings the title song from Cabaret and "Don't Tell Mama" from the same show. She finally confronts herself as her own mother, scolding "When are you gonna get married?"

Season Six
Oct. 4, 1972: Steve Lawrence, Paul Sand
The first filmed episode of Season Six (the first aired episode starred Jim Nabors, Carol's good luck charm for the first show of every season). I vaguely remember watching parts of this episode when it
Paul Sand on the cover of TV Guide
to promote his short-lived sitcom
Friends and Lovers
first aired. Paul Sand had won a Tony on Broadway for Story Theater, a Second City-based revue which also starred Valerie Harper. Sand made a guest appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore Show as a nebbishy accountant who falls for Mary. He briefly had his own show Friends and Lovers which ran for one season as part of the CBS classic Saturday night line-up of All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart and Carol's show (It replaced MASH which moved to another night. Friends and Lovers only ran for 15 episodes with Paul as a romantically-challenged double bass player with the Boston Symphony. I remember enjoying it.) After his show was cancelled, he continued appearing in TV and film, but not as prominently. I saw him in an Off-Broadway play at Manhattan Theater Club called Milansky/Zilinsky in the 1990s. Here Paul is Vicki's boyfriend in a Carol and Sis sketch, a lonely guy listening to a record called "How to Make a Friend," and a crazed henchman in the movie parody of The Petrified Forest. Once again, Steve Lawrence surprises with an on-target Bogart impression in this lampoon.

Oct. 18, 1972: Joel Grey, Cass Elliot
Though this episode was in Season Six when I started watching regularly back in the 1970s, I have no recollection of any of the sketches shown in the Carol Burnett and Friends cut-up version. According to Wikipedia, the show was on Wednesday nights at 8PM then and did not move to its slot on Saturdays at 10PM until December of 1972, halfway through Season Six. When Carol was on Saturdays, we'd watch her every week. Perhaps while this segment was on Wednesday at 8PM, I was viewing Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie's Father on ABC instead. The abbreviated version opens with Joel, Harvey, and Lyle as dogs in a pet shop window. Joel and Harvey are playful puppies and Lyle is a haughty Russian wolfhound competing for the attention of prospective owners. Getting back to comparing variety shows, you expect this kind of out-of-the-box sketch on Laugh-In or SNL, but not on Carol's show where they pretty much stuck to movie parodies or domestic scenes with everyone staying human. It's was great to see Harvey and Joel totally abandon themselves physically, biting and jumping on each other. Next was a brief scene in a restaurant with Carol harassing Vicki because she mistakes her for a high school classmate. Vicki cannot convince Carol she's got the wrong woman and eventually gets caught up in Carol's rant about their rivalry.

Carol with Cass Elliot
After the commercial, Carol and Cass appear as moviegoers sitting in a tiny cinema singing about loving foreign movies and introduce a series of sketches parodying the genre. With every new skit, they munch on the appropriate food--pizza for the Italian Bicycle Thief, wine for the French And God Created Woman, and shushi with chop sticks for the Japanese Seven Samurai. 

Feb. 4, 1973: Bernadette Peters, Anthony Newley
This is a disappointing one because we don't get to see the considerable musical talents of either guest in the hacked-up Carol Burnett and Friends segment. Bernadette briefly appears in old-lady drag as a visitor to Carol who is the mother of the Invisible Man. Anthony demonstrates that you can get away with almost anything if you have a British accent. Then in a business-as-usual Carol and Sis sketch, Carol drools over Lyle as her high school football sweetheart and Harvey as Roger is jealous.

Carol recounts in both her memoirs This Time Together and In Such Good Company that during this segment an audience member asked her during the Q&A at the top of the show to reprise her Shirley Temple take-off. By coincidence, the big movie parody that week was a take-off on Temple's sugar-coated musicals. Carole joked with the audience member, "We'll see if we can cook up something with Shirley in it for you." They do the whole elaborate movie lampoon with production numbers and the guests stars. Afterwards Carol asks the lady if she enjoyed it and the woman thanks her for coming up with the whole thing as if they made it up off the cuff just because she asked for it.

Season Eight
Dec. 14, 1974: Carl Reiner, Ken Berry
This was very weird. MeTV skipped two seasons and leapt from Season Six to Season Eight. The two sketches are Terminal Hospital and Non-Violent Theater presents The Plot to Hurt Hitler. Reiner is very funny as a conceited surgeon and a Nazi spy. Terminal Hospital pokes fun at soap operas just as As the Stomach Turns did with Carol as a flirty nurse, Lyle as a handsome plastic surgeon, Vicki as an hysterical rich society wife and Harvey as a stereotypical gay male nurse.

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