Thursday, March 26, 2020

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 9

Lyle Waggoner
The corona virus lockdown continues. I am too disgusted with Donald Trump to comment on his hideous actions. With no theater or movies to go to, I have time to watch old Carol Burnett Show reruns on MeTV and Amazon. As noted in the previous blog, these are highly edited versions of the original, but I have found some missing pieces on YouTube. Also, Lyle Waggoner, Carol's ultra-handsome, muscular, gorgeous hunk announcer and supporting comedy player, has passed away at 84. One of my first TV crushes, he was on the show for 7 seasons, then played Steve Trevor on Wonder Woman. He appeared on numerous TV shows after that including Maude, Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and The Golden Girls as well as the horrible Catalina Caper on MST3K. But he concentrated on his business of renting trailers for movie shoots. Perhaps he realized you can't be a handsome hunk forever. He will always have a special place in my TV-loving heart.

Season One
Sept. 18, 1967: Sid Caesar, Liza Minnelli
The edited version of this one is really heartbreaking. It's the second aired episode and a very young Liza Minnelli is one of the guests. Carol announces she will be on and says "I don't know where she
Liza Minnelli with Carol
gets her talent," referring to Liza's mother, the legendary Judy Garland. This was only a few years after Liza won a Tony for Flora the Red Menace and before she won an Oscar for Cabaret. So it would have been great to see her and Carol sing a duet. But the only appearance this multi-talented lady makes in this 22-minute slashed version is at the end signing Carol's autograph book. Whoever makes the editing decisions could easily have gotten rid of the stupid LBJ daughter sketch or the Carol and Sis vignette featuring a sleepy Carol trying to stay awake during an interview with Chris' college admissions director (played by Rhetta Shaw who later appeared in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.) (The writers recycled the same material a few episodes later with Carol being too drunk to speak with Chris' algebra teacher.) Sid Caesar did have a sorta funny monologue about an expectant father imagining his future relationship with his son.

Fortunately, while looking for pictures of Liza and Carol on Google, I found YouTube clips of four of Liza's appearances on Carol's show. From deductive reasoning, I figured which segments went with which shows, so this really was a reconstruction--the original intention of this series of posts. During this episode, Liza solos on Randy Newman's "The Debutante's Ball," which she sang on her first album. She also does a beautiful medley of songs containing the word "time" in the title with Carol.

Jan. 1, 1968: Lynn Redgrave, Mike Douglas
This was actually the first taped episode of the entire series, but it did not air until New Year's Day, 1968, perhaps so that the company could have a Christmas holiday. Redgrave stars in a hilarious
Carol, Lynn Redgrave, and Harvey
spoof of sexy British films about the randy working classes. Harvey is Crazy Legs Groggins, a hot soccer star cheating on his wife (Redgrave) with a snooty rich woman (Carol). The Carol and Sis sketch is typically foolish with Carol and Chris trying hide a dog from Roger. They've called in a vet who must pretend to treat Carol and acts as if she's a canine. We don't see afternoon talk-show host Mike Douglas's contribution or the finale, but everyone is in fairy-tale medieval gear for the goodbyes, so it might have been interesting.

Feb. 5, 1968: Liza Minnelli, Jack Palance
This is Liza's second appearance on the show and once again she is cut out of the MeTV version. Palance plays a gangster and Carol is his efficient secretary, taking dictation while rival hoods are beaten up ("Was that UGHH! or AAHH?," she asks as she takes notes.) YouTube clips reveal Liza's musical contributions, both really entertaining and showing her amazing vocals just as she's coming into her own and developing her own style separate from her mother's. She sings two contrasting numbers the comic, retro "Ballad of Butterfly McHart" and the nostalgic "The Happy Time" from the Broadway musical of the same name. For the finale, Carol and Liza are decked out in clown costumes and sing "A Big Beautiful Ball" by John Williams and Johnny Mercer while the chorus jumps around with hula hoops. This marvelous number is reminiscent of  Liza's duet in clown gear and white face makeup with her mother on the latter's short-lived variety series.

Season Two
Feb. 3, 1969: Vince Edwards, Chita Rivera
Carol and Vince Edwards sing the title song from
"To Each Her Own Tears"
Weepy Hollywood "women's pictures" are brilliantly parodied in "To Each Her Own Tears," a zany mash up of To Each His Own, Now Voyager, The Great Lie, The Old Maid, An Affair to Remember, and Back Street. The guest stars are super-hunky Vince Edwards, best known as the hairy-forearmed star of Ben Casey, and Broadway dancing star Chita Rivera. Ben Casey finished its run in 1966 and Edwards was probably promoting his new movie, Hammerhead, which was NOT a smash at the box office. The MeTV/Amazon version contains only the extended movie parody, but apparently Carol and her guests also did a gay 90s salute, based on a photo I found on a Google search. Rivera probably had a solo dance number like the one she did in Season One, but I haven't found any evidence of what it was. "To Each Her Own Tears" is camp perfection from start to finish. We open with a mock credits sequence and Lyle announcing "Maudlin Pictures Presents A Distinguished Women's Movie..." The scene opens with Carol as an old Bette Davis/Claudette Colbert-type retelling the story of her life to a bored nurse (presumably one of the chorus dancers given a rare speaking part.) In the flashback Carol is Bette Davis in Now Voyager, a repressed spinster on the verge of a nervous breakdown with a domineering mother (Chita in a fat suit) and selfish sister (Vicki). Harvey as Claude Rains recommends she take a sea cruise.

Chita, Vince and Carol in a musical number cut
from the MeTV/Amazon version
On the deck of her ocean liner, Carol meets a handsome stranger (Vince Edwards) and they immediately fall in love and sing the title song. (Just like in An Affair to Remember, except for the singing). Seconds after being married by the ship's captain (Lyle), Vince is washed overboard. "At least I'm carrying his child," Carol nobly proclaims and then an expression of doubt crosses her face as if to say "How did that work out?" Commercial.

In the second act, Vicki takes Carol's baby and Carol becomes the mistress of Lyle, leading to endless heartache and misery for Carol. The fake movie ends with Vince as Carol's son seeming to acknowledge her as his mother (shades of To Each His Own, The Big Lie, The Old Maid) and then ignoring her and kissing Vicki. Carol kicks Chita's cane in anger.

March 10, 1969: John Davidson, Ross Martin
The first Alice Portnoy sketch
One of the rare episodes to be divided into two segments for MeTV and Amazon so we can piece together almost the entire hour. It's not clear why they did that with this one. Perhaps because there is another extended movie parody which fills up one 22-minute segment and there's enough non-musical material for another one. Ross Martin was the co-star of The Wild Wild West and had appeared with Carol on Password (all the episodes of that game show are on YouTube.) In the first half, John Davidson sings Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" in a tuxedo (which seems weird) and Carol's annoying Girl Scout character Alice Portnoy is introduced. This sketch features Carol blackmailing Harvey into buying all of her cookies and was repeated in various forms for a few seasons before the bit was retired. It was basically the same idea replayed over and over. Alice annoys an adult, reveals embarrassing information, gets them to give her money or a good grade (This was Alice's first appearance and is included as a bonus sketch on the Lost Episodes collection.)

Ross Martin and Carol in The Helen Feidelbaum Story
The second half features another masterful movie parody, The Helen Feidelbaum Story, a combination of Love Me or Leave Me and I'll Cry Tomorrow, with Carol as a down-on-her-luck, alcoholic saloon singer, Ross as her abusive gangster-boyfriend, Harvey as her accompanist secretly in love with her, and John as her dimwitted brother who is constantly in need of cash to pay for medical or law school because he keeps flunking out. Carol sings a fantastic parody torch song, Ross Martin is a riot as a pseudo Jimmy Cagney, and everybody winds up shot in a weepy climax.

More reviews and commentary to come.

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