Saturday, April 11, 2020

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part Ten (Quarantine Edition)

We are now at the end of week three of lockdown/quarantine in NYC. Broadway theaters will not reopen until at least June 7, schools will remain closed for the rest of the semester, millions of people have lost their jobs or been furloughed, too many idiots STILL approve of Monster Trump's awful performance, and we need to review more of the missing Carol Burnett Show episodes.

Season Two
Sept. 30, 1968: Carol Channing
The two Carols as each other
A promising opening with the two Carols answering questions is followed by two routine sketches in the MeTV/Amazon edited version. In the first, Harvey is a presidential candidate delivering his umpteenth stump speech while exhausted wife Carol cannot stay awake to save her life. Then Carol Channing makes a dazzling entrance in a jewel-encrusted mini-skirt as a Lorelei Lee-like golddigger after elderly millionaire Harvey's money while our Carol as his neglected secretary-nurse-companion fumes. It would have been fun to see the Carols sing a duet. I did find a picture of them impersonating each other and it may be this was one of the musical numbers on this episode. IMDB does list details about some of segments and such a sketch is not included. It's possible the picture is from a Carol Channing special with Burnett as her guest.

Oct. 10, 1968: Nanette Fabray, Trini Lopez
Carol and Nanette are two little girls exchanging adult talk on an oversized park bench. One big risque laugh for 1968. Carol says she knows where babies come from. "Sex," she announces proudly. "What's that?," asks Nanette. "A department store, dummy! Sex Fifth Avenue." And it gets a huge laugh.

Then "As the Stomach Turns"--pretty funny with Vicki as both Carol's daughter and another unwed mother, Nanette dying of malaria, Harvey as the town doctor and Lyle as his handsome replacement. Trini Lopez, a popular singer-musician, is only seen at the end signing Carol's book.

March 24, 1969: Barrie Chase, Larry Hovis
I was interested in this one because it featured two rarely-seen guests instead of the usual Ken Berry,
Carol and Larry Hovis on The Marriage Game
Bernadette Peters, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, or Nanette Fabray. Barrie Chase was a dancer who achieved a spurt of fame as Fred Astaire's partner on his Emmy-winning TV special in the early 1960s. Hovis was a regular on both Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and Hogan's Heroes. Barry does an elegant, sexy dance with the boys. (There were very few stars whose specialty was dance during this era and even fewer now. Anne Reinking was probably the last one.) Larry appears in a hilarious sketch parodying The Newlywed Game with Harvey as the host. "Thirty minutes of bad taste," Harvey describes the show. The Newlywed Game was a stupid quiz show on ABC wherein the host would ask embarrassing questions of just-marrieds in order elicit arguments among the couples. Carol is Larry's sex-phobic new bride, constantly hitting him like Gladys Ormsby whenever the hint of intimate relations comes up in Harvey's obnoxious questions.

Season Three
Oct. 13, 1969: Scoey Mitchell, Bobbie Gentry
We don't see country-western star Gentry at all until the goodbyes. Comedian Scoey Mitchell does his
Carol as Queen Elizabeth II
stand-up routine, smoking a cigarette and cracking jokes about the ghetto, race riots, and getting high on pot (pretty racy for Carol's show). Mitchell was a fairly hot actor-comic in the late 60s and early 70s, appearing on several sitcoms including The Mothers-In-Law, That Girl and Rhoda and he starred in a short-lived African-American TV adaptation of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park.

The centerpiece of this episode is Carol's impersonation of Queen Elizabeth. The BBC documentary on the royal family had just aired and caused a sensation. Lyle introduces a whole series of sketches which take up half of the show. He says the documentary (chronicled on The Crown on Netflix) was such a hit, there was talk the Queen should have her own variety series. "It would go something like this." Then we see Carol as Elizabeth answering questions from the audience, playing in a Queen and Sis sketch with Vicki as a sexy Princess Margaret and Harvey as Prince Philip, and then finally the Old Folks with Carol and Harvey as elderly royals. The last one was ironically prophetic with the couple discussing their son Prince Charles' disappointment at the Queen still being alive. Here it is 50 years later and the sketch would still work. Carol would play the Queen again many times during the show's run, later with Tim Conway as an annoying Cockney soldier receiving a medal or some honor from her Majesty and fouling it up.

Nov. 10, 1969: Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dan Rowan, Dick Martin
Like the Liza Minnelli episodes reviewed in the last blog, this one is really breaking my heart. The truncated version on MeTV/Amazon offers tantalizing bits of the missing segments, but what is left
This was for sale on eBay.
TV Guide would sometimes do special boxes
if a show was really special. It's not this episode,
but it was from one of Ella Fitzgerald's earlier appearances on the show.
over is not so great. There's a bit with Carol as an overenthusiastic waitress ruining lunch for her idol Crosby and Harvey as his agent. It's saved when Bob Hope makes a surprise appearance at the end, ad-libbing jokes about his former movie partner's age. Rowan and Martin are sorta funny as bank robbers in an Alice Portnoy scene--with the same gag as in every Alice sketch. Brainiac girl scout Alice barges into a setting where she is not welcome and outsmarts the adults into giving her all of their money. In this case, Rowan and Martin shoot each other.

There's a short scene with Carol being driven crazy by husband Dick Martin's awful memory. What kills me is you don't get to see the musical numbers which probably contained a medley with Ella Fitzgerald and Crosby, two of the greatest voices of the 20th century. (There is a snippet of Carol and Ella singing "I'll Never Fall in
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope with Carol
Love Again" on the show's 25th Anniversary Special in 1992, but it's hard to tell which episode it goes with since Ella appeared a few times on Carol's show. Maybe this was the one because the song was from Promises, Promises which opened on Broadway in 1969.) When getting the guests to sign her book, Carol is dressed as Groucho Marx, Vicki is Harpo and Harvey is Chico. That would have been fun.

Dec. 29, 1969: Donald O'Connor, Nancy Wilson
I have a distinct memory of watching this one in its original run, or perhaps a rerun. I remember both segments shown in the edited MeTV/Amazon version. (I don't recall any of the material which was edited out.) First Carol is a typical housewife, harassed by characters from TV commercials. The commercials are long forgotten, but the sketch is still funny as she is annoyed by Vicki as Josephine the Plumber, Harvey as a fey cowboy selling potato chips, Donald O'Connor as an insurance salesman, and Mrs. Olsen hawking coffee. Finally, dancers in
Donald O'Connor with Carol
colorful bodysuits representing the tiny time pills in Contact cold remedy capsules attack her. This became an annual sketch with new commercials added each time.

The second part was the musical finale, a satire of college movie tuners like Good News with Nancy Wilson narrating and Donald as the star quarterback of the football team being tutored by nerdy girl Carol in rhythm so he can pass the big exam. The test turns into a big production number with Lindy Hopping and jitterbugging.

Jan. 5, 1970: Audrey Meadows, Kaye Stevens
A rather ordinary episode with two staple sketches: The Tenth Avenue Family and As the Stomach Turns. The soap spoof was kinda funny and the only time we see the guest stars. Audrey Meadows
Harvey with Audrey Meadows
in As the Stomach Turns
was known as the second and longest-running Alice Kramden opposite Jackie Gleason on the Honeymooners. Kaye Stevens was a singer who was slow on her cues during the sketch. When she finally said her line, Harvey as her husband snapped, "At last. Can you see the card there?" referring to cue cards with the dialogue written on them. The finale must have had something to do with exercises because during the goodbyes, Carol, Kaye and Audrey are wearing matching gym outfits and the set looks like an exercise studio. The funniest line comes at the very end of the credits. During As the Stomach Turns, there were numerous jokes about Marion's meatloaf cooking in the oven as Audrey tries to kill herself by sticking her head in. "You're getting hair all over my meatloaf," complains Carol as Marion. As the credits roll, Lyle announces "The part of the meatloaf was played by Chuck Roast."

March 23, 1970: Martha Raye, Mel Torme
This segment begins pretty conventionally with Martha and Carol playing a variation on a sketch
Martha Raye returns as another slob meeting
another snob (Carol) on a park bench
from Martha's previous appearance with the former as a slob meeting snooty Carol in a park, only this time each has a dog instead of a baby. Then, things take a decidedly adult turn as a salute to Disney films gets pretty raunchy for prime-time TV. Sleeping Beauty is presented for G, M and X rated audiences. (This was in the days of movie ratings.) In the G-rated family version, Lyle is the handsome prince with a Dudley Do-Right voice and Vicki is dumb blonde princess. Then Harvey and Martha put on cheesy Italian accents for an European "dirty" movie edition. Finally in the "X" variation for "the racy crowd," Lyle wakes up Sleeping Beauty, to find it's Mel Torme who greets him with a stereotypical gay "Hi, there."

If you thought Sleeping Beauty was dirty, Penny Poppins, Carol's send-up of Mary Poppins will knock your socks off. This satire of the beloved magical nanny plays like a lowdown burlesque sketch and is truly shocking in the #MeToo era. Penny Poppins arrives at the debauched home of aristocratic, alcoholic Martha. The new flying governess must care for a lecherous grandfather (Harvey) and a sexually precocious brat (Mel in a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit). Both grandpa and grandson are pervs, pawing at the female help. Vicki as a maid has to remove her uniform in front of lusty grandpa. Mel is sent home from school for molesting his teacher. None of this sexual humiliation would be seen as funny today. Both dirty guys get their comeuppance though. Harvey dies of diabetes shock when Carol feeds him one spoonful of sugar too many and Mel winds up jumping to his death when Carol convinces him he can fly. The segment ends with Martha returning from a booze-up and not being terribly broken up about her father and son dying. Carol as Penny Poppins gives notice, Martha weeps "Where in heaven's name will I find someone to take your place?" and the Flying Nun swoops in.

We don't get to see the finale but Carol is got up as Minnie Mouse and Mel and Martha are wearing Mouska-ear hats.

Season 4
Sept. 28, 1970: Nanette Fabray, Steve Lawrence
A trio of movie parodies in a salute to Columbia Pictures. Nanette is a riot as a talent-challenged, artificially-breast-augmented Kim Novak in Middle of the Night while Harvey does his old Jewish man bit as her tired lover. Steve, who has previously shown he can do a mean Groucho Marx and Humphrey Bogart, does a pretty accurate Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity. Carol is Deborah Kerr in the famous beach scene. Then in Golda, Carol is glamorous and dangerous as Rita Hayworth in Golda, a satire of Gilda. It was this sketch that convinced Hayworth to come on the show.

Nov. 16, 1970: Martha Raye, Ross Martin
Martha and Carol are mismatched roommates--AGAIN! This time on jury duty with Lyle as a handsome court officer. Then we get a really enjoyable extended send-up of medical TV dramas called Storefront Hospital. As in other genre-specific satires, most of the characters don't even have names. Carol is Woman Doctor Hickey as she announces to everyone. Ross is Head of the Whole Hospital who launches an affair with her. Martha is Rich Patient demanding Carol fluff up her pillows. Harvey's character, Kindly Old Dr. Zappa, actually has a name and is based on Dr. Zorba as played by Sam Jaffe on the Ben Casey series. Lyle and Vicki are dimwitted interns who dance down the hospital hallways.

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