Thursday, May 6, 2021

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 16

It's been a while since I've viewed any episodes of the Carol Burnett Show on the various DVD collections received as Christmas or birthday gifts or on the various platforms that display chopped-up 22 min. versions of the originals. A few weeks ago, I attempted to view missing material at the Paley Center in Manhattan, but it's still closed for COVID. In the first 15 installments of this series, I just went after episodes that contained sketches that interested me, such as all of Carol's brilliant movie parodies or segments from the first five seasons previously unavailable. So, until the Paley Center re-opens, my only option is to go back to my DVDs and online and analyze the episodes I haven't gotten to yet, perhaps in chronological order. Maybe I'll find unexpected gems.

Season One
Sept. 11, 1967: Jim Nabors
Carol with Jim Nabors during 
one of his many appearances on the show

Carol's very first show in its entirety is contained on both the Best Of and Lost Episodes collections. There's nothing particularly outstanding here, expect, obviously, for a bunch of firsts. The debut of Jim Nabors' annual premiere appearance of each season, the first Carol and Sis sketch, the first Q&A with the audience, Carol's first awkward drooling over Lyle, etc. During the opening, we learn the show is on opposite I Spy and The Big Valley and Carol jokes that she might have Pearl Bailey on so they can do a take-off on I Spy's interracial casting. (This idea was done later with Carol and Barbara McNair.) Carol does the first of many VIPs mock interviews with Harvey as a newscaster. Here she is Shirley Dimple and there are gag references to the foray into politics of the real-life Shirley Temple and other show-biz has-beens like George Murphy and Ronald Reagen. The most interesting and revealing bit comes during Carol's Broadway duet with Jim. After partnering on songs from West Side Story, How to Succeed, and Annie Get Your Gun (with Carol imitating Merman), they switch gender roles and Carol warbles Billy Bigelow's Soliloquy from Carousel. Naturally, this leads to Jim holding his hands primly and intoning "When I Marry Mr. Snow." The audience laughs at the absurdity of big, tall Jim acting like a coy girl. But Nabors' gay sexuality makes the joke doubly significant. Especially when Carol then asks "What about Rex Harrison?" 

"Well, I guess he'll do if I can't have Mr. Snow," Jim replies. Were Carol and Jim winking at the audience and having a laugh between themselves about Jim Nabors' really wanting a Mr. Snow of his own? 
It must have been difficult for Nabors to hide his identity especially in the public world of show business. This forced secrecy is brought home during an interview in the Special Features section of the Lost Episodes DVD when Nabors casually mentions his male partner when discussing Carol's visit with Jim while he scouted properties in Hawaii where he eventually retired. Nabors finally married his partner only a few years before his death in 2017. 

The other sketches are pretty routine with Jim and Carol indulging in physical comedy as klutzes flirting at a ski lodge. The hour ends with Carol's charwoman cleaning up a disco, fantasizing that she's boogeying with young swingers and then belting Georgy Girl. In the goodnights, Harvey, Vicki and Lyle sign her autography book as well as Jim.

Sept. 25, 1967: Jonathan Winters, Eddie Albert
(Amazon/MeTV/ShoutFactory) Another chopped-up episode available on Amazon and ShoutFactoryTV.
Carol (l., holding a purse)
with Elizabeth Montgomery and
Dean Martin in 
Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?

In another frustrating move, not only are all the segments on Amazon incomplete, but you have to watch them with commercials now. Carol opens up her third show (the second one with Sid Caesar and Liza Minnelli is analyzed in previous blogs) introducing her guests Eddie Albert from Green Acres (he doesn't make the cut here until the goodnights) and a "real nut" Jonathan Winters. During the audience Q&A, Carol introduces Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched in the audience. She explains she and Liz appeared in a horrible movie together which was on ABC the previous evening. Liz tells her they were on an airplane where the movie in question was being shown and they had 17 walk-outs. For the record, the movie was called Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed (1963) and I recall watching it on black and white TV. It was something about Liz and Dean Martin, playing a TV doctor, about to get married and Dino gets cold feet. Carol was the goofy best friend of Liz, I think. I think she had a drunk scene. This sort of harmless sex farce used to be a staple of cinema before TV loosened up in the 1970s and people could watch lame double entendres at home for free. You notice these kind of films never show up on TCM.

Jonathan Winters shows Tim Conway
isn't the only one 
who can crack up Harvey
Another famous person attending the taping was Ken Berry whose wife Jackie Joseph shows up in the first sketch, a Carol and Sis vignette which breaks the mold by not ending with somebody getting hit in the face with the kitchen door. Jackie and Dave Ketchum play a pair of old friends but Carol and Roger (Harvey) cannot remember their names. It's sort of funny. Then Jonathan Winters displays his ad-lib talents as two disparate characters in a lame airport sketch. Harvey plays a newsman interviewing supposedly interesting people getting off flights. That's it. That's the whole premise. The writers must have been relying on Winters' ability to embellish and add hilarious details to stereotypes. First he's a weird college kid visiting his 90-year-old parents. Then Carol enters as a Gabor sister dripping with diamonds and leading two enormous hounds. Winters then re-enters as a Southern police chief wielding a club who immediately assaults Harvey. Given the current political atmosphere, it was weird to see an audience laugh at a police official brutally beating a civilian for no reason. Violence was used as a source of humor then. Think of the the Three Stooges. 

Oct. 9, 1967: Imogene Coca, Lanie Kazan
(Amazon/MeTV/ShoutFactory) After a brief VIP sketch with Carol as Miss America, Imogene Coca and Carol duke it out as housewives battling for prominence in a coffee commercial. Harvey is the hapless director who learns the valuable lesson "Never work with amateurs." This sketch was recycled in Season 4 with Debbie Reynolds. More violence ensues in Bonnie and Clod with Harvey as a crook who has lost his edge and Carol as his supportive wife, urging him to have the courage to be more rotten than ever. Clod gets carried away and beats up Bonnie, finally shooting her. She retaliates with her own gun and both are dead at the end of the sketch. Another argument for gun control. Lanie Kazan only shows up at the end. Presumably she sang a song.

Dec. 11, 1967: Mickey Rooney, John Davidson
(Lost Episodes Ultimate Collection) The series begins to hit its stride and find an identity separate from
Carol, Mickey Rooney, and John Davidson in
The Four Funns of Broadway

other variety shows of the era with this segment featuring The Funn Family of Broadway, the first extended movie musical parody with full production numbers. Movie take-offs would become the highlight of each episode as Carol got to fulfill her childhood fantasies of becoming Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, or Lana Turner. Many of these divas would turn up as her guest stars. Here the imitation movie musical takes up twenty mins. and an entire segment of the hacked-up version on Amazon, MeTV or ShoutFactory! Mashing together elements of Yankee Doodle Dandy, Show Boat and There's No Business Like Show Business, this mock musical relates the familiar tale of the Funn family of entertainers from the days of vaudeville in 1917 to a futuristic farewell in the far-off year of 1970. Carol, Vicki, guest stars Mickey Rooney and John Davidson are a family quartet struggling to make it (just like the four Cohans in Yankee Doodle Dandy). Harvey as a Ziegfeld-type producer enters their dressing room and agrees to star them in his next show, but only as a trio. The father Mickey nobly steps aside and allows his wife and kids to ascend the ladder of fame while he wallows at the bottom disguised as the kindly stage door man (just like in Show Boat). While son John becomes President of the US and daughter Vicki garners multiple Nobel Prizes as a doctor, mother Carol remains at the top until 1970 (three years from the time if the show) when she retires amid weirdly dressed chorus people who look like they just stepped out of Barbarella. (Bob Mackie really went to town here.) Mickey throws off his disguise at the last minute and there's a tearful reunion.

The other highlight is a bizarre puncturing of The Dating Game, then a popular daytime show featuring a girl contestant choosing a date from three eligible bachelors behind a screen. The sexual dynamics are weird as is the title of the show The Rat Race. (Huh?) At first Carol as the uptight contestant is extremely reluctant to play since she's had a "terrible experience with a man." Then she hears Mickey putting on a sexy French voice and she's eager to jump into the sack. So all it takes to forget a traumatic encounter is a few cliches uttered in a phony accent? Handsome John and Dreamboat Lyle are the other possible contenders but they have goofy voices, so she opts for Mickey. Of course when she sees that she passed up gorgeous John and Lyle for pint-sized Mickey she freaks and reveals he's the one who caused the "traumatic experience."

There's also a somewhat funny German version of a Western called the Heil Chaparral with Carol as Kitty Marlene, the dance hall hostess, Mickey as the sherriff and Harvey as gunslinger Wilhelm the Kid. The biggest laughs are derived from the sound man missing his cue. In the musical spotlight, John sings "Somewhere" from West Side Story as an uptune. On the DVD, we also get an original commercial for Silva Thins cigarettes with less tar and nicotine, but more taste, as Lyle tells us.
Jan. 15, 1968: Ken Berry, Trini Lopez
(Amazon/MeTV/ShoutFactory) Ken Berry makes the first of his 19 appearances of Carol's show. He
Ken Berry and Carol in Show Down
on the Show Boat

was starring on Mayberry RFD, the sequel to the Andy Griffith Show. A versatile song and dance man, Berry would become an almost ubiquitous presence on TV from Carol's show and Mama's Family to The Golden Girls. In the edited version, we only get Ken singing and dancing a cleaned-up version of Mack the Knife followed by Show Down on the Show Boat, or She Wasn't Much of a Swimmer But She Knew How to Float a Loan. Like the Four Funns of Broadway, this parody of Show Boat featured full production numbers plus a miscast Trini Lopez as the captain of the showboat. ("You come from a different part of the South," Carol quipped when he read a line with a heavy Spanish accent.) Lopez was a popular recording artist who dabbled in acting, appearing as one of the Dirty Dozen. The Show Boat was a fun diversion with colorful costumes from Bob Mackie and moustache-twirling from Harvey as the villain Nathan Nasty. Carol would return to the source material several seasons later with guest Hal Linden.

Jan. 29, 1968: Dionne Warwick, Jonathan Winters
(Lost Episodes Ultimate Collection) Jonathan Winters returns to bedevil Harvey, this time as Maude
Jonathan Winters and Carol
as a TV-obsessed couple

Frickard as the world's oldest new mother at age 83. He's also funny in a brief sketch with Carol as a TV-obsessed couple who speak to each other in commercial talk. Warwick performs the theme from Valley of the Dolls, Children Go When I Send Thee with the dancers, and duets with Carol on Tomorra, an obscure show tune from Bloomer Girl. In Carol and Sis, Carol insists on staying up all night so her hair will be perfect for a wedding the next day. Somehow she gets stuck inside a space helmet Crissy wore to a costume party. (Don't ask.) The whole insane hour ends with Carol cracking up as a whip artist is supposed to whip all her clothes off, but he misses his cue and whips too early, leaving Carol standing in her underwear for several minutes while she sings the end of "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."

Feb. 12, 1968: Martha Raye, Betty Grable
(Lost Episodes Ultimate Collection) 
Carol and Betty Grable in the first
As the Stomach Turns
Aside from two great guest stars from the Golden Age of TV and Movies respectively, this episode features the very first As the Stomach Turns soap opera parody. Ironically, the sketch was supposed to be the last episode of the mock series where dozens of plots would have been tied up, but the lampoon would continue for much of the show's 11-year run. Carol makes her first appearance as Marion, the lusty, frustrated gossipmonger of Canoga Falls, a tiny town that makes Peyton Place look like Grover's Corners. The segments would later take on a pattern with Carol counseling a sobbing guest star with a problem--adultery, murder, bad diet. Vicki would appear as Marion's long-lost daughter with an illegitimate baby in tow, leaving it in Marion's care. As soon as the daughter was off for more amorous adventures, Marion would dump the baby in an umbrella stand and go on with the scene. Lyle often plays as the object of Marion's lust. Here he is Betty's long-lost son about to marry Martha for her money. Martha's double takes and reaction shots are hilarious. There is a lot of comic milage from the obligatory organ music playing too loud and drowning out the dialogue. The hacked-up MeTV version also includes a funny sight gag with Harvey, Lyle and the female guests plus one chorus girl participating in a beautiful legs contest. The complete episode on the DVD collection also includes Carol as Queen Elizabeth in the VIP segment; Carol and Martha duetting on Flings from New Girl in Town; and Betty reprising the title song from Hello, Dolly (she had replaced Carol Channing and Ginger Rogers on Broadway). For some reason, they decided to outfit the chorus boys like refugees from Dogpatch with long beards and hillbilly outfits. 

Feb. 19, 1968: Art Carney, Nanette Fabray
(Lost Episodes Ultimate Collection) The DVD version of this episode includes the very funny Valley of the Dollars, caricaturing the marvelously awful Valley of the Dolls with Carol, Vicki and Gloria Loring as
Carol, Gloria Loring and Vicki
in Valley of the Dollars

Ann, Neely and Jennifer posing on a bed as in the famous publicity shot of the three leads. Here's the problem: Gloria Loring is not listed as a guest star and she does not show up in the goodbyes. But, this sketch is included in the Amazon/MeTV episode with Soupy Sales which is dated as March 25, 1968 and Loring does show up in that one in the goodnights. So why did the producers of the DVD insert this sketch into another segment? Or maybe it was part of that show and the original producers used it again a few weeks later? (Not very likely.) The world may never knew, as the guy in Tootsie Pop commercial said.

To get back to this episode, Art Carney was then starring as Ed Norton on the Jackie Gleason Show and he used that rough-edges sewerman persona as an unlikely sex symbol in the sketch Passion on Tenth Avenue. Carol is a disheveled housewife pining for her irresistible husband to come home. From the way she carries on, you'd think she was married to Robert Redford, but it's Art who is a slovenly garbage collector. Nanette Fabray is their neighbor whom Carol suspects is carrying on with her hubby. The highlight of the episode is a mishap. While holding Carol is a passionate embrace, Art drops her and her wig falls off. "That's the first time a woman flipped her wig over me," he quips. The low-class Tenth Avenue setting was later used in a series of sketches with Carol and Harvey as welfare bums and Vicki and Lyle as their deprived and depraved kids. This bit only lasted a few seasons because there aren't too many variations on poverty humor.

Carol as Katharine Hepburn, Art Carney, Harvey,
and Nanette Fabray as Ethel Mermaid
in Guess What's Coming to Dinner
The other major sketch is Guess What's Coming to Dinner, a take-off on the then-current Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Carol got up as Katharine Hepburn and Nanette as a mermaid switched out for Sydney Poitier as a distinguished doctor. "I believe in equality for everybody," says Art in the Spencer Tracy role, "except fish!" Carol reprises Shirley Dimple from the first episode with Nanette as Jane Withers. They sing a best friends duet from an imagined 1930s movie called Babes in Armenia (I would have paid money to see that). The gag is the two little child stars are bitter rivals out to physically destroy each other while warbling what great chums they are (Once again, violence is a source of humor.) Vicki gets to do a sexy dance number with lead dancer Don Creighton and the finale has the whole cast on rollerskates.

Feb. 26, 1968: Garry Moore, Durward Kirby, John Gary
(Amazon/MeTV/ShoutFactoryTV) Carol welcomes Garry and Durward, her old co-stars from the Garry Moore Show who had appeared on previous episodes. John Gary was a singer/composer. He only shows up for the final goodbyes in the mutilated 22-minute version. According to, he sang The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and The Night Is Young and You're So Beautiful. Also missing are a parody of Golden Boy and a South Sea island finale. What remains is the Q&A with Garry and Durward, an amusing sketch about Martians assuming human bodies and a Carol and Sis vignette with the overused trope of Carol being drunk or exhausted just as an important visitor arrives. In this case, it's Crissy's teacher to discuss a scholarship. They must have done that one at least five times.

March 25, 1968: Soupy Sales, Gloria Loring
(Amazon/MeTV/ShoutFactoryTV) This is the episode where Valley of the Dollars belongs, evidently. The eviscerated version includes that sketch and a dated newlywed scene with Carol and Soupy Sales as a just-married pair of virgins horrified by the prospect of sharing the honeymoon suite. Sales was a well-known kid's show host and recurring panelist on the syndicated late 1960s-early 1970s reboot of What's My Line. The finale, which is missing, involved Carol and Soupy as kids since they are dressed as 1890s juveniles for the goodnights.

That almost takes care of all of Season One. I'll wrap up that season in the next blog and move on to Season Two.

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