Thursday, December 30, 2021

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 19: More Movie Spoofs

As 2021 comes to an end and I am recovering from being in an auto accident (I was struck by a car while crossing a street while I had the light), here is a new installment in our series on the Carol Burnett Show. This time we focus on the series' brilliant movie parodies.

Season Seven
Dec. 15, 1973: Ruth Buzzi, Richard Crenna

Harvey and Carol in 
Raised to be Rotten
(Full episode found on YouTube) The high point of this segment is a salute to Bad Girls of the Movies. Ruth plays Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate and then Richard comes in as Benjamin, the much younger object of her seduction--dressed in a boy scout outfit. Then Carol does her over-the-top Bette Davis impersonation while Vicki plays Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington from All About Eve. After Vicki smears Carol with make-up and smacks her with a powder puff to make her look bad, Vicki then takes Carol-Bette's dress and imagines replacing the great star. Carol throws Vicki out of the dressing room. Then Harvey as Gary Merrill comes to comfort Carol, but tries on the dress himself. (More condescending gay/trans/cross-dressing humor).
Carol as the vile Christinabell
seduces Richard Crenna 
as the poor but sexy writer
in Raised to be Rotten

These two short sketches are an appetizer for the main course: Raised to be Rotten, a parody of Born to Bad (1950), a melodrama starring Joan Fontaine. The original movie was on Stars recently. I was curious having only known it as the source for this sketch. I tried to watch it, but it was so terrible, I could only stand a few minutes. Only the handsome and well-built Mel Ferrer saved it for me. In this hilarious extended satire, Carol is Christinabelle, the scheming cousin who poses as an innocent flower but is the serpent beneath. Using every manipulative trick in the book, she steals her cousin's (Ruth)'s rich fiance (Harvey as Zachary Scott, the target of two women, just like in Mildred Pierce). All the while dallying with the poor but sexy writer Nick (Richard Crenna). Carol's twisted expressions conveying Christinabella's duplicitous nature are priceless.

The abridged version on Carol Burnett and Friends only includes the three skits listed above. The complete version can now be found on YouTube. In addition, Richard and Carol play married cops bickering during a stake-out; Ruth, Carol and Lyle do a funny game-show parody called Celebrities and Peasants; Ruth has a musical number dressed as a live doll with the chorus done up as toys; and the finale involved Carol, Vicki and Ruth musically mimeographing women's suffrage pamphlets while dressed in early 1900s dresses. 

Season Eight:
Sept. 27, 1974: James Coco, The Pointer Sisters
Vicki, Carol and James Coco in
One Way Ticket
James Coco was a beloved character actor who parlayed his hit appearances Off-Broadway in Terrence McNally's Next and Neil Simon's Last of the Red Hot Lovers on Broadway into a successful film and TV career. He starred in two short-lived sitcoms--Calucci's Department and The Dumplings. The former was written and conceived by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna and featured a great cast of New York actors including Jose Perez, Candy Azzara, Peggy Pope, Rosetta LeNoire, and Jack Fletcher. I saw Coco in McNally's Broadway! Broadway! in 1977 when it played in Philadelphia and closed out of town. He returned to the play, renamed It's Only a Play, when it played Manhattan Theater Club Off-Broadway in 1986. He died of a heart attack the following year. The Pointer Sisters were a quartet of siblings specializing in vintage-retro-style songs and 1940s outfits. I had all their albums and along with Bette Midler and the Manhattan Transfer, they were my favorite music group because of their love of nostalgia. One of the sisters went solo into disco and the remaining three had some hits (Slow Hand, Fire), but they veered into 1980s pop and abandoned the old songs. 

The aborted version of this show has a two-minute sketch with Carol arguing with a tub of margarine, voiced by Harvey. Then we get the Saturday Night Tearjerker--One Way Ticket, a 20-minute lampoon of One Way Passage (1932) with William Powell as a charming murderer and Kay Francis as a terminally ill playgirl who meet cute on a cruise without knowing the other is doomed. (The material was remade in 1940 as Till We Meet Again with George Brent and Merle Oberon.) Carol and James Coco take the romantic leads with Vicki putting on her Eastern European accent as Dr. Ouspenskaya, the only person who knows Carol will soon be pushing up daisies, and Harvey as the Irish cop handcuffed to James and ready to escort him to the electric chair. 

The writing is brilliantly sharp, skewering the conventions of 1930s weepies and the Hays Code. Sex is referred to as "whatnot," a pastime Carol must avoid or it will result in her imminent demise. Vicki has several good zingers, particularly as she diagnoses Carol and tells her she is suffering from the Movie Disease which only afflicts rich, beautiful women like Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Sylvia Sydney. "And there's no pain when you die," she counsels Carol, "just one hiccup and zip!"

The Pointer Sisters
There is another sketch with James as a man nervous on a blind date. In the latest roll-out of Carol Burnett and Friends half-hours, this segment has been tacked on to another series of sketches from an episode with Rock Hudson and Nancy Walker (See below).

In the full hour, the Pointer Sisters sing Steam Heat from the Pajama Game and Carol joins them in 1940s regalia for Salt Peanuts. The finale has James dressed as an early 1900s piano player, sort of a white Scott Joplin, and mock-accompanying Carol and the Pointers on a ragtime medley. 

Oct. 12, 1974: Telly Savalas, The Smothers Brothers
The classic film roasted here is Algiers (1938) with Charles Boyer and Hedy Lamarr. The sketch is called Poopie LeMoko, instead of Pepe, with guest star Telly Savalas of Kojak fame as the titular international jewel thief. Carol plays the femme fatale who lures Poopi out of the Casbah to his death. Harvey is Poopi's nemesis Inspector Ptomaine (his accent was hilarious). Vicki is the street slut Poopi throws over for Carol who is really an undercover cop. Savalas also has a talking-singing musical solo and pairs with Harvey as businessmen discussing a merger as it it were a love affair.

Telly Savalas and Carol 
in Poopi LeMoko
The Smothers Brothers had their own variety series for only three seasons before the CBS censors and execs crushed them. Their appearance on Carol's show was before their short-lived comeback show on NBC in Jan. 1975. This new show was produced by Carol's husband and producer Joe Hamilton and was stripped of the controversy that made their CBS show such fun, but unpalatable to the network. Here they perform one of their musical bits and take part in a series of commercial spoofs. Tommy plays one of Eunice's many siblings who is in the hospital and gets an unwelcome visit from his sister, Harvey as Ed, and Vicki as Mama. This brother, Jack, never showed up again in subsequent Family sketches. Roddy MacDowall, Ken Berry, Alan Alda and Betty White played Eunice's siblings in later shows. 

Feb. 15, 1975: Rock Hudson, Nancy Walker
Walker and Hudson worked together on the former's TV series McMillan and Wife. Walker was also starring as Rhoda Morgenstern's mother on the spin-off series from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Hudson and Walker's height difference is used to comic effect in an unlikely duet, Mine, choreographed by Marge Champion. They also have fun with the Carol Burnett Show's Eight Annual Awards for the most memorable TV commercials, several of which were tacked onto a James Coco sketch to fill up a 22-minute segment for the Carol Burnett and Friends syndication series. One has Nancy cleaning her oven with her feet and another has Rock arguing with margarine (echoing another sketch where Carol battles with the artificial butter). There is also an extremely homophobic spot with Harvey as Joe Namath wearing pantyhose (this was an actual commercial). Rock as the coach then enters and tells Harvey the other guys are finished so he can use the shower now--meaning the straight players refuse to shower with the supposedly gay Harvey who wears ladies' stockings. How did the closeted gay Hudson feel about delivering this anti-gay joke?

Carol and Rock Hudson in
When My Baby Laughs at Me
The movie spoof here goes further than usual to include original musical numbers by Ken and Mitzi Welch and takes up 30 minutes, half of the entire show. When My Baby Laughs at Me is based on When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948), starring Betty Grable and an Oscar-nominated Dan Dailey as a vaudeville couple dealing with the ups and downs of show biz. Rock and Carol play Skip and Bunny Hoot, a pair of hoofers. Skip is a no-good boozer and carouser, but, like many movie heroines, loyal Bunny loves him anyway. When Skip is offered to go solo by vamp-millionairess Mona Moran (Nancy), he drops Bunny like a hot potato. Eventually, Skip winds up in the gutter while Bunny soars to the heights, thanks to her new husband, producer Clive Chips (Harvey). Of course, the Hoots are reunited by the big finale. The numbers are clever and Nancy has a particularly entertaining torch song, "Forget That Good-for-Nothing Bum" which she sells for all its worth.
March 15, 1975: Roddy MacDowall, Bernadette Peters
I love this show's parody of The Heiress, here called The Lady Heir, because it features this immortal line of dialogue: When Roddy MacDowell as fortune-hunter Montgomery Clift tries to butter up wealthy doctor Harvey, the father of plain-looking heiress Carol, Harvey replies: "Blow it out your saddle bag." 

Roddy MacDowall and Carol in
The Lady Heir
Side note: At the Tony nominees luncheon I met Cherry Jones who was playing the Olivia de Havilland role in a Broadway revival of The Heiress. I asked if she had ever seen this Carol Burnett parody. She had not. She laughed when I told her in this version Catherine blows up the unfaithful Norris at the end. Cherry laughed.

Also on the show: Roddy makes his second appearance as Eunice's brother Philip. Bernadette sings All That Jazz from the then-new Broadway musical, Chicago. Carol and Bernadette play secretaries with synchronized typewriters and the finale is a mini-musical saluting the works of Harnick and Bock.

Season 9:
Nov. 1, 1975: Roddy MacDowall
Roddy returns a season later to take part in another laugh-packed lampoon: The Little Foxies, derived from Lillian Hellman's popular stage play The Little Foxes and its subsequent film version starring Bette Davis. Roddy plays the invalid husband of the scheming Regina. Harvey is her scheming brother, Vicki the drunken sister-in-law and Tim their stupid son. 

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