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.
Dec. 15, 1973: Ruth Buzzi, Richard Crenna
(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).
Dec. 15, 1973: Ruth Buzzi, Richard Crenna
|Harvey and Carol in |
Raised to be Rotten
|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.
Sept. 27, 1974: James Coco, The Pointer Sisters
|Vicki, Carol and James Coco in|
One Way Ticket
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|
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
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
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
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.
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.