Monday, August 15, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 31

Summer vacation 2022 is dwindling down to a precious few weeks and there isn't much time to catch up on missing portions of the Carol Burnett Show. I hope to get to the Paley Center to view the remaining complete episodes unavailable anywhere else. Meanwhile, here's a survey of segments gleaned from Amazon Prime's release of original masters, Channel 21 broadcasts, and YouTube submissions.

Season Six
Sept. 20, 1972: Carol Channing, Marty Feldman
(Channel 21) (Previously seen on Amazon/ShoutFactory/MeTV) and Reviewed in Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 13: Sketches on Airplane Crew, Plastic Surgeon, Carol and Sis Jealousy Sketch, Commercials)
Lyle and Vicki in the
deodorant commercial spoof.
Apart from the pieces seen on the hacked-up 22-minute syndicated version, there's a marvelous honky-tonk number with Carol Channing and a few commercial spoofs including a bare-chested Lyle bragging about not using his deodorant for several days and then Vicki wearing a gas mask as his bedmate (They did the same gag on Laugh-In with Larry Hovis and Ruth Buzzi I recall.) Also previously missing was the finale, one of the early mini-musicals devoted to a single songwriter. This time it's Johnny Mercer and there are only four characters: Carol Burnett, Carol Channing, Harvey and Marty. Carol B. is a waitress in a greasy spoon, Harvey is a hobo, Carol C. is a flapper/vamp type, and Marty is some kind of eccentric partygoer. There are romantic couplings and uncouplings told through Mercer's lyrics. The best moment comes when Carol C. and Marty get together to the tune of "Jeepers, Creepers, Where'd You Get Those Peepers" and the two compare their notorious huge eyes.  

Jan. 27, 1973: Tim Conway, Kaye Ballard, Burt Reynolds (cameo during Q&A)
(Amazon Prime Original Broadcast Masters) I distinctly remembered watching this episode when it first
Kaye Ballard imitating
Sophie Tucker in Carol's
salute to vaudeville.

ran in 1973 or parts of it anyway. Kaye Ballard joins Carol in front of a set of old-fashioned radios, remembering their favorite radio shows. This leads to Carol introducing Kaye in a song from a musical based on the radio and TV series The Goldbergs. Kaye explains the show is called Molly's World (after the matriarch Molly Goldberg whom she is playing) and they are planning to opening it on Broadway in the spring. The title was shortened to Molly and it opened on the Main Stem in November of '73, running only 68 performances. Though the show was a flop, Kaye's rendition of the song, "Go in the Best Of Health" is lovely. 

Kaye also appears in a sketch with Carol and Vicki as three friends getting drunk at lunch and stiffing snobby waiter Lyle with the bill. Then she is one of three bachelorettes, again along with Carol and Vicki, vying for contestant Harvey's hand on the Daters' Game. Lyle is host Ken Plastic (love the name). The twist here is new technician Tim Conway (this is before he has joined the cast as a regular) rips Vicki's dress off by accident and must sub for her since it's a live show. There are some funny moments as Tim answers Harvey's questions about romance in a deadpan manner with no attempt to disguise his voice or gender. This is the second spoof of the popular daytime game show. The first featured Mickey Rooney and John Davidson during Season One.

Tim is a clumsy, slow gas station attendant waiting on impatient bank robber Harvey. The finale is a salute to vaudeville and Kaye is especially funny imitating Sophie Tucker. "We didn't need microphones like the young whippersnappers of today because we had heart," she boasts and her voice goes mute as she lowers the mic. (Sophie Tucker is probably best known today for Bette Midler's Sophie Tucker jokes. But people younger than me probably don't know her at all or Bette Midler for that matter.) Tim is the World's Oldest Magician and the whole thing wraps up with Carol and Harvey singing "Tea for Two" on a piano-bicycle, recreating a bit from Ed Wynn. 

Season Eight:
Dec. 7, 1974: Tim Conway, Steve Lawrence, Steven Warner (The Little Prince)
Steven Warner in The Little Prince.
(Channel 21) This is a strange episode with its juxtaposition of perennial guests Steve Lawrence and Tim Conway (before he became a regular cast member) with 8-year-old Steven Warner, then starring in a film musical based on the classic The Little Prince which featured a score by Lerner and Loewe, direction by Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) and was a tremendous flop at the box office. Carol duets with the British kid and then shows a clip from the movie with Richard Kiley as the aviator and little Steven cavorting in a desert oasis. In addition to this box-office bomb, The Little Prince has been adapted for the stage twice and flopped on Broadway both times, most recently this past Broadway season in a sort of Cirque du Soleil staging. Steven also participates in the finale, a salute to Lerner and Loewe with some of the team's more successful efforts including Brigadoon, Paint You Wagon, My Fair Lady, Camelot and Gigi. It gets a little creepy in the latter segment when they change "Thanks Heaven for Little Girls" to "Little Boys."

The comedy vignettes are quite riotous in this one. As the Stomach Turns features Harvey as Mother Marcus, Tim as the little old man, Steve Lawrence imitating Marlon Brando in the Godfather. Tim is very funny in two other scenes. First as a virgin thinking he is visiting a prostitute, but she (Carol) is actually a cop taking over the lady's apartment for a stake-out. Then as a highly suggestible patient in a doctor's office who overreacts to every symptom described by Carol and Harvey.

March 8, 1975: Buddy Ebsen, Wayne Rogers
(Amazon Prime) (Previously seen on Amazon/ShoutFactory and Reviewed in Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 18: Accident-Prone Sketch with Carol and Harvey, The Old Folks, War Movies Satires: Bridge on the River Kwai and War Is Heck; West Dakota County Fair).
Forty minutes of this segment was available on Amazon previously (which is an odd amount) but big chunks were still missing. Now with the original master available, we will finally know why Carol was dressed in that 1940s hairstyle and outfit before introducing the Bridge on the River Kwai sketch with Harvey and Wayne Rogers. 

After the Q&A and the recurring sketch with accident-prone Carol violently injuring herself as she prepares for a night out with husband Harvey, we get the first piece of missing material. Elegantly tuxedoed Buddy Ebsen dances with Carol and the chorus girls. Before starring on the Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones, Buddy was a song and dance man, starring in vaudeville with his sister and appearing opposite Eleanor Powell in Broadway Melody of 1936 and Judy Garland in Broadway Melody of 1938

Carol's intro to the River Kwai sketch is preceded by two brief vignettes as part of the salute to war films. The first is a satire of Purple Heart in which eight airmen are supposed to march to their doom, but instead of facing the enemy, they are entering the mess hall and must eat chef Buddy's cooking. (Note: I could not find a World War II film called Purple Heart. That title belongs to a 2005 movie.) The second one is a take-off of Stage Door Canteen and Hollywood Canteen where raw recruit Wayne dances with Carol who turns out to be a female impersonator (This is followed by Carol dressed in 1940s garb intro-ing the River Kwai lampoon.) 

Season Ten:
March 26, 1977: Ken Berry
(Channel 21) As the series entered its tenth year, you could tell Carol's army of writers were struggling to come up with new ideas. Mrs. Wiggins and Tudball have a fire drill. Tim and Harvey are two soldiers
Carol and Ken Berry in
Babes in Barns.

stranded in the desert. Perennial guest Ken Berry taps with the chorus kids to "I Got Rhythm" (quite nice actually). But the second half of the show is taken up with a brilliant two-part movie parody of Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland films, Babes in Barns. Ken is the Rooney character who puts on a show in his parents' barn to raise money for the mortgage. Harvey and Vicki are Ken's former vaudevillian folks who do a reprise of their specialty act. Of course, Carol is the lead and she does a fantastic impression of the young Judy complete with vocal inflections and hand gestures. She's brilliant in a spoof of "The Boy Next Door." The final number of the show-within-the-show pays tribute to June Allyson warbling Jerome Kern's "Cleopaterer" in Til the Clouds Roll By. 

Season Eleven:
Jan. 8, 1978: Ken Berry, Roddy MacDowall
Ken Berry and Carol in
High Hat.
(YouTube) The final season had more than its share of clunkers, but this hour was pretty special. Dick Van Dyke had left the show, leaving Tim and Vicki as the only regulars. There were still some spectacular movie parodies and, like Babes in Barns, this week's was one of the best of the entire series. High Hat was a tribute to the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, with everyone exquisitely dressed by Bob Mackie in black and white. Only Carol as Ginger Rogers has a pop of color in a blue traveling dress. 

The plot is a melding of The Gay Divorcee and Top Hat with a mix-up of rooms and identities at a swanky Venetian Hotel. Ken returns as a Devil-May-Care Playboy and Carol is a Sweet and Simple Girl with Spunk. Ken nails not only Fred Astaire's dance style, but his feathery-light singing voice as well. Carol captures Ginger's steely, down-to-earth aura. Roddy and Vicki are the older secondary comic leads, usually played by Edward Everett Horton and either Alice Brady or Helen Broderick. Roddy's impersonation of Horton is uncanny in its recreation of the rapid repetition of phrases and dithery, perplexed tone. Vicki dryly delivers such witty lines as "It's the Depression, dear, so everything's a little shabby." Tim is the comic hotel clerk played by Eric Blore, Fritz Feld, or Franklin Pangborn, but here he sounds like Mr. Tudball. 

The musical numbers (probably by Ken and Mitzi Welch) are funny and clever parodies of the Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin numbers from the Astaire and Rogers films. "The Continental" from Gay Divorcee becomes "The European." "A Fine Romance" from Swingtime is replaced by "(Chances Are This Could Be) A Swell Romance." Instead of puttin' on his top hat, Ken puts on a crutch, a sling and a neck brace--and then goes into a full tap number. Carol then does a funny parody of "Isn't It a Lovely Day" from Top Hat. Roddy and Vicki even have a comedy duet about Venice where the garbage floats down the grand canal. After Carol, Ken, Roddy and Vicki meet and untangle the confusion, of course the young couple agree to get married. Tim pops in with a wedding special at the hotel which includes a "genuine imitation" picture of Annette Funicello and free pizza, plus a trip to St. Mark's Square where you can get your garlic pressed. 

The other major potion of the show is a Family sketch with Roddy as worldly, successful brother Philip who appears to be a combination political commentator, novelist and Hollywood screenwriter, visiting Eunice and Mama while he receives an honor from a local university. MacDowall played Philip in the very first Family sketch, and it seemed bizarre that a witty, sophisticated acclaimed author with a British accent with come out of the crude, dysfunctional Harper-Higgins clan. But that was the point of that first sketch, the contrast. I think Ken Berry was a better fit in the role in Eunice, a TV special in the form of a play detailing the family's history from the 1950s to the 1970s. Writers Dick Clair and Jeanna MacMahon stitched together material from previous Family scenes to form a coherent dramatic whole. In this version, Philip and Ellen (Betty White) were Eunice's siblings, the other brothers played by Tommy Smothers and Alan Alda on the variety series were eliminated. Interestingly, Ken Berry showed up in the family again when Vicki got her own series with Mama's Family. In this spin-off, Berry played Vint, yet another brother. He was somewhat less erudite than Philip who was never mentioned again.

In another sketch, Roddy and Carol are sophisticated Noel Coward types acting teddibly, teddibly civil as they break up, but losing it when their facades crumble. Tim and Ken perform a silent movie skit and  a deadpan Tim and Carol cavort in bed as she sings "You Can't Turn Me Off."

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