Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 32: Paley Center Visit Number 3

Just before leaving for a two-week, end of summer vacation in Maine, I visited the Paley Center for Media to view the final complete Carol Burnett Show episodes unavailable on Amazon, DVD or Channel 21 reruns. 

Season Four:
Sept. 28, 1970: Nanette Fabray, Steve Lawrence
Previously seen on MeTV/Amazon/ShoutFactory and reviewed in Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 10: Columbia Pictures Salute, parodies of Middle of the Night, From Here to Eternity and Gilda (Golda).
Carol and Nanette Fabray in
As the Stomach Turns
The edited Carol Burnett and Friends version only featured the three Columbia pictures parodies. Missing are Steve and Nanette's musical numbers, Carol and Steve's Columbia Pictures medley and a segment of As the Stomach Turns. The long-running soap opera parody, frequently employed gender-swapping as a comic bit. A woman exhibiting stereotypical male behavior (smoking cigars, needing a shave, etc.) and vice versa was enough to garner cheap laughs. Back in the late 1960s, sexual fluidity was known as transsexualism. In this segment, guest Nanette Fabray plays Mildred, Marion (Carol)'s constantly complaining friend. Her ailment this time is a lack of female chromosomes. After some easy guffaws with Mildred deepening her voice to a baritone and flirting with Marion, Steve Lawrence enters as a golf-playing priest encouraging Marion to attend church and play bingo. Lawrence again displays his talent for imitations, offering a reasonably accurate Bing Crosby (He does a very good Burt Lancaster in the From Here to Eternity sketch. But his musical numbers--Michele Legrand's What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life and On a Clear Day--aren't very exciting.) 

After some jokes about religion and golfing, Steve exits, Vicki does her usual bit as Marion's long-lost daughter showing up with a baby (which Marion drops in the umbrella stand), and Harvey enters as Mildred's obviously swishy husband, Gaylord Pirouette, dance master of the Canoga Falls Ballet. Harvey sashays all over the place in his orange tights, making the sketch both transphobic and homophobic. He's there to invite Marion to opening night of Swan Lake (because all ballet dancers are gay, right?) When Marion informs him that his wife is experiencing transgender symptoms, his reaction is "Marvelous."

Mildred: It doesn't bother you I'm changing into a man?

Gaylord: I think there should be one in every couple.

We encounter Mildred and Gaylord in another episode where Gay's flaming stereotypical queerness drives his spouse to shoplifting and pill addiction.

Another offensive aspect of 1960s-70s pop culture is exposed in Nanette's big number, a mash-up of The King and I, Hollywood precipitation songs, and sign language. Fabray grew up with hearing loss which was later corrected with surgery. She was an advocate for the deaf and hard of hearing community and often used sign language on Carol's show. Here she dresses up as Mrs. Anna and sings and signs a medley of Singin' in the Rain and Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head. The offensive part is the all-white chorus kids are wearing Asian make-up and black wigs, and wearing purple Hopi coats. For authenticity and extra cuteness, two little Asian girls are added to the mix. The King and I vibe continues with elements of the Small House Of Uncle Thomas ballet as the dancers don masks to portray clouds, rain and a manically happy sun.

Season Nine:
Oct. 18, 1975: Maggie Smith
(Previously reviewed in Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 23: Everything but the Ham Actors Sketch)
Maggie Smith in
Travels with My Aunt.

In the blog on Oscar-winning actresses guesting on the show, I reconstructed this episode from the MeTV edited version, the imdb.com listing, and my memory. So it was good to find the complete version in the Paley Center archives. The only sketch I couldn't remember or find anywhere else was the Ham Actors one wherein veddy British stage star Carol discovers her husband Harvey is having an affair with guest Maggie just before they all go on in a play called Travels with My Mother (a reference to Maggie's Oscar-nominated performance in Travels with My Aunt.) I couldn't find a photo of the sketch, but the pic at the left shows Maggie in Travels and it pretty closely resembles how she looked in the sketch. She's not quite the Downton Abbey Dowager Countess, but she does walk with a cane which figures prominently in the scene. While Carol is hidden, Harvey and Maggie tear her down, calling her the Beast of Broadway. The clandestine lovers also conspire to go off to Hollywood together as a team. The big director C.B. DeCoppola is in the audience and perhaps they can star in Pete and Tillie 2 (a reference to the film in which Carol had just co-starred with Walter Matthau.)

In the play-within-a-play, Carol and Harvey play young lovers and Maggie is Harvey's distinguished mom. Carol stomps on Maggie's foot. Maggie retaliates by jabbing her with her cane. Carol attempts to poison her tea. Harvey throws the toxic liquid into the fireplace which explodes, destroying the set. Carol and Maggie then pull each other's wigs off in a cat fight as the curtain falls.

Carol Burnett and Company:
Also found at the Paley Center were all the episodes of Carol Burnett and Company, a follow-up to the original 11-season run of Carol's series. After the show ended in 1978, Carol, Tim, Vicki and Joe Hamilton, Carol's husband at the time, were having lunch and discussing ideas for sketches they would still like to do together. Joe suggested during a summer series reuniting the trio. CBS was not interested because their summer line-up with already set, but ABC was game. So four episodes were produced in the summer of 1979, employing many of the same elements as Carol's original series. Tim and Vicki returned as regulars along with Kenneth Mars (the original Franz Liebkind in The Producers, Inspector Kemp in Young Frankenstein, and a guest on Carol's show) and Craig Richard Nelson (co-starred with Carol in Robert Altman's A Wedding and he played the therapist for Eunice and Mama on the final episode). Many of the recurring bits including Carol as Queen Elizabeth, Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins, As the Stomach Turns, Eunice and Mama, audience Q&A, and guests signing Carol's autograph book as the credits rolled, were resurrected. I see these four segments as a continuation of the original show, so they are included here. At the Paley Center, I didn't have time to completely view all four, but here are impressions of what I was able to squeeze in:

Sept. 1, 1979: Penny Marshall
A tribute to horror film features Tim as Damien from the Omen and Kenneth Mars doing a remarkable Gregory Peck. Craig and Carol are a couple moving into a haunted house, Vicki is the real-estate agent with a heavy Maria Ouspenskaya accent. Penny, Carol and Vicki sing a girl-group song to Craig as Dracula.

Sept. 8, 1979: Sally Field
The theme of transgenderism pops up again in a return to Canoga Falls. The scene opens with Carol as Marion telling a friend on the phone she has been listening to her complain for two years (almost as long as Carol was without a variety show) and she has to hang up now. Sally Field enters as the current reigning Miss American who is on the lam from the pageant officials because she refuses to give up her crown. Sally hides in the closet as Vicki enters, playing the Miss American chaperone, a lesbian with a severe haircut. She is followed by Kenneth Mars as Miss Congeniality who has had a sex change operation. He joins Sally in the closet. Hilarity ensues as Tim enters as George Dip, Miss Congeniality's fiancee who wonders what happened to his girl. Sally and Kenneth come out of the closet (big laugh on that line) and announce their engagement. Tim exits, then returns with no pants, black mesh stockings and high heels, to reveal he's had a sex change procedure so he can marry Kenneth.

The other major sketch in this final edition of Carol Burnett and Friends puts a caper on Eunice and Mama for a while. It seems Eunice has made very little psychological progress since her visit with the therapist in the final episode of the CBS series. The highly-strung divorcee and her demanding mama are paying a visit to grave of Carl Harper, Mama's husband and Eunice's daddy. They are still living together and bickering. The sketch reveals their No Exit relationship as each drives the other crazy, demanding love and attention from the other and withholding it until they receive it.  Their quarrels are as petty as ever as Eunice wants Mama to hurry up so they can make a Barbra Streisand movie and Mama wants to unburden her guilt over her poor treatment of her late spouse.

Their story would continue when Vicki Lawrence would star in a spin-off called Mama's Family with occasional appearances by Burnett and Korman as Eunice and Ed. This iteration, produced by Joe Hamilton would run on NBC for two seasons (1983-4) and in first-run syndication for another four (1986-90).

Sally also sings "You're Movin' Out Today" and plays a haughty star refusing to give autographs to fans.

Carol returns to series TV in the 1990s with Carol and Company and a revived Carol Burnett Show, with no Vicki or Tim. Perhaps I'll include those shows and Carol's numerous one-shot specials in future blogs.

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