Friday, February 24, 2023

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show: Part 37: Carol Channing, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, and Others

Season Two
Sept. 30, 1968: Carol Channing
(Previously reviewed on Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part Ten: Carol and Carol Q&A, Bored Political Wife sketch, Golddigger sketch)
Carol and Carol
( I found the complete version of this episode on ShoutFactoryTV's Original Masters series. Amazon was supposed to have it but the thumbnail promising the two Carols show led to an episode with Tim Conway from the first season that was already posted in the same series. Evidently someone at Amazon screwed up. So did someone at TV Guide which listed the original episode in 1968 as starring Mission: Impossible stars Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. (The husband and wife team never appeared on Carol's show, but there was a Mission: Impossible spoof a few seasons later.) 

Previously missing material includes Carol Channing recreating "Homesick Blues" from the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The song about missing America while in Paris did not make the film version and neither did Carol, as she was replaced by Marilyn Monroe. Channing is delightful in her 1920s garb, warbling about Mutt and Jeff, Texas Guinan, and bathtub gin. 

There's also a Carol and Sis sketch, employing the overused plot point of a misunderstanding leading to an awkward martial situation. Husband Roger (Harvey) finds a wristwatch in the living room with the current date inscribed on it. He assumes it's an anniversary or birthday that he's forgotten and rushes to buy his wife Carol a pearl necklace. Turns out the watch was a present for another couple for whom Carol was holding onto, so she uses Harvey's forgetfulness to leverage the necklace into a matching set of earrings, because all women just care about jewelry, right?
The extended finale is another of the show's themed extravaganzas centered on a Zodiac sign. This time it's Taurus the Bull, Carol's sign. There are the usual quickie bad puns based on famous Taurans including US Grant, Sigmund Freud, Fred Astaire, William Shakespeare, and Salvador Dali (Carol croons "Hello, Dali" to the moustachioed surrealist, played by lead dancer Don Creighton. Ouch!) There are short bits based on characteristics of Taurus. For stubbornness, Carol B. plays a bank teller who forces a hold-up man (Lyle) to fill out a withdrawal slip in triplicate. For gluttony, Vicki and Harvey, dressed in Elizabethan-era fat suits sing "Suppertime" from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. The horoscopic sequence concludes with Carol Channing as an astrological matchmaker, pairing up Carol and Harvey, Vicki and Lyle, and Don Creighton with a rather mature-looking blonde dancer. Everybody sings "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof as Carol B. connives to switch Harvey for Lyle (of course). This segues into "The Two of Us," then the dancers run on (the men have zodiac signs on the backs of their tuxedo jackets) and do a big production number to electronic music. The principals rejoin them for a reprise of "Matchmaker" and Carol Channing, not Carol Burnett is given the big close-up at the end as she drops her voice several octaves for a big "Oh, yeah" finish. 

As a side note, let me just say I have grown to adore Carol Channing's TV work. I met her once when she spoke at a Drama Desk luncheon and she was charming. I only saw her on stage in one of her many Hello, Dolly revivals (the one in the 1990s), so I know her mostly from TV. In the 1960s and 70s she was on virtually every variety series of which there were many back then including Flip Wilson, Dean Martin, Laugh-In, the Kraft Music Hall, the Kopykats, etc. Perhaps I'll write a separate post on Carol C.'s delightful video oeuvre at a later date.

Season Three:
Nov. 3, 1969: Gwen Verdon, Pat Boone
Gwen Verdon and Pat Boone in
As the Stomach Turns
(The Lost Episodes: Treasures from the Vault) In a Bonus Feature interview on this DVD, Pat Boone, known for his pure image, expounds on Carol's lack of "dirty language" and sexual references. Yet the purer-than-the-driven-snow Boone does participate in a double-entendre-laden segment of As the Stomach Turns as Teddy, Marion (Carol)'s long-lost baby brother taking up with Gwen as Miss Lily, the town naughty lady, complete with rouge, red boa, hoop earrings and dangling cigarette. Did Pat object when Vicki entered for her usual bit as Marion's unmarried, wayward daughter showing up with a baby which Marion promptly dumps into the umbrella stand? Harvey completes the cast as a Russian emigre banker, discovering Miss Lily is actually his long-lost sister.

The segment also contains the first Ham Actors sketch with Carol covering up her flu symptoms while playing a love scene with Harvey, the Old Folks getting ready for bed, and commercial parodies with sexual innuendoes. The musical numbers are pretty entertaining with Gwen as a seductive toddler dancing with the male chorus members dressed as little boys and Pat as a clown in the pretty and evocative "Molly." The circus theme carries over in the finale with Carol, Gwen and Vicki as lady clowns with exaggerated bosoms and behinds. The song "(Let's Go Where) The Grass is Greener" doesn't quite fit the mood somehow.

Season Four
Sept. 20, 1970: Pat Paulsen, Cass Elliott
(MeTV) This is one of the 22-minute MeTV edited versions I DVRed a while back and have finally gotten around to. It's also one of the episodes of which a complete edition has not been made available either through the Paley Center, the original Masters series, or on DVD. So pieces of it are still missing. I recently bought Wesley Hyatt's The Carol Burnett Show Companion: So Glad We Had This Time on Amazon. It's a 500-plus page book listing all of the episodes and there are some even the excellent author hasn't seen in their complete version. 

Pat Paulsen visits the Tenth Avenue
Family with Carol as Stella
Pat Paulsen was a deadpan comedian who rose to brief fame after appearing on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and running a satiric campaign for president. Just like everybody else at this time, he had his own variety series, the Pat Paulsen 1/2 a Comedy Hour which had a short run of 13 weeks in 1970. Here he delivers a monologue reviewing the current best-seller How to Be a Sensuous Woman. The humor derives from the blank-expressioned Paulsen purporting to be an expert on sex appeal and then donning women's clothing to illustrate the author's advice on how to please a man. At one point he covers his face with chocolate pudding as he tries to apply false eyelashes. "See, isn't that better?," he deadpans to the camera. It's a funny bit.

The bulk of this hacked-up segment is taken up with a visit to the Tenth Avenue family, a recurring sketch which was dropped before I started watching regularly. Slovenly Stella and Harry are expecting a visit from the gentleman caller of their daughter Dulcy (Vicki), who at 11 is fully mature and boxum. Cass climbs through the fire escape as upstairs neighbor Bitsy Walsky, aka the Widow Walsky because she's buried four husbands. Pat arrives as Dulcy's date, a 40-ish would-be politician, playing off Paulsen's real-life, sort of presidential campaign. There are jokes about political corruption, one of which is strangely prescient, "I'm starting with the basic stuff--graft, rigging the voting machines." Cass returns and Pat immediately falls in love with her, dumping Dulcy who promptly calls her car-thief boyfriend for a date. "The kid's gonna be alright," Stella reassures Harry and the sketch ends.

There's also a short series of commercial spoofs, introduced by Lyle with the warning that TV spots are getting more and more sexy. Harvey strips during a cigarette ad. Carol is surprised by the return of her husband while in the arms of another man ("I came back" was the tagline). Lyle boasts of acquiring the woman he's kissing by redeeming coupons. 

Season Five:
Oct. 5, 1971: Carol Channing, Steve Lawrence
The two Carols in
As the Stomach Turns
(The Lost Episodes) Carol Channing returns to guest-star with another perennial Burnett visitor, Steve Lawrence. This segment was divided into two parts on Me TV, so much of the material is available, plus the entire show is on the Lost Episode collection. Segment One on the MeTV edition features Carol and Sis at a nudist camp and yet another edition of As the Stomach Turns with Channing as a bad luck widow appropriately called Jinx. (I remember watching this episode when I was a kid and my visiting great-aunt from New England laughing as a bird dropped dead after Jinx cooed to it.) The second segment includes a salute to Oscar winning films such as Sorry, Wrong Number, The Story of Louis Pasteur, and The African Queen. In the latter, Carol and Steve play Hepburn and Bogart. Carol relates that the sketch was not working until they starting throwing each other off the ship and emerged covered with mud. The Oscar salute also includes a running gag with Channing delivering an endless acceptance speech while impatient presenter Lyle yawns and looks at his watch. The finale is a salute to silent films, with Carol as Buster Keaton, Steve and Harvey as Laurel and Hardy, and the chorus as Keystone Cops. The hour is completed with Carol and Steve's solo musical numbers. Carol's is not included on MeTV, but available on the Lost Episodes DVDs. She does another flapper number, crooning "Ain't Misbehavin'" in her unique style, leading into a 1920s medley with the male chorus boys dressed as gangsters. Carol is especially wonderful on "You're the Cream in My Coffee."

Jan. 26, 1972: Tim Conway, Ray Charles
Ray Charles signing Carol's autograph book;
Tim is at right
(The Lost Episodes: Classic Carol) Carol really could do anything and this episode highlights that versatility. She opens by playing a tomboy teenager forced to be feminine during her first date opposite shy guy Tim. Then we get Tearjerker Theater with a typically magnificent, two-part movie parody, "Sinful Woman," spoofing the classic Madame X with Carol in the Lana Turner role of the former scarlet woman whose illegitimate son must unknowingly prosecute her as district attorney. In the finale, she appears as her classic charwoman character in a duet with Ray Charles who appeared on the show three times. The dancers are decked out in bizarre aquamarine and purple outfits, also worn by the Rayettes, Charles' back-up singers. While singing with Charles, Carol runs the gamut of styles from country (Cryin' Time) to blues (God Bless the Child) to rock 'n' roll (Hallellujah I Love Her So).

Season Seven:
March 16, 1974: Roddy MacDowall, The Jackson 5
16-year-old Michael Jackson with Carol
in the musical number interrupted 
by an earthquake.
(The Best of the Carol Burnett Show DVD Collection) There were many memorable moments on this episode: the first appearance of Eunice, Mama, Ed and the Family, the Jackson 5 in lime-green funky outfits, young Michael Jackson performing the Robot Dance, the famous earthquake, etc. But my favorite segment is the brief sketch with Carol and MacDowall as reticent Britons meeting, flirting, commiserating over their miserable marriages, contemplating and rejecting the possibility of an affair and then parting, all while exchanging lines of dialogue consisting of only one word each. It was clever, economical, funny and moving. The capper is delivered by Roddy when he utters a complete sentence "Hillary, whatever you do, don't look back" and Carol counters with "Chatterbox."

Roddy also appears in his Planet of the Apes make-up for a satiric medley of love songs with Carol and as Philip, the famous writer visiting the crass Higgins-Harper family (the Family sketches are discussed in detail in previous blogs.) MacDowall appeared in all five of the original Planet of the Apes movies, which I saw at the Plymouth Meeting Mall's Twin Cinemas over the course of several years. 

In their first appearance on Carol's show, the Jacksons perform Dancing Machine and then in the finale as rowdy students taught by stuffy substitute music instructor Carol. In the middle of the scene, there was an actual earthquake. The Jacksons appear nervous and flustered, but Carol saves the situation by ad-libbing, "No visiting, no visiting. The earth just moved. You see what can happen when you pay attention." The lesson leads into the group singing their hit "ABC" when Carol's uptight teacher letting her hair down and boogeying.

Carol later wrote that the Jacksons were very shy, especially Michael and she felt badly when she learned he thought he was unattractive. "I thought he was beautiful," she wrote in her book In Such Good Company. 

There's also a humdrum sketch with Carol, Harvey, Vicki and Lyle fighting over a ringing public phone booth which may be a call from a quiz show. The most memorable part is one of the chorus guys as a drunk hanging up the phone while the quartet bicker. Wesley Hyatt's book identifies him as Stan Mazin who overacts the part wildly.


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