Wednesday 25 November 2020

Stardom Awaits Carol

Tickets went on sale on April 12, 1954 for the fourth annual UCLA varsity show called “Love Thy Coach.” It was about a female football coach who led her team to the national finals. You could easily picture this as a sketch on the old Carol Burnett variety show. That shouldn’t be a surprise because the star of that on-campus musical comedy was a student named Carol Burnett.

She wasn’t exactly an overnight sensation but she certainly grabbed people’s attention while she was still in school. Within five years she was cavorting on Garry Moore’s prime-time variety show. In between were stops on a puppet show, a sitcom and New York nightclubs where critics loved her zany satiric songs. Here’s a story from the TV Key syndicated news service from December 23, 1956.
Stanley's Girl Friend is Burnett

"Stanley's" got a girl friend. Her name is Carol Burnett and, though she plays it rough and ready when she appears opposite Buddy Hackett, off-camera the girl's really very quiet and well behaved. What's more important, she's apparently both lucky and determined. Maybe that's why Max Liebman hired her. He's determined to be lucky with "Stanley." And, let's face it, luck is often cheaper than hiring good writers and is sometimes more effective.
" 'Stanley' is the first non-musical thing I've ever done," Carol told me, as if she could still hardly believe it. "I've always wanted to be a musical-comedy performer. But I'm glad to be doing 'Stanley.' Now I won't get typed as just a musical performer." She thought for a moment. "Maybe I'll get typed as a straight comedy performer."
IF YOU'RE wondering where you might have seen Carol in musical comedy, she was the one who did such a good job of impersonating Ethel Merman on the recent Omnibus which traced the development of musical comedy. And on December 17, 1955, she began a series of appearances on the Paul Winchell show.
"I'll always remember that date," Carol told me "On the first day I appeared on the show, I married Don (Husband Don Saroyan). That was only a year ago," she mulled. "To hear him tell it, you'd think it was ten."
Carol Burnett's career began when she and Don were attending UCLA. "I wanted to be a journalist," she said, "but they didn't have an undergraduate school of journalism. So I took some theater courses as the closest thing to journalism and the bug bit. My career dates from the time Don and I worked up a scene from 'Annie Get Your Gun' to do at a party.
"ONE OF the guests approached us afterward and asked why we weren't in New York. When we explained it was a matter of finances, he told us to contact him the following week and he'd take care of our expenses. We were sure he was drunk, but we didn't take any chances. We called him and he told us to come to his office.
"Believe it or not, he handed us a check each for $1,000, told us it was a five-year loan, made us promise to use it exclusively for our careers. He made us promise to help someone else later on if we could afford to." Carol swears that's the true story.
After arriving in New York, Carol moved into the Rehearsal Club, a theatrical residence for girls and, when things didn't start humming immediately, organized a revue featuring the Club's members and directed by future hubby Don.
NATURALLY, the show was covered by agents, got her summer bookings and led to her being used on Omnibus and hired for "Stanley."
"Buddy's fun to work with," she volunteered. "You never know what's going to come out of his mouth. He'll make up words and stray from the script. (Ed note: This helps). I love his spontaneity."
In case you're wondering what sort of a struggle Carol went through to get the part, here's how she tells it: "I had about fifteen minutes warning that I was going to read for Mr. Liebman. He pushed me right in with Buddy Hackett and an hour and a half later they called me at home to say I was hired for the first show. Since then, they've picked up my option. I hate auditions, but this one happened so fast, I hardly knew what hit me."
Burnett headed to New York. She appeared on Garry Moore’s daytime show and in one of the city’s big cabarets. Maybe the biggest rave she got in print was in Robert C. Ruark’s column for the United Features Syndicate. He wasn’t an entertainment reporter, he was found in the editorial section. This appeared in papers starting around June 25, 1957. Interestingly, the song Burnett did in her act that got her all kinds of attention (and TV appearances) is not mentioned in the column. In any case, she sang “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles” on Jack Paar’s show on August 6, 1957 and got a call two days later from Secretary Dulles at the State Department asking her to fly to Washington and sing it for him.
New Singing Star
NEW YORK—I have a very peculiar talent, involving no effort on my part, of stumbling onto talent. So it involves no personal braggadocio when I say I came all the way from Tanganyika to catch a lass named Carol Burnett on her first night at a popular club called the Blue Angel in this wicked city.
You will be hearing Miss Burnett, who is young, redheaded, personable, possessed of a vicious sense of humor, and who can sing real good, too, when I am old and gray and possibly gone. The Blue Angel is infallible that way, or how else would this particular saloon have kicked off a list which includes Eartha Kitt, Harry Belafonte, Judy Holliday, Andy Griffith, Yul Brynner, Eddie Mayehoff and a muckle of others when nobody knew them but their mothers and me?
SISTER BURNETT IS A Texas gal who was brought up in California, and she got into show business by guess, luck and a borrowed thousand bucks to come to New York.
The borrowed thousand came from a slightly-loaded gentleman who caught her final exam at a private party at UCLA. The party was given by her professor in something called the Opera Workshop, and also embraced popular stuff. Carol and her husband, Don Saroyan, did a couple of scenes from “Annie Get Your Gun” and the loaded gentleman advanced the money for the Eastward Ho! on grounds that they'd not tell his name and would also pay the dough back by 1959.
She was hit with a crash, so the money will get paid back by the end of this year, but the point is that her first night-club singing engagement also marked her first actual entrance into a New York night club.
While she was starving slightly at the Rehearsal Club here, she and the other kids hired a hall, put on a review, and my red-headed friend suddenly found herself signed by Martin Goodman, one of the better flesh-peddlers, and saw herself shoved immediately into TV, with the likes of Garry Moore and Ed Sullivan—while still never having done a night-club turn. Enough of that. She’s signed for a solid six.
This gal is so new to the racket that she’s afraid to sing straight and is relying on satire—satire which is more devastating than that of Florence Desmond at her best. (And I should love to see her doing Flossie Desmond at her best.)
This is treason, but she can even carve up my gal, Lena Horne. Carol does a thing which she calls, “The girl with the wet teeth,” in which she sings “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in the best Horne fashion. And she manages to make it sound sexier than Lena singing “I Love to Love,” and in the precise Horne glissando. Lena should sue.
Carol has kidded the current hillbilly nonsense with a song called “Puppy Love”—and kidded it so well that Decca, which issues it shortly, is undecided as to whether to present it straight or satirical. She has managed to murder Marlene in her bit about the beautiful doll in the lovely dress who sings on one note and who manages to hit the flattest flat ever contrived by palate of woman.
SHE HAS TAKEN LADY weather forecasters and reduced them to shreds, including the Tennessee Williams fan who doesn't know why the sun has to sink and why everything must end this way.
She has assassinated the musical comedy stars who sing high, low and overdrive, and the girl who has sung with a band so long that all she can do is smile, even when she’s singing “The Man Who Got Away.”
She has wrecked the movie star who turns up at Vegas (with four of the hardest-working chorus boys ever seen) who concludes her act with a simpering bow and the statement: “In all humility, if I don’t win the Academy Award this year—it’s fixed.”
And on top of it all she can sing, act, and sell. Remember Miss Carol Burnett. If a truck doesn't scrag her crossing streets, she will adorn a lot of theater marquees and magazine covers as time wears on.
No, a truck didn’t “scrag” her. I’m sure you know where her career went from here. Robert Ruark died in 1965. His prediction came true after all. That shouldn’t be a surprise, either.


  1. My very earliest memories of Carol Burnett were watching Gary, Durward Kirby, and Carol do their stuff on "The Gary Moore Show ". His show helped launch a few careers. Then her television special with Julie Andrews.It was no surprise to me when she landed her own show. She can be a one person dynamo when duty calls. She deserves every accolade that has come her way.

  2. Hans Christian Brando27 November 2020 at 15:42

    Robert Ruark is mentioned in what became Carol Burnett's first signature song, "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles." Payback?