Before the 1960s, it was a popular opinion that only men could be funny. Until that point it was men who hosted variety shows on television, and people like Jack Benny and Garry Moore were at the height of their fame. The only woman of prominence in comedy at that time was Lucille Ball, but that was soon to change. Since beginning her career in the mid-1950s, Carol Burnett has become a pioneering face of American comedy, in a body of work that has spanned more than fifty years.
The title ‘This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection’ comes from the song Burnett used to sing to end each episode of her variety show, The Carol Burnett Show. Her memoir is incredibly entertaining and at times deeply touching as she recounts the entirety of her career. She recounts some of her most memorable anecdotes as well as revealing many moments she had never shared before.
Burnett starts her memoir at the very beginning of her working life. To be able to earn a small living, she worked as an usherette at a cinema on Hollywood Boulevard. Whilst doing this, she was constantly auditioning for Broadway musicals. Her persistence was rewarded when she was given the lead in a new Broadway show, ‘Once Upon A Mattress’. It was whilst working on this show, and simultaneously a variety television show, The Gary Moore Show, that Burnett was to meet another young actress who was also performing on Broadway at that time. The two would soon become life-long best friends, and work together for three hugely successful television specials. That young actress was Julie Andrews.
Possibly the biggest milestone in Burnett’s career which is detailed in her memoir is the beginning of her own variety show. She tells the reader of the struggle to get her television show made. At that time, men were the only faces of comedy, and the studio wanted Burnett to star in a sitcom instead. Luckily, a clause in her contract forced the studio to film and air her variety show, which would go on to run for eleven years and become the one of the most popular variety shows of all time. She relays the stories of how she came to meet the four people who would make up the main cast of the show; Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Lyle Waggoner. Burnett also gifts the reader with many amusing and sometimes humiliating stories of her chance meetings with other popular personalities in show business. Among these are names such as John Steinbeck, Carol Channing, Laurence Olivier, Joan Crawford and Marlon Brando.
To many people, Carol Burnett is best known as Miss Hannigan in John Huston’s 1982 film adaptation of Annie. Her performance as the drunken, child abusing orphanage supervisor has become iconic, introducing her to a new generation of fans. She reveals her decision to have plastic surgery on her chin shortly after filming on the movie had finished, and then being called back to reshoot one particular scene! “Uh… John… excuse me, but two months ago, when we shot this scene, I went into the closet with no chin, and now I’m coming out of the closet with a chin. I just want to call that to your attention.” The advice he gave her was “All right then, dear. Just come out looking determined.”
Although perhaps lacking slightly in stories about her personal life, Burnett’s memoir nevertheless provides an interesting insight into the career of one of the most famous comediennes of all time. She speaks generously and with clear admiration of the people she has worked with, allowing the reader to feel as if they have lived those experiences themselves. This memoir is certainly a must-read for any Carol Burnett fan.
Carol Burnett is still working to this day, making many guest appearances on television. Last year she received the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to comedy.