Carol Burnett fans undoubtedly know about the recurring comedy sketch called “The Family.” The sketch was so popular that it got a spin-off sitcom, “Mama’s Family,” in the 80s. What a lot of fans don’t know, however, is that Carol Burnett and the show writers had a major disagreement about the sketch when it originally debuted.
The writers created the character of Mama for Carol Burnett. However, Carol wanted to cast co-star Vicki Lawrence as the matriarch of the family so she could play the daughter, Eunice. The writers hated the idea. Vicki was much younger than Carol, and the idea didn’t make sense to them. They went through with Carol’s casting, and the sketch went on to be wildly popular.
Carol Burnett probably wouldn’t be a household name if it wasn’t for a mysterious benefactor. As a recent graduate from UCLA, Carol dreamed of pursuing a career on Broadway. However, she was struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles, so that dream seemed pretty far off. It wasn’t until she met a mysterious businessman and his wife that things changed.
After Carol performed at a party in San Diego, the unnamed businessman offered her $1,000 to help her get to New York. She took the offer, and the rest is history! The mystery man gave her the loan with two conditions. She had to pay him back, interest-free, in five years. Also, she had to forever keep his identity a secret.
Credit Where Credit is Due
“The Dentist” is one of the most famous skits from “The Carol Burnett Show.” People always give comedians Tim Conway and Harvey Korman credit for pulling off such a hilarious skit. However, at least one person who worked behind the scenes deserves some credit for crafting such a famous skit.
Writer Gail Parent wrote “The Dentist” after being hired by Tim Conway to help out with a few sketches for the show. Gail wrote the sketch with the simple premise of a dentist on his first day of work but humbly gives Tim credit for making the scene way funnier than anticipated. Tim improvised much of the sketch, which makes it so unique.
Carol’s Riskiest Role
Out of all of Carol’s iconic characters, Eunice Higgins from “The Family” was her favorite one to play. The sketch was originally written as a Midwestern family, but Carol insisted that the characters should be Southern. Everyone else on the show was afraid that the Southern accent would offend viewers, but it was the exact opposite.
“The Family” characters weren’t caricatures or stereotypes. Their Southern accents and ways of communicating directly related to Carol’s childhood growing up in Texas. The recurring sketch turned into a humorous commentary on family dysfunction and passive-aggressive conflict that many people related to.
A Reality Check
Carol Burnett had childhood dreams of being on stage. However, her mother was less than encouraging young Carol’s dreams. Instead of becoming a stage actress, her mother tried to steer her into a writing career. However, her mom did not encourage her to be a writer for the best reasons.
Carol’s mother would always tell her, “No matter what you look like, you can always write, you know.” These passive-aggressive statements made no secret of how Carol’s mother felt about her daughter’s looks. Thankfully, this lack of support at home didn’t dissuade Carol from pursuing her true passion for acting.