I know October is a month that we usually associate with Halloween and other things spooky…but to the folks at Time Life, it’s an opportune time to make certain there’s plenty of classic episodes from The Carol Burnett Show available for the DVD-buying public. Why October, I hear you asking? Well, it’s because Carol and her Emmy Award-winning program premiered over CBS-TV in this very month fifty years ago…so it’s only fitting that Time Life do the commemoration up right. This past Tuesday (October 24) saw the release of The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Lost Christmas—a new-to-retail single disc featuring three Yuletide-themed telecasts from the long-running comedy-variety series (1967-78).
The first episode in this collection is one of the funniest Burnett shows I’ve ever watched…profuse thanks to friend of the blog Michael Krause at Foundry Communications for providing me with the screener (and the hilarity). Originally telecast December 4, 1967, our favorite redhead (I hope Lucy isn’t reading this) welcomes I Dream of Jeannie’s Barbara Eden (who does a none-too-shabby song-and-dance routine with the Ernest Flatt Dancers to Bend It) and TDOY comedy god Jonathan Winters as guests. Carol even mentions that Winters will be kicking off his own variety series on CBS soon (The Jonathan Winters Show premiered on December 27—a mid-season replacement for the unsuccessful Dundee and the Culhane) and though that show was short-lived (two seasons) I would like to formally request that Time Life make the effort to get it to DVD with all deliberate speed. (In one of those unbelievable coinky-dinks, Barbara Eden was a guest—along with Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Ivan Dixon, and The Doors—on Jonathan’s first CBS telecast.)
My review of this telecast is going to be colored by the fact that it is physically impossible for me not to laugh at Jonathan…and he doesn’t disappoint. He plays an irreverent Santa Claus in a “V.I.P.” sketch (when Harvey Korman asks him what he’s drinking in his Gleason-like coffee cup he responds: “That’s booze—that’s the stuff that makes me go ho-ho-ho!”) and in my favorite bit, a warden in a documentary on prisons. (“I’m like a father to these boys…matter of fact, I am the father of one of ‘em…”) Winters has a dual role in the documentary; he portrays his famous character Maude Frickert later in the documentary, telling Harvey that (s)he visits to keep up the morale of the prisoners. (I’m certain the reason why my favorite Johnny Carson character is “Aunt Blabby” is because Blab was basically a riff on Maudie.) There’s also a bizarre sketch where Carol plays the wife of “The Invisible Man” that has a nice payoff with a surprise guest at the end (I’ll keep Mum so as not to spoil the surprise, but you can solve the mystery at the [always reliable] IMDb.) I’m only spit balling here, but I suspect Carol and Barbara’s musical number (Prestidigitation) was sacrificed to the Copyright Gods—that might be why the episode only runs 44:46.
Carol’s old boss Garry Moore and his longtime sidekick Kurward Derby Durward Kirby are the guests in a third-season installment of the show (December 15, 1969), and among the highlights are a sketch that the trio originally performed on The Garry Moore Show: a courtroom trial in which Moore and Kirby are opposing counsel interrogating Mrs. Peter Piper (Carol). (There’s another surprise guest in the payoff gag in this one, too.) Carol and Harvey do a sweetly sentimental “The Old Folks” segment, there’s a funny “Carol and Sis” sketch that allows Burnett to really cut loose with a hilarious bit involving a sandwich, and Garry and Durward imitate wacky pitchmen selling dubious Christmas toys to kids. The show concludes with a lovely rendition of Do You Know How Christmas Trees are Grown?, performed by Carol and Vicki Lawrence and accompanied by The Bob Mitchell Boys Choir. (Carol jokes “Last time I saw these boys was in Going My Way…I think they’ve held up beautifully.”)
In the final show (December 14, 1970) on the DVD, Kirby returns (I never gave him much thought beyond the old Rocky and Bullwinkle gag…but he’s very funny in a “Carol and Sis” sketch in which, as Korman’s boss, he unintentionally goes on a one-man demolition spree in Carol and Harvey’s home) with co-guests Steve Lawrence and Julie Budd (16 at the time, Julie sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas). Lawrence, a favorite Burnett Show guest, has an uproarious time as the John Garfield-inspired “Goldman’s Boy” in a classic movie send-up (I love how Carol and her writers had such a thing for old movies—they’re often the best sketches in the telecasts).
Earlier this month (October 3), a new-to-retail 6-DVD collection entitled The Best of The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Edition was also released…and I need to stress the “new-to-retail” portion of that statement because there are a few telecasts that have made appearances on earlier Time Life Burnett releases. (For example, the first and last shows of Carol’s inaugural season…which I previously discussed in a post at the old TDOY blog.) But there’s some grand, grand items on this menu, cartooners:
February 1, 1971 – Rita Hayworth and Jim Bailey are the guests, and Rita performs as Carol’s charwoman doppelganger (singing a medley of Let Me Entertain You and Mutual Admiration Society) as well as a “Brown Derby” sketch in which obnoxious fan Carol makes Hayworth’s dining experience a memorable one.
October 13, 1971 – Guests: Ken Berry and Cass Elliott. A funny movie parody, Sonja Honey: Love in an Avalanche, with Harvey Korman doing a devastatingly dead-on impression of S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall.
February 3, 1973 – A “family show,” with another hysterical movie send-up (Waterloo Bilge), in which uttering the word “prostitute” is verboten and is replaced with a music sting. Also, too: Vicki sings her big hit, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.
March 16, 1974 – Guests: Roddy McDowall and The Jackson 5. See Roddy perform a duet in his Planet of the Apes makeup! See Michael Jackson perform Dancin’ Machine with his original nose! (And his brothers!) See what I believe was the very first “The Family” sketch (I won’t swear to it, but hearing Burnett’s referring to it at the beginning of the program—that one of the characters was patterned after her grandmother—leads me to think it was).
December 7, 1974 – Guests: Tim Conway, Steve Lawrence. This one includes one of the funniest As the Stomach Turns sketches, with Conway as his “old man” character, Lawrence as a Mafia Don, and Korman as “the ever popular” Mother Marcus.
December 20, 1975 – Steve Lawrence is back, and Tim Conway is a show regular by this time. Tim does the old man character again in a shoe store sketch with Carol as the accident-prone Stella Toddler, and there’s a funny send-up of Laura (Flora) with everyone but Conway.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, you understand—but topping off this collection is the final Carol Burnett Show (March 29, 1978, presented as a 2-hour special) that features some sweetly sentimental “Tudball and Wiggins” and “Family” sketches…and Carol’s closing bit is reminiscent of the final episode of The Colbert Report, with many of her former guests saying fare-thee-well to her charwoman character (you’ll even spot Harvey Korman, who had left the show by then). Tim Conway also springs a surprise on Carol that literally brings her to tears (again—no fair revealing the secret if you’ve seen this).
If you’re fortunate to have a MeTV affiliate in your area (I give thanks to the Television Gods each night that our DISH system carries WGTA-TV) you’re probably enjoying Carol Burnett and Friends weekday nights. But those syndicated shows are culled from sketches that aired between 1972 and 1977, so investing in these Time Life releases are a smart bet for any Carol Burnett fan. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of them, and have developed an appreciation for the program that is unquestionably the gold standard for television variety shows. Again, many thanks to Michael Krause for the screeners (and the laughs).