HFPA in Conversation: The Iconic Carol Burnett

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros June 5, 2019
Actressa nd producer Carol Burnett, Golden Globe winner

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The Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s newest award for excellence in television has been named after Carol Burnett.  She received the inaugural award in January.  A sixteen-time Golden Globe nominee and a five-time winner Carol Burnett sat down with HFPA president Meher Tatna at Santa Barbara Sound Design in April.

“First of all, what I heard was that you were going to create this new category and that I was going to receive it.  I was thrilled at that.  And then I was totally amazed when you said that you were going to name it after me.  That was one of the biggest thrills I’ve ever had as far as awards and things like that go,” she said.

She has been working in television since 1955.  Her hit show, The Carol Burnett Show, aired from 1967 to 1978.  She got a pay or play deal. “After I left The Garry Moore Show I signed a 10-year contract with CBS.  I had a very good agent who said, within the first five years would require me to do a special a year and two guest shots on some of their regular half-hour shows.  But there was a catch in the first five years if I, Carol, wanted to push the button they would have to give us 30 one-hour variety shows, whether they wanted to or not.”

She never thought she would do it because she didn’t think she could be a host. “I was always a second banana on Garry’s show.”

But she changed her mind when she needed a down payment for a house in California. “The very last week of the fifth year I called CBS in New York and talked to one of the vice presidents.  He said, “Hi Carol, did you have a good Christmas, happy new year coming up”. I said, “yeah, I want to push that button” and he had no idea what I was talking about, totally forgot.  I said, “you know when my contract…” and he said, “oh, let me get back to you”.  And so, I’m sure they got a lot of lawyers out of Christmas parties.  He called back the next day and he said, “Carol I see that but you know, musical comedy variety is a man’s game. It’s not for you gals. It’s Sid Caesar, it’s Milton Berle, it’s Jackie Gleason, now it’s Dean Martin”. Then he said, “we have this great sitcom we’d love you to do called Here’s Agnes”.  I said, “I don’t want to be Agnes, I want to have guest stars, I want to have a rep company, I want to have an orchestra, I want to have dancers, I want to do a musical comedy review every week, with costumes and all of that”.  And they had to put us on the air.


Listen to the podcast and hear what kind of childhood she had; why she thought she would be a cartoonist; why her grandmother raised her; how she got money to go to UCLA; what was the condition that she got a thousand dollar loan when she was younger; when was the first time she had a closet; where she  was when hurricane Carol hit in 1954; why she shared the same dress with her friends; why the first day on The Carol Burnett Show was awkward; who was her first guest every season on The Carol Burnett Show and who were her favorite guests; which childhood crush became a friend, later; when was her show censored; why she doesn’t do the Tarzan yell in public anymore;  how was her relationship with her daughter; what kind of joke she made when she saw her daughter at the hospital; what she does in her free time; what things she always has in her refrigerator; what keeps her up at night; how she would spend a million dollar in one day; and who is the person she admires most.