WATCH: 10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett is one of the funniest women alive—and has been for decades. Most people got to know Burnett through her beloved variety show, The Carol Burnett Show, which ran for 11 years on CBS, winning a phenomenal 22 Emmy Awards during its run. Others got to know her as Miss Hannigan in the movie Annie or as Helen Hunt’s mom in Mad About You. She was a star of film, stage, and television and authored books, so there were lots of ways to become a fan.
Over the course of her decades-long career, Burnett has won numerous honors, including 25 Emmy Awards, won a Grammy, has Golden Globe awards, was nominated for two Tony Awards, won American Comedy Awards, took home the 1980 Women in Film Crystal Award, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2013. George W. Bush gave his fellow Texan the 2006 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Here are 10 things you may not have known about Carol Burnett:
She’s a Southerner
She was born on April 26, 1933 in San Antonio, Texas.
She grew up with her grandmother
After her parents divorced, Burnett moved in with her grandmother, Mabel Eudora White, in Hollywood, California. She attended Hollywood High School before enrolling at UCLA to study theater arts and English, as an aspiring playwright. She left UCLA early, though, to pursue her dreams of acting, heading to New York City.
Her mother was not supportive of her dreams
Whenever Burnett told her mother she wanted to be on stage, according to Mental Floss, her mother would try to dissuade her for the most heartbreaking reason—she didn’t think her daughter was pretty enough to be an actress, and thought she should become a writer instead. “You can always write, no matter what you look like,” she would say.
Proving her mother very wrong, Burnett made her first television appearance in the early 1950s on the children’s television show, The Winchell-Mahoney Show, Biography reports.
She relied on the kindness of strangers—and it paid off
Burnett owes part of her fame to the kindness of a complete stranger who approached her after seeing her perform at a party, according to Mental Floss. The man was so impressed with her talent that he offered her $1,000 to fund her dream of moving to New York. The stranger gave her three conditions: that she had to repay him without interest in five years, never reveal his identity, and pay the kindness forward once she was famous herself. She took a chance and accepted his check and moved to New York.
She would send secret messages to her grandma
During her time on the Carol Burnett Show, the comedian famously started doing a funny little ear tug to sign off at the end of each show. That was no quirk, though, but secret message for her grandmother. According to ABC, it was a way of telling her grandmother, "Hello, I love you." While her grandmother passed away while the series was still on air, Burnett kept the tradition going as a tribute.
Her husband was involved with her work
While Burnett was blazing her own trail as the first female host of a TV variety show, the show was a family affair. Her husband, Joe Hamilton, was the executive producer for the show. Not only was he the one who came up with the idea to have Burnett start the show by taking questions from the audience, he also wrote the show’s theme song. The couple had three daughters—Carrie, Jody and Erin—and spent 21 years together before divorcing in 1984.
She liked to pay homage to her Southern roots
One of the most popular sketches on The Carol Burnett Show was "The Family", which was spun off to become Mama’s Family. According to Wikipedia, the original sketch was written by staff writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair, but when Burnett read the script it reminded her of her Texan and Arkansan relations and decided that the family just had to be Southern.
She found Vicki Lawrence through a fan letter
Burnett first found out about Vicki Lawrence when the high school student and aspiring actress wrote the star a fan letter, including an article about how the two looked alike, according to Lawrence. Burnett was struck by the note and showed up at a pageant in which Lawrence was competing. The two became friends and Lawrence eventually earned a spot on The Carol Burnett Show and then on Mama’s Family.
Her 'Gone with the Wind' spoof wound up in the Smithsonian
One week after Gone With the Wind made its television debut, The Carol Burnett Show unveiled its now infamous parody, “Went with the Wind.” In the iconic sketch, Burnett played Starlet O’Hara a Southern belle desperately in love with her Tim Conway’s Brashly. In the sketch, she wore a hilariously over-the-top curtain dress, which happened to be designed by legendary designer Bob Mackie. He donated it to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Her daughter wrote a Broadway show about Burnett’s childhood
Burnett had a tough rags-to-riches life, including a childhood filled with alcoholic parents who sent her to be raised by her grandmother in a one-room apartment in Hollywood. According to ABC, Burnett’s daughter Carrie Hamilton found her mother's story so moving that she wrote the play Hollywood Arms, to tell her mom's story. Tragically, her daughter died of cancer just weeks before the show opened to positive reviews.