Carol Burnett: Lucille Ball ‘died on my birthday. I [still] got flowers from her.’

The 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Press Room
I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see Carol Burnett, 82, tug her ear on the red carpet at the SAGs Saturday night. I was little when the Carol Burnett show aired but I remember it playing on TV all the time, and I remember Carol tugging her ear at the end of every show. Carol did it as a message to her grandmother, who raised her and who passed away in 1967 during the show’s first season. So it was kind of bittersweet when Carol did that every show.

Carol was given the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to her by Amy Poehler and Tiny Fey. In her speech she told a story about how the network wanted her to do a sitcom instead of a variety show. Of course she won out and the Carol Burnett show, which aired from 1967 to 1978, was born. She explained that she grew up with a love of movies because she used to see around eight movies a week and would act them out with her best friend. So having a musical variety show was a kind of dream for her and it ended up having a wacky cast, clever skits, costumes by Bob Mackie and an 11 year run. Only she had to convince the network executives that a woman could do it.

We mounted a musical comedy review every week and oh God, did we have fun. And at first, the network didn’t want me to do one. They tried to talk me into doing a half-hour sitcom called Here’s Agnyss. Can you picture it? Here’s Agnyss! I can just see it. But I had a terrific and unheard-of contract that said that all I had to do was push the button, and the network would have to give me 30 one-hour variety shows. Yeah. And I told them that that’s what I wanted to do. But they said “Carol, no no no no, look. All the comedy variety shows are hosted by men. Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, now Dean; comedy variety is a man’s game. Mm-mm. No.

[via The Cut]

Carol was a trailblazer in comedy and I love that she’s being honored for her long career. She told a story backstage about another trailblazer who was a close friend of hers, Lucille Ball. She met Lucille in 1959 when she came to see the off-Broadway show Carol was performing in, Once Upon a Mattress. Lucille called her “kid,” as she did for their entire friendship, which lasted until Lucille passed away at the age of 77. This got me choked up – Carol said that Lucille always sent flowers to her on her birthday, April 26, which happened to be the day that Lucille ended up passing away in the hospital from an aortic aneurysm. Carol still received flowers from Lucille for her birthday that day in 1989. She explained “She died on my birthday, on April 26th. That afternoon, I got flowers from her and it said ‘Happy Birthday, kid.‘”

Here’s Carol with slippers on the red carpet! She changed them at some point before the ceremony as there are other photos of her with her regular shoes, but I like that she walked in comfort for a while.

And here’s Carol’s speech, thanks to The Cut for posting it!

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38 Responses to “Carol Burnett: Lucille Ball ‘died on my birthday. I [still] got flowers from her.’”

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  1. Catwoman says:

    I love Lucy and Carol. Two of the greats and both with so much class. I grew up with I Love Lucy reruns and The Carol Burnett show. Classics.

    • Froggy says:

      Same. I still love I Love Lucy reruns. I remember watching The Carol Burnett show with my aunt. It was her favorite show.
      This story made my day. 🙂

  2. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    Aw, she was part of my childhood. Love that she stood her ground and did her show the way she wanted.

    • MrsBPitt says:

      My Dad worked second shift and got out at 11 pm. My sister and I were only little kids, but Mom always let us stay up for The Carol Burnett Show. As soon as it was over, Mom would start yelling, “quick, get to bed before Daddy gets home”! And my sister and I would run to bed, giggling, that we had put one over on Daddy, again!! That’s a great memory for me, especially, since my Mom passed away recently…Lucy and Carol, two comedic trailblazers for all the female comedy stars today! And don’t forget, Lucy was the first woman to run her own studio!

  3. NewWester says:

    The Carol Burnett show was and still is one of the funniest shows on television. The skits ( As the Stomach Turns, take offs on Gone with the Wind, Joan Crawford movies) Also her stint as “Miss Wiggins” with Tim Conway. Her sharpening a pencil was a classic!! I still laugh when I watch those old episodes. Good fun

    • Christin says:

      They were all so funny — Carol, Vicki, Tim, Harvey, etc. Such good childhood memories.

    • I Choose Me says:

      I can hear Tim Conway’s ‘Miss W(h)iggins’ pronunciation in my head and it gave me such a nostalgic pang. It was one of the funniest and best shows ever. I loved it when the actors went off script and you can see them cracking up for real.

  4. Naya says:

    I love both these women but surely the flower story is the opposite of cute. It feels like one of those showbiz practices, where your assistant sends out birthday wishes to a list of people that was compiled years earlier. Lucille could even have been unaware that this birthday was coming up let alone that flowers were being sent out in her name. Not that this means they werent friends, its just not a positive story imo.

    • Crumpet says:

      It shows that Lucille was cared enough to set up flowers to be sent to Carol every year on her birthday, and I’m sure for Carol it was bittersweet to get the flowers the day Lucille died. So yeah, it is a positive story IMO.

    • Jaded says:

      Why are you looking for the dark lining in a silver cloud?

  5. Lucy2 says:

    I love her! So glad she stuck up for her self and did what she wanted to do. And it’s really lovely that she and Lucille were friends for all of those years.

  6. Mudflaps says:

    How the heck did Carol get a great contract like that? Was she famous already? Anyway, I too was a small kid who watched her show when it was on and in reruns, and always thought she was fantastic. So happy that she was finally celebrated and was shown the love by her peers. I also loved how she thanked her show’s cast and crew. What a class act!

    • Jaded says:

      Yes she was very famous at that time – she’d been on Broadway, she’d been on The Garry Moore show as a regular (I’m old enough to remember watching it and she was off-the-wall funny) so she came with a great legacy of humour to offer.

  7. Nancy says:

    Back in the day the variety shows ruled the airwaves. I know my folks loved her and Harvey and Tim Conway. Those days are long gone and have been replaced by stomach turning realty shows. The times have changed and the Carol Burnetts are long gone and will be forgotten when her generation passes and we have the Kardashians and Snookis of the world to entertain us. Blue Monday thoughts…..tugs at ear…

  8. Jen43 says:

    I love both her and Lucille Ball. I remember watching Carol’s show on Saturday nights and then talking about it with my friends at church the next day. The nuns were not amused but we would laugh so hard.

  9. Christin says:

    I am glad to have grown up during the last years of TV that was generally entertaining and family friendly.

    There were not hundreds of stations and (at least in the 1970s) you had to be home to watch the shows when they aired. We knew what night our favorite shows aired, and if you missed one maybe you could catch it during reruns in the springtime or summer.

  10. SamiHami says:

    One of the things I always loved about that show was that the cast obviously loved being there. I can’t count how many times one of them would start laughing uncontrollably in the middle of a skit! What fun they must have been having! Getting paid to laugh and have fun with your friends. What a great time that must have been for all of them.

    • Crumpet says:

      I know!! That was so awesome when that would happen. 😀

    • Cran says:

      Carol Burnett is the best! Tim Conway was always cracking up Harvey Korman. The Flip Wilson Show, Sanford & Son, MASH, All in The Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, Good Times, Barney Miller.
      So many good shows. I’ve been watching MASH, Barney Miller & All in The Family and they are as fresh as when I saw them the first time. Gifted actors, excellent writers. Would love to see today’s politics/current events handled by those shows.

    • Pandy says:

      That was one of the best parts of the show. When the cast cracked up. Also that they put a sparkle on Lyle Wagners teeth when he would smile.

  11. H says:

    Carol is also a great dramatic actress as well as a comedic genius. Watch her Law & Order episode. She’s brilliant. I think she won an Emmy for it.

    They don’t make TV shows like I Love Lucy and The Carol Burnett Show any longer, which is a shame. Creatively they are so superior to the crap on TV today – looking at you, E Network.

    • Mudflaps says:

      That Law and Order was one of the best episodes!!! Carol was soooooo good and so creepy and disturbing. If she did win an Emmy for that performance it was well-deserved.

      • swak says:

        How is it comedians can play such creepy roles? I haven’t seen this one and will have to look it up on Netflix, but I remember the episode with Robin Williams and he played a really creepy role really well.

    • kri says:

      That L&O episode was amazing. She’s a trailblazer for sure, and she deserves all of the accolade she gets. I remember watching re-runs with my grandma-good times! She looked amazing, and her speech was very funny. But you can tell this is one tough momma. She played it her way, and good on her for that.

  12. Darlene says:

    I used to watch the Carol Burnett Show every chance I got as a kid. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Classy woman, so so funny.

  13. AJ says:

    I feel so sorry for the generation of people who will grow up never having seen I Love Lucy or the Carol Burnett Show.

    • Holmes says:

      Ive never seen the Caorl Burnett show so I can’t speak for it, but the only people I’ve ever known to watch I Love Lucy are little kids (myself included when I was a little kid)–the humor is really juvenile. It still airs on reruns all the time where I live.

  14. Amelie says:

    Both of these ladies were incredible talents. And, Lucy was the first woman to own a production company (Desilu)-although she and her first husband started it, I believe he bought her out and she continued as sole proprietor. She was/still is a great role model for women.

  15. Maggie says:

    I watch Carol burnett reruns and they are so funny. They don’t do comedy like that anymore. People are too offended because they aren’t politically correct. Unfortunate!

  16. Mia4s says:

    Just here for the Siamese elephants. 😉

    Love Carol!

  17. Tig says:

    So glad to see Bob Mackie there! He left an impression on that show as well. He really dressed Carol well- loved all the costumes during her show’s run.

  18. lori says:

    we were in the general press room when carol told this story. her eyes filled with tears when she told the lucille ball story and every person in that room welled up. so happy that the reporter asked her about lucy. true highlight from this years SAG awards!

  19. Charlotte15 says:

    That skit making fun of Gone With the Wind – wasn’t that the one where she came out wearing the curtains, but with the rods STILL IN THEM? I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard. And I was a little kid at the time. I still laugh today even thinking about it!

  20. Trashaddict says:

    This is how class is. You just keep on doin’ no matter what they say. But you do it with love, style, kindness, and humor. Thanks, Carol for making me and my mom laugh so much. I think of her when I see you.

  21. Anare says:

    “I’m so glad we had this time together. Just to have a laugh or sing a song…” Thank you Carol!