Time together with Carol Burnett
Believe it or not, even acclaimed, veteran, hilarious actresses like Carol Burnett still get nervous before going on stage. But it doesn’t stress her out, Burnett said in a phone interview with The Herald-Sun last week from her home in Santa Barbara, Calif. “It keeps the old gray matter going. That and crosswords. It keeps you in the now. It keeps you sharp,” she said.
Burnett will return to the Durham Performing Arts Center this Sunday for “Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett: A Conversation With Carol Where the Audience Asks the Questions.” It’s a familiar set-up for those who watched “The Carol Burnett Show” during its 11-year run from 1967 to 1978, plus all the special shows that were broadcast later. The show received 25 Emmy Awards. Burnett has received eight of her own Emmys, plus numerous Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, was honored at the Kennedy Center and is in the Television Hall of Fame. Burnett turned 80 two weeks ago. Her friends came over – a lot of old buddies, she said, including her show co-star Tim Conway and his wife. Burnett never stopped being friends with her show colleagues. In the next week, she was planning to have dinner with Bernadette Peters and later see Vicki Lawrence.
She doesn’t get tired of fielding questions from the press or audiences.
“Not at all or I wouldn’t be doing this,” she said. “Some questions I get a lot: ‘Do the Tarzan yell.’ ‘Is Tim Conway as funny in real life?’ ‘How did you discover Vicki [Lawrence]?’ If I’m stumped, I’ll say, ‘I don’t really have an answer to that,’ ” Burnett said.
One stump question came from a woman in pink in a balcony six or seven years ago, she said. The woman asked Burnett to pick a person of the opposite sex she would be for 24 hours before returning to herself.
“The look on my face … I literally said a prayer: ‘I’m going to open my mouth, and whatever comes out is your fault.’ ” Burnett said she’d be Osama bin Laden and kill herself. The audience went crazy, she said.
Burnett, who has performed at DPAC before, called the venue gorgeous. She’ll have friends in the audience here, including her book editor, Peter Guzzardi, who lives locally. He edited her two most recent books, including the new memoir about her late daughter Carrie Hamilton, called “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story.” Hamilton, an actress and playwright, died in 2002 from cancer.
Burnett said when Hamilton was last in the hospital, she asked her mother to finish her story “Sunrise in Memphis.”
“After she died, I really tried to do it, and it wasn’t coming,” Burnett said. While Hamilton was writing “Memphis,” she took the same road trip as her character and emailed Burnett thoughts and scenes. Burnett saved everything, and the story and correspondence is included in “Carrie and Me.”
Burnett also includes things Hamilton said, like when in the hospital she was the one cheering up the nurses.
“Carrie said, ‘Everyday I wake up and decide’ – and decide is the key word – ‘I’m going to love my life.’ ”
Burnett said she felt guilty she didn’t finish Hamilton’s story, but wanted to bring her essence to the page in “Carrie and Me.” You never get over the death of a child, she said, but you learn to cope. The memoir was published last month by Simon and Schuster.
Burnett said she doesn’t mind being approached by fans in public.
“That’s always nice – it never bothers me. Most people are very sweet,” she said.
With the release of “The Carol Burnett Show” show on DVD, she’s now getting fan letters from 11 year-olds. If she did the show today, Burnett would invite Meryl Streep as a guest. “She’s just so multi-talented. She sings and is a funny and dramatic actress,” Burnett said.
Burnett’s three daughters grew up on “The Carol Burnett Show,” coming to dress rehearsals when they were little.
“They loved it. My daughter Jody’s best friend was Dean Martin’s daughter,” she said. To the girls, Burnett was simply mom, though she did to a shtick for them at bedtime, she said.
“I would blow kisses and walk into the wall. Once I went into the closet and stayed there for a while,” Burnett said.
WHO: Carol Burnett
WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St., Durham
TICKETS: Tickets are almost sold out. Visit www.dpacnc.com.