Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett Headshot

Actress • Comedian • Singer • Dancer • Writer

Birth Date: April 26, 1933

Age: 90 years old

Birth Place: San Antonio, Texas

An iconic figure in the history of American television comedy and an inspiration to both female and male comics for almost 50 years, Carol Burnett rose from a difficult childhood to become one of the most beloved performers on television, both as a featured performer on series like "The Garry Moore Show" (CBS, 1950-1967) and as the star of her own acclaimed sketch comedy series, "The Carol Burnett Show" (CBS, 1967-1978). Burnett was also an accomplished musical performer, netting a Tony Award for her star-making Broadway debut in "Once Upon a Mattress" (1959). Though her subsequent series efforts never equaled the heights achieved by "The Carol Burnett Show," she was frequently hailed for her guest appearances on numerous sitcoms, and also established herself as a formidable dramatic actress with the 1979 TV movie, "Friendly Fire." Burnett also enjoyed a sporadic movie career, with roles in films like Robert Altman's "A Wedding" (1978) and John Huston's "Annie" (1982), while always making headlines with her returns to the stage - most particularly in "Moon Over Buffalo" (1995) and "Putting It Together" (1999). In the next millennium, Burnett earned acclaim for guest stints on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) and "Glee" (Fox, 2009-15), proving that the comedic legend was still a powerful force on the small screen in whatever genre presented her.

Born Carol Creighton Burnett in San Antonio, TX on July 26, 1933, Burnett's childhood was marked by alcoholism, which afflicted both of her parents; most particularly Burnett's father, Jody, who was largely absent from her early life due to his committal to a sanitarium. She and her younger sister Chrissy were largely raised by their grandmother, who reared them in her boarding house in Hollywood, helping to nurture the lifelong passion for classic movies that Burnett's mother, a frustrated writer, helped to cultivate. Tall, long-limbed, with an expressive face, Burnett discovered that she could make her peers laugh while a student at Hollywood High School, using it to bolster her self-confidence. Performing naturally beckoned to her, and with the support of her grandmother, she studied theater as an undergraduate at the University of California in Los Angeles. After graduation, she set out to make a name for herself in television and pounded the pavement in New York and California, along with the countless other hopefuls in search of work. During this period, Burnett was married to a fellow UCLA theater student, Don Saroyan, but the marriage ended amicably in 1962. She also worked as a hat-check girl and a theater usher, later requesting that her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which she received in 1975) be placed in front of the movie house where she had worked.

Burnett's earliest break came in the form of a novelty song, "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles," which earned her exposure on variety shows and in nightclubs. This led to a guest shot on the popular "Paul Winchell-Jerry Mahoney Show" (NBC, 1950-54), which preceded her first turn as a series regular with "Stanley" (NBC, 1956-57), a short-lived comedy vehicle for Buddy Hackett. After several false starts, Burnett became a bona fide star in 1959 when she performed double duty as a cast member on "The Garry Moore Show" and the lead in "Once Upon a Mattress," a musical comedy based on the fairy tale The Princess and the Pea. Burnett won a Tony for her performance as the unrefined Princess Winifred the Woebegone, and starred in a television broadcast of the show in 1964. She would return to it twice in subsequent years; once for a 1972 TV version, and later for a 2005 TV adaptation, in which she played the show's villainess, Queen Aggravaine, also serving as executive producer.

Burnett's comic talents also got a workout on "The Garry Moore Show," which gave her an opportunity to try out different characters and sketches on a weekly basis. Among the many characters she developed there was the frumpy washerwoman who becomes transported by her backstage workplace and performs a show-stopping bump-and-grind to the tune of "The Stripper." Burnett would later reprise the character on her own series, and it would serve as the show's unofficial logo. Burnett's versatility earned her an Emmy for her work with Moore, soon establishing her as a headlining performer. By 1962, she was starring in her own network special, "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall," which partnered her with fellow musical theater phenom and lifelong friend, Julie Andrews. The broadcast earned her another Emmy Award in 1963, as well as a Peabody Award. That same year, Burnett married producer/director Joe Hamilton, with whom she had three daughters, Carrie, Erin and Jody.

CBS signed Burnett to a long-term contract in 1962, with Hamilton on board as her producer. She was reluctant, however, to give in to the network's wishes for her to star in a sitcom, fearing the monotony of playing the same character every week for years on end. Burnett instead turned her attention to "The Entertainers" (CBS, 1964-65), a variety show she co-hosted with Bob Newhart and Caterina Valente, as well as appearing regularly as a guest on TV variety program, game shows and network series. The most notable of these was a four-episode stint with another female comedy legend, Lucille Ball, on "The Lucy Show" (CBS, 1962-1974) in 1966 and 1967 (Ball later returned the favor by appearing on Burnett's 1967 special, "Carol + 2," which partnered them with Zero Mostel). Ball reportedly offered to produce a sitcom for Burnett under her powerful Desilu shingle, but Burnett's heart and creative energy lay with creating fresh characters in sketch comedy. Finally, in 1967, CBS granted her wish with "The Carol Burnett Show," a weekly series that gave a spectacular showcase for Burnett's comedic gifts.

Each episode of "The Carol Burnett Show" opened with the actress greeting her audience and fielding questions on all manner of subjects - from her love life to her favorite comic bits, including a startling imitation of Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan yell, which quickly became her primary trademark. Each opening bit concluded with Burnett tugging her ear and offering a smile to the camera, which was later revealed to be her signal to her grandmother - a regular viewer until her death - that she loved her. The show itself featured several recurring sketches, including "Ed and Eunice," which focused on a combative Southern family and occasionally dipped into dramatic waters (it would later serve as the basis for "Mama's Family"); "Old Folks at Home," with Burnett as one-half of a quarreling elderly couple; and "Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins," with Burnett as a blowsy and inept secretary. But the show built much of its reputation on spectacular parodies of classic Hollywood films and television series, with their take on "Gone with the Wind" (1939), which featured Burnett descending the staircase at Tara in a dress made not only from the curtains, but the entire curtain rod as well, was one of the show's most indelible images. Burnett's flawless physical and verbal comic skills, as well as her considerable musical background, was the engine that drove the show, but she was abetted by superb guests - everyone from Jimmy Stewart to Cher - and a quartet of terrific supporting players, including 19-year-old singer/actress Vicki Lawrence (who bore a striking resemblance to Burnett), actors Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner, and comedian Tim Conway, whose gift for absurdist behavior frequently broke up his castmates on the air. Each show would end with Burnett in her washerwoman garb, crooning her melancholy theme song, "It's Time to Say Goodbye."

The show was hailed by critics and audiences alike and collected countless awards, with Burnett, herself, netting three Emmy awards, five Golden Globes, and seven People's Choice trophies for her time on the series. But after 10 solid years on the air, the show hit a stumbling block with the departure of Harvey Korman, the actor whose moody offscreen personality occasionally conflicted with the ebullient Burnett. He simply yearned for more opportunities and left the show in 1977. His absence - combined with Waggoner's departure in 1974 - left the show without a strong male comic lead. Dick Van Dyke was tapped in 1977 to replace Korman, but there was a surprising lack of chemistry between the two comic stars, and Van Dyke left the show without completing his full contract commitment. Singer-actor Steve Lawrence and Ken Berry (both frequent guest stars) attempted to fill in for Korman, but by 1978, Burnett had decided to bring the show to a close. "The Carol Burnett Show" ended its network run in 1978 with a two-hour special that featured highlights from previous shows. The show continued to attract a substantial audience when it began airing in reruns in 1978 and then in shortened form for syndication in 1979.

In addition to her network series, Burnett filled the early and mid-1970s with a wide variety of television specials and even the occasional film. The former was largely successful; she co-starred with Alan Alda in the Emmy-nominated romantic comedy "6 Rms Riv Vu" (1974) and teamed with opera star Beverly Sills for "Sills and Burnett at the Met" (1976), as well as Dolly Parton for "Dolly and Carol in Nashville" (1979). The latter was more miss than hit. "Pete 'n' Tillie" (1972) marked her first starring role in a feature, in which she struggled to balance comedy with heavy drama in its story of two longtime singles who marry and deal with personal tragedy. Billy Wilder's adaptation of "The Front Page" (1974), with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, also failed in its attempt to recreate the sparkle of Depression-era screwball comedy. Burnett fared better as the head of a Southern family under siege during an opulent wedding in Robert Altman's black comedy "A Wedding" (1978), earning a Golden Globe nomination; though their second teaming - 1980's "Health" - failed to connect with audiences.

In 1979, Burnett tackled straight drama with great success in "Friendly Fire," David Greene's affecting TV movie of a family dealing with the death of their son by fellow soldiers in Vietnam. The Peabody and Emmy-winning film also netted Burnett an Emmy nomination, and she would make infrequent returns to serious fare throughout the 1980s, including "Life of the Party: The Story Of Bernice" (1982), which earned her a Golden Globe for her performance as a woman struggling with alcoholism; "Between Friends" (1983), which teamed her with Elizabeth Taylor; and "The Laundromat" (1985), directed by Robert Altman and written by Marsha Norman ("'Night, Mother"). Burnett also put a dramatic spin on her Eunice character from her variety series with "Eunice" (1982), a TV movie which reunited her with many of her "Carol Burnett Show" co-stars.

There were also movie appearances during this period, most notably "The Four Seasons" (1981), a likable comedy-drama about middle-class couples, starring Alan Alda and Jack Weston, and the big screen adaptation of "Annie" (1982), which gave audiences a formidable reminder of Burnett's musical skills in her performance as the villainous Miss Hannigan. Offscreen, however, Burnett's personal life underwent considerable turmoil during the early 1980s. Her marriage to Hamilton ended in 1984, and she went public with her daughter Carrie's decades-long struggle with drug addiction. Burnett also launched a high-profile suit against The National Enquirer, which printed allegations that she had been drunk in public. Burnett won the suit and donated the proceeds to the journalism departments at two prominent colleges. In 1986, Burnett penned her autobiography, One More Time, which was a bestseller on the non-fiction lists.

But television comedy remained Burnett's best showcase, and she remained active in TV movies, including the soap opera spoof "Fresno" (1986) and a TV version of Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite" (1987), but did not return to a weekly series until 1990. "Carol and Company" (NBC, 1990-91) was an anthology series that allowed Burnett to tackle a different character for a half-hour each week. Despite a solid supporting cast including Richard Kind, Peter Krause and Terry Kiser, and an impressive roster of guest stars like Christopher Reeve and Hal Linden, the show failed to catch on with audiences. She followed this with a revival of "The Carol Burnett Show" on CBS (1991), which returned to the sketch format, but it too struggled to find an audience, vanishing after just nine episodes.

Sensing that the original "Carol Burnett Show" still had an ardent following, she reunited with Korman, Conway, Lawrence and Waggoner for "The Carol Burnett Show: A Reunion," which was highlighted by memorable clips from the series. It scored phenomenal ratings and prompted Burnett to put forth several other nostalgic specials, as well as newer ones akin to her late 1960s and early 1970s TV efforts. The best of these was "The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers," which focused on bloopers and moments in which the cast broke each other up; it aired shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and brought a much needed dose of levity back to the airwaves, earning an Emmy nomination. Another reunion, "Carol Burnett: Let's Bump Up the Lights!" (2004) was devoted to new and vintage questions from the audience.

Burnett remained quite active in TV movies and guest shots on series during this period; serious drama like "Seasons of the Heart" (1994), with Burnett as publisher Vivian Levinson Goldstein, was balanced with comedic fare like "The Marriage Fool," her third reunion with Walter Matthau and an American Comedy Award winner for Burnett. She also began a successful recurring stint as Helen Hunt's mother on "Mad About You" (NBC, 1992-99), which won her an Emmy and two American Comedy Awards. A lifelong devotee to "All My Children" (ABC, 1970-2011), she appeared in a 1995 episode of the show as Verla Grubbs, long-lost daughter of Langley Wallingford and all-around hellraiser. She later reprised the role for the show's 35th anniversary in 2005, and hosted a 1995 special celebrating its 25th anniversary on the air.

Burnett began returning to the theater in the mid-1990s, starting with the comedy "Moon Over Buffalo." The play, which was chronicled in the 1997 documentary "Moon Over Broadway" was launched in Boston, MA and traveled to Broadway in 1995, where it was a modest hit. Burnett even received a 1996 Tony nomination for her role. In 1999, she appeared in "Putting It Together," a revue built around the songs of Stephen Sondheim which was later broadcast for television in 2000. Burnett also began working on a play of her own with daughter Carrie Hamilton, based on her memoirs, Hollywood Arms which told a fictionalized version of Burnett's early life and dreams of stardom, as well as the personal struggles of her parents and her supportive grandmother. Sadly, Hamilton did not live to see its stage debut in Chicago in 2002. She succumbed to lung and brain cancer at the age of 38 because of a long-term smoking habit. Not surprisingly, Burnett mounted the production in her honor. Though it ran for less than 100 performances, the play was critically praised and earned a Tony nomination for actress Michele Pawk, who played Burnett's mother.

As Burnett entered her fourth decade of public performing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she began collecting a host of much-deserved lifetime achievement awards. In 1987, she was honored with just such a laurel from the American Comedy Awards, followed in 1999 by a Back Stage West Garland Award and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush in 2005, and the Television Critics Association's Career Achievement Award in 2006. In 2007, her life was the subject of a documentary on the PBS series, "American Masters" (1983- ). Burnett was involved in a brief lawsuit against 20th Century Fox for what she alleged was a violation of copyright in an episode of "Family Guy" (Fox, 1999-2002; 2005- ), which reportedly used her washerwoman image and trademark theme song without permission. The suit was later dismissed that same year. In 2008, Burnett provided the voice of a highly critical kangaroo in the animated theatrical version of Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who." Top-billed alongside her was Jim Carrey, who at age 10, sent her his résumé for consideration on "The Carol Burnett Show" and was not shy to share this bit of personal history with the world. She next received considerable acclaim for her portrayal of a faded ballet star on an episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ), which earned Burnett an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2009. A supporting role in romantic comedy "Post-Grad" (2009) and a voice role in the American redubbing of Japanese animated film "The Secret World of Arriety" (2012) followed,a s well as more TV appearances including a recurring role on "Glee" (Fox 2009-2015) as the mother of Jane Lynch's Sue Sylvester. In 2016, Burnett published a backstage memoir, In Such Good Company.

Credits

Palm Royale

Actor
Norma
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2024

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Self
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2023

Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love

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2023

Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love

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2023

Celebrating Carol: The Gift of Laughter

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2023

The Best of The Ed Sullivan Show

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2023

The Carol Burnett Show

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2023

Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection

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2023

Who's Talking to Chris Wallace?Stream

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2022

A Tribute to Julie Andrews

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2022

Betty White: A Celebration

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2022

Mister Candid Camera

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2021

The Story of Soaps

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2020

The Plot Thickens

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2020

All Together NowStream

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Joan
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2020
68%

The Kelly Clarkson ShowStream

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2019

Scooby-Doo and Guess Who?Stream

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2019

A Little Help With Carol BurnettStream

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2018

A Little Help With Carol BurnettStream

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2018

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To the AltarStream

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Ardis
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2018

Access

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2017

Access Live

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2017

The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special

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2017

The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special

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2017

STEVE on Watch

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2017

Live with Kelly and Ryan

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2017

The History of ComedyStream

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2017

Harry

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2016

ChelseaStream

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2016
41%

Carol Burnett's Favorite Sketches

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2016

The Late Show With Stephen ColbertStream

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2015

The Late Late Show With James CordenStream

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2015

Late Night With Seth MeyersStream

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2014

The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy FallonStream

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2014

Carol Burnett: The Mark Twain Prize

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2013

The Queen Latifah Show

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2013

Method To The Madness Of Jerry Lewis

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2013

Anderson Live

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2012

Live! With Kelly and Michael

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2012

Larry King NowStream

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2012

Finding Your RootsStream

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2012

CBS This Morning

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2012

LIVE with Kelly

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2011

The Chew

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2011

ConanStream

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2010

The Talk

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2010

Hawaii Five-0Stream

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2010

George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight

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2010

Access Hollywood Live

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2010

Hot in ClevelandStream

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Penny
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2010

The Secret World of Arrietty

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Hara
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2010

ES.TV

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2009

Watch What Happens Live With Andy CohenStream

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2009

GleeStream

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Doris Sylvester
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2009
70%

Post GradStream

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Grandma
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2009
8%

Muppets 201: Rarities From the Henson Vault

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2009

The Bonnie Hunt Show

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2008

The Doctors

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2008

Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who!Stream

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Kangaroo
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2008
79%

Today With Kathie Lee & Hoda

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2007

Rachael Ray ShowStream

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2006

Curious GeorgeStream

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2006

The Colbert Report

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2005

Made in Hollywood

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2005

The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson

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2005

Once Upon a Mattress

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Queen Aggravain
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2005

Once Upon a Mattress

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2005

Desperate HousewivesStream

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Eleanor Mason
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2004
72%

The Insider

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2004

The Carol Burnett Show: Let's Bump Up the Lights

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2004

Tavis Smiley

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2004

The Ellen DeGeneres Show

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2003

Jimmy Kimmel Live!Stream

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2003

Live With Regis and Kelly

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2001

The Trumpet of the Swan

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2001

Entertainment Studios.com

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2000

Law & Order: Special Victims UnitStream

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Birdie Sulloway
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1999
78%

Get Bruce!

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1999

The Marriage Fool

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Florence
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1998

The View

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1997

Access Hollywood

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1996

Women of the HouseStream

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1995
38%

Touched by an AngelStream

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1994

Extra

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1994

Inside the Actors Studio

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1994

Seasons of the Heart

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Vivian Levinson
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1994

Mad About YouStream

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Theresa Stemple
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1992

The Larry Sanders ShowStream

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1992
100%

The Tonight Show With Jay Leno

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1992

Noises Off

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Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clackett
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1992

The Very Best of the Ed Sullivan Show

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1991

Charlie RoseStream

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1991

42nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Presentation

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1990

Carol & Company

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1990

Hostage

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Martha
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1988

Bonnie Lee en cavale

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1988

Super Dave

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1987

Super Dave

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Herself
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1987

HBO Storybook Musicals

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1987

Plaza Suite

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Karen Nash/Muriel Tate/Norma Hubley
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1987

Fresno

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Charlotte Kensington
Miniseries
1986

The Oprah Winfrey ShowStream

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1986

The Laundromat

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Alberta Johnson
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1985

Jeopardy!Stream

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1984

The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts

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1983

Mama's FamilyStream

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1983

Between Friends

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Mary Catherine Castelli
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1983

Fame

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1982

Beatrice: una Vida

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1982

Life of the Party: The Story of Beatrice

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Beatrice O'Reilly
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1982

AnnieStream

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Miss Hannigan
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1982
49%

Eunice

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Eunice
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1982

Entertainment Tonight

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1981

A Lincoln Center Special: Beverly! Her Farewell Performance

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1981

Chu Chu and the Philly Flash

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Emily
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1981

Chu Chu y Philly Flash

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1981

The Four SeasonsStream

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Kate Burroughs
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1981
76%

Emilie et Flash Inc.

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1981

Magnum, P.I.Stream

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Susan Johnson
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1980

H.E.A.L.T.H.

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Gloria Burbank
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1980

CBS News Sunday Morning

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1979

Password PlusStream

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1979

Fuego Amistoso

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1979

Friendly FireStream

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Peg Mullen
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1979

The Tenth Month

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Dori Grey
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1979

20/20Stream

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1978

America 2Night

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1978

The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank

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Dorothy Benson
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1978

A Wedding

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Tulip Brenner
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1978

CBS Salutes Lucy: The First 25 Years

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1976

Dick Van Dyke & Company

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1976

Good Morning America

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1975

The Front Page

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Mollie Malloy
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1974

Great PerformancesStream

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Franchise
1972

Pete 'n' Tillie

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Tillie
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1972

Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center

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1971

All My ChildrenStream

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Soap
1970

Bing Crosby and Carol Burnett: Together Again for the First Time

Self
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1969

Sesame StreetStream

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1969

The Jim Nabors Hour

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1969

Carol Channing Proudly Presents the Seven Deadly Sins

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1969

Girlfriends and Nabors

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guest
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1968

Here's LucyStream

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1968

The Dick Cavett ShowStream

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1968

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-InStream

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1968

The Carol Burnett ShowStream

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1967

Carol + 2

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1967

Get SmartStream

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1965

The Entertainers

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1964

Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.Stream

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Sgt. Carol
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1964

Calamity Jane

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Calamity Jane
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1963

An Evening With Carol Burnett

Self
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1963

Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?

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Stella Irving
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1963

The Lucy ShowStream

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1962

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny CarsonStream

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1962

Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall

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1962

American Cowboy

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1960

The Twilight ZoneStream

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Agnes Grep
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1959
92%

The Garry Moore Show

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1958

The Arlene Francis Show

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1957

Stanley

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Celia
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1956

I've Got a SecretStream

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1952

Today

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1952

What's My Line?Stream

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1950

News aboutCarol Burnett

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Carol Burnett to Receive Golden Globe Achievement Award — Her Best TV Moments (VIDEO)

A Little Help with Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett’s New Netflix Series Will Melt Your Heart

THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW - Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors, Vicki Lawrence

Carol Burnett on Her Anniversary Special: ‘I Can’t Believe 50 Years Have Passed’

Carol Burnett interacting with the audience of The Carol Burnett Show in 1967

MeTV, CBS Plan Celebrations for ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ 50th Anniversary

TV Guide
Fall Preview

Fall Flashback: Was Autumn 1973 the Best TV Lineup of All Time?

X-Files_1002_061915_sc5_0071_fDJ1_hires2 (1)

Ask Matt: Re-opening ‘The X-Files’, Plus: ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ Messes With Format, ‘Heroes Reborn’ and More

Carol Burnett SAG Awards

Carol Burnett ‘Would Like to See Cleverness Come Back’ to TV Comedy

Mike Nichols directing The Graduate, 1967

What’s Worth Watching: Mike Nichols, the SAG Awards, Zombie Houses and More TV for Friday and Saturday, Jan. 29-30

Carol Burnett

Why Carol Burnett Is Nervous About Her ‘Life Achievement’ Honor at the SAG Awards

Carol Burnett

14 Ways ‘TV Guide Magazine’ Loves Carol Burnett (PHOTOS)

Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett Gets Her Own YouTube Channel (VIDEO)