Carol Burnett presenting daughter Carrie with an antique lamp.

Carol Burnett presenting daughter Carrie with an antique lamp.

Even after The Carol Burnett Show ended its 11-year run, Carol Burnett did anything but slow down. She starred on television and performed on Broadway. Burnett also wrote a play with her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, which opened in 2002. But its debut came at a difficult time for Burnett. Not long before, Carrie passed away. Carrie had a turbulent childhood, addicted to drugs and she was in and out of rehab. But once sober and in college, Carrie found that like her mother, she had a talent for performing. Burnett’s new memoir is part of a promise Carrie asked of her mother before dying. Carol Burnett joins Diane to talk about being a mother, losing a daughter and her decades-long career.

Guests

  • Carol Burnett actor, comedian and star of "The Carol Burnett Show". Carol has been honored with 12 People’s Choice Awards, 8 Golden Globes, and 6 Emmy Awards. She has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is a Kennedy Center honoree, and has been inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Her new book is "Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story"

Read An Excerpt

From “Carrie and Me” by Carol Burnett. Copyright © 2013 by Mabel Cat, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.

Transcript

  • 10:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Actor, singer, dancer and comedian Carol Burnett has won Emmy Awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and is in the Television Hall of Fame. But her life has not been without hardship. In her new book, she opens up about one of the most challenging chapters, the death of her daughter, Carrie Hamilton, at age 38.

  • 10:07:24

    MS. DIANE REHMCarol Burnett's new book is titled, "Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story." She joins me from the NPR studios in New York. I welcome you to be part of the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850, send an email to drshow@wamu.org, follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Carol Burnett, welcome.

  • 10:07:55

    MS. CAROL BURNETTThank you, Diane. I'm so happy to be here and to talk to you.

  • 10:07:59

    REHMOh, what fun, and I'm telling you, I adore this photograph on the cover. I love all the photographs in the book.

  • 10:08:09

    BURNETTOh, thank you.

  • 10:08:10

    REHMBut it's such fun and shows you in such really extraordinary coordination with your daughter, Carrie.

  • 10:08:21

    BURNETTThank you. Thank you. That's the way we were.

  • 10:08:24

    REHMWell...

  • 10:08:25

    BURNETTI mean, we had our tough times early on. But after she was about 17, we -- she totally turned her life around and became quite the force that we felt she would be.

  • 10:08:39

    REHMYou know, I hope you have your book in front of you. Do you?

  • 10:08:44

    BURNETTYes, I do. Mm hmm.

  • 10:08:45

    REHMWould you read for us, starting on page 10 right there beneath Carrie's photograph?

  • 10:08:56

    BURNETTYes.

  • 10:08:57

    REHMI love this part.

  • 10:09:00

    BURNETTOK. Well, I'm reading now. "One day we caught Carrie in a fib. I don't even remember what it was exactly, but my husband and I felt it was important to send her upstairs to her room and to bed right after dinner. It couldn't have been much of a lie. She was only six. But we wanted to make sure it registered with her that fibbing was not a good thing.

  • 10:09:26

    BURNETT"After a few minutes, I knocked on the door and entered the bedroom she shared with her sister, Jody. We were alone. Carrie was in her PJs and under the covers. She'd been crying. I sat on the edge of the bed and kissed her, wiping the tears away. 'Sweetheart, your daddy and I love you very much. You know that, don't you?' 'Uh-huh.' 'We love you, but we don't like what you did. Do you understand the difference?'

  • 10:09:54

    BURNETT"She nodded, and I moved closer. 'Honey, you can always tell us the truth, no matter what, and we'll still love you. That will never change.' She was staring at me hard. I moved even closer, face to face. 'It's just that telling fibs or lies can only lead to bigger fibs and bigger lies, and then things get worse and worse. And we don't want that now, do we?' Carrie hadn't blinked or taken her eyes off me.

  • 10:10:25

    BURNETT"I was really getting through to her. By this time we were just about nose to nose. I seized the opportunity to expand on the importance of honest communication, and I moved on to talk about how love could overcome any difference that we might ever have, et cetera, et cetera. 'Never be afraid to come and talk to us about anything. I promise Daddy and I will listen, and we'll work it out no matter what it is.'

  • 10:10:54

    BURNETT"She was looking at me mesmerized. This had been going on for several minutes, and she was still drinking in what I was saying with all her heart. I was so proud of myself and of how I was handling this situation that I swear in the back of my mind, I heard violins. Somebody somewhere was about to present me with a medal for Mother of the Year. I finally finished and asked Carrie if she had anything to ask me. 'Uh-huh.' 'What, darling? Anything, just ask.' 'How many teeth do you have?'"

  • 10:11:34

    REHMShe got you.

  • 10:11:36

    BURNETTShe got me all right. She'd been busy looking at my -- counting my teeth.

  • 10:11:40

    REHMExactly. Oh, that's such a wonderful story. But, you know, we know you as a wonderful performer and comedian. But I wonder, for you, how difficult it was to open up and write about your daughter, Carrie.

  • 10:12:03

    BURNETTWell, actually, she had been working -- before she was diagnosed with cancer, she had been working in 2001 on a story about a young Bohemian girl, not unlike Carrie herself, who takes a road trip to Greenland, to Greenland -- to Graceland with a mysterious cowboy.

  • 10:12:26

    REHMHmm.

  • 10:12:27

    BURNETTAnd she was -- so she decided that she would take that road trip also that her character was taking in her story. So she packed up her Jeep and left Hollywood and made that same trip down to Memphis, to Graceland, stopping in various places. And then she would email me scenes from her story as she was writing and also email me her observations and stories about people she met on the way to Graceland.

  • 10:13:01

    BURNETTAnd I would email her back, so we had kind of a conversation going. And so when she got back from her road trip, she started to become a little ill. She had, as far as the story goes, which she was calling "Sunrise in Memphis," she had the beginning of the story, the end of the story, and a lot of the middle part of the story, but she hadn't -- she needed to add more to the middle.

  • 10:13:31

    REHMHmm.

  • 10:13:32

    BURNETTAnd when she was in the hospital the last time, she asked me if I could finish "Sunrise in Memphis" for her, and I said, "Sweetie, they're your characters to write. I don't know where you going to go with them." You know, and she said, "Well, that's OK." So her request had been living with me for about 10 years, and I thought, I got to do something. And so I thought it would be -- I wanted to bring Carrie's essence to the page to let the reader know what kind of a young woman she grew into, terrific.

  • 10:14:09

    BURNETTSo I decided I would write about our relationship from the get-go, from when she was born up through, you know, her young, little years and the difficulty with the teenage years. And then after that, our relationship grew, and we worked together. We did all kinds of things, and then she would email me from her little Colorado cabin.

  • 10:14:38

    BURNETTAnd I thought, I'm just going to put all of this in the first part of the book, you know, up through to when she died, and then part two of the book will be her unfinished story, "Sunrise in Memphis." So that's how it came about. So in a long-winded answer to your question, no, I felt good writing it. I felt Carrie was on my shoulder urging me on. And it's -- I felt a relief that I had, I hope, had brought, as I say, her essence to the page.

  • 10:15:14

    REHMDescribe Carrie Hamilton. She, of course, became a performer in her own right, but she didn't really seem to want the fame.

  • 10:15:29

    BURNETTIt was interesting. She loved to act, she loved to sing, she wrote music, and she loved to write. She and I wrote a play together that did make it to Broadway, and she loved to direct. And so I remember she had been in a movie called "Tokyo Pop" which was filmed -- she filmed in Japan. And it was about a pop singer in Japan who gets with this Japanese band, and they become a big hit.

  • 10:16:04

    BURNETTAnd she got wonderful, I mean, wonderful reviews for her performance, and she was kind of on her way. In fact, Marlon Brando called and wanted to have a meeting with her about something, some project or whatever, and she turned him down.

  • 10:16:24

    REHMReally?

  • 10:16:25

    BURNETTYes, and I became a stage mother. Me, I became a stage mother. I said, "Carrie, are you crazy?" I said, "My God, you know, opportunities like this just don't come that often. So why are you?" She said, "Mom, I did the movie. I was happy with it, but now I want to do my music. I want to do different things. I don't care about fame. I don't care about being a star. I just want to do it all." And she said, "Is it attention deficit or is it unclipped wings?" But that's the way she was.

  • 10:16:57

    REHMInteresting.

  • 10:16:58

    BURNETTYes, she did her music. And then after that she, at one point, she directed and wrote a short film for the Latino Film Festival, and she won. She was the first non-Latino to win in that category. She won the first prize.

  • 10:17:16

    REHMYou know, in one email she wrote to you, she said, "The line where you end and I begin has always been blurry." And then she went on to say, "There are fundamental differences that make us a unique team, able to balance and complement each other." What a wonderful email for a mother to receive.

  • 10:17:50

    BURNETTIt was, yes. And I, I mean, I'm so happy I saved all of that, you know. She had an outlook on life that was so positive. It was amazing to me, and when she was in the hospital, you know, for the last time, one of the nurses came up to me on the floor. And she said, "I have to tell you something." She said, "Your daughter cheers us up when we go into the room." And I asked Carrie, "How does she do it? How does she, you know, be so cheerful all the time?" And Carrie's response was, "Every day I wake up and decide," and this is, she said, "I decide today I'm going to love my life."

  • 10:18:37

    REHMCarol Burnett, and clearly she has had quite a life. We'll take a short break here and when we come back, your calls, your comments. Stay with us.

  • 10:20:04

    REHMAnd if you've just joined us, the wonderful actress, comedian, musician Carol Burnett is with me. She's got a brand-new book. It's titled "Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story." And on the cover of the book is a fabulous photograph taken back in 1988. And indeed Carol Burnett has wonderful stories to tell. Carol Burnett, when we were talking before the break, you talked about the end of Carrie's life when she was in that hospital for the last time. I want to go back a little bit because you say in the book that, as a child, Carrie asked you if she is ugly.

  • 10:21:10

    BURNETTYes.

  • 10:21:11

    REHMAnd you say, this should have raised red flags. What did you mean? Were you worried then about addiction?

  • 10:21:20

    BURNETTNo. I -- no. It never entered my mind. She was -- she spurted up. She got very tall, very young. She was about 12, whatever, and she was gangly. She was as thin as you could be, and she had braces on her teeth. And I said, Sweetheart, you know, you're shooting up. You're getting tall, and you're getting ahead of yourself. I said, you will turn into a butterfly. Don't worry. And she didn't believe me. She just had no self-esteem.

  • 10:21:55

    BURNETTAnd before this happened, she had been an all-A student, and she had been the most popular girl in grammar school. And, you know, she was just out there and wonderful. But this thing started to happen. And after a while, her grades started to slip, which worried me. And then she started to be -- this is like when she was about 14 -- be sullen and not want to interact with her kid sisters or her dad and me. And she would be short with us and stay in her room a lot.

  • 10:22:32

    BURNETTAnd we started to suspect something, but we were very naïve about it. And so finally I found some marijuana in her room, and I thought, oh my god. Oh, what am I going to do? And I told my husband, and we were very upset. And we talked to her about it, and she cried. And she said she wasn't going to do it again. But there's a line I have in the book, how can you tell when an addict is lying?

  • 10:23:03

    REHMYeah.

  • 10:23:04

    BURNETTWhen they open their mouth.

  • 10:23:06

    REHMYeah.

  • 10:23:06

    BURNETTYou know, so it was -- obviously she was going to do more. And it got to the point where she would have girlfriends come over, and we'd have them check their purses downstairs, as if that would do any good because they could be coming up and hiding stuff in their clothes, you know.

  • 10:23:18

    REHMHmm.

  • 10:23:25

    BURNETTAnd so I was absolutely frantic, and I didn't want to step on her toes, you know. I thought, oh my god, if I make her madder, she's going to do worse things to herself. And, like, I wanted to be her friend and all of that, which was a big, big mistake. And finally we reached the point where we sent her to a rehab in Texas. And she was 14 -- 15. And so for 30 days, she was sober. We went back for family week.

  • 10:24:00

    BURNETTAnd everything was fine, and we hugged. And she was coming up on a year of being sober, but then I discovered she had slipped again, which devastated me. And we put her back into the same rehab, but she ran away. And I didn't know where she was. She was -- if she had saved enough money for a bus ticket back to Los Angeles, and I didn't know where she was. And I was frantic.

  • 10:24:29

    BURNETTAnd finally, she would come to the house. I took the other two girls and went to Hawaii for a while to get them out of the L.A. scene. And Carrie would come to the house, and we had a housekeeper named Gigi. And she'd do her laundry there and -- Carrie would. And she called me, Gigi. She said, Carrie does not look well. She looks -- she's thin. She's gray. She said, I'm afraid for her, and she's shaking. And finally the penny dropped for me, and I thought, she's 17. We're going to trick her into going into another rehab but one in -- down in L.A.

  • 10:25:13

    BURNETTAnd so I thought, you know, she's not going to like me for this, but I have to love her enough to let her hate me. That's the difference between, you know, being afraid of your child and to say, wait a minute, I'm the parent. I'm going to see to this, and I'm going to, you know, fight for my kid, even though they hate me. You know, they don't hate you, but they hate -- it's the demon inside of them, the disease that hates you. So that's what -- you can't take it personally.

  • 10:25:44

    BURNETTAnd so we got her into rehab, and there was a young doctor there who was very good with Carrie. He specialized in teenage addiction. And, oh, she called me every name in the book. She was really angry. And he -- she told me later, after she got out of rehab, she said, you know, one of the things, mom, that triggered my wanting to get well was when I said to the doctor, I want to be Janis Joplin. And there was a pause, and he looked at me.

  • 10:26:17

    REHMWow.

  • 10:26:17

    BURNETTAnd he said, well Carrie, you know, she's dead. And she said, mom, that just kind of, you know, clicked with me. And then I realized how much you and dad and my sisters love me and all. And then we went -- Diane, we went to family week there, and it all gelled. It became -- we were a family again. And I knew this time it would take. And she was 17, and had she been 18, I wouldn't have been able to, you know, get her into rehab because...

  • 10:26:51

    REHMExactly.

  • 10:26:53

    BURNETTYeah, so it worked out. And that's when she turned her life around and went to college and started performing.

  • 10:26:58

    REHMOh, I'm so glad.

  • 10:26:59

    BURNETTShe always sang and played the piano even as a kid. But that started her whole second part of her life.

  • 10:27:08

    REHMYou know, there is an important passage in your book starting in the middle of page 28 that I think speaks to a great many people. As the parent of Carrie, you faced so many issues you had never before seen in your own life. Would you read that for us?

  • 10:27:40

    BURNETTYes. This is a diary entry that I had made. I just -- while Carrie was still in the second -- the last rehab and I was flying in for family week, and so I wrote this in my diary on the plane -- no, just before we got on the plane. "I just realized something. For all the obvious difficulties of my childhood, I actually had it easier than Carrie. I am dumbstruck by the thought, not only did our modest means provide me with far fewer temptations, but my goal in life was crystal clear from the beginning, survival, period.

  • 10:28:22

    BURNETT"There was no room in my life for experimentation. Anything that didn't contribute to staying alive was an indulgence I couldn't afford, pure and simple. And now I'm thinking that Carrie and kids like her -- by that I mean from all outside appearances -- aren't actually born into fortunate circumstances at all when it comes to developing character or their souls. If someone heads along a good path in spite of a silver spoon in the their mouth then I believe they've really done more hard work than someone like me who had none of the distractions and temptations that come with those "advantages."

  • 10:29:05

    BURNETT"God, how often do we say and hear, I just don't get it. These kids today have so much more than we ever had. We had to work. We had no money. We had to struggle. What the hell's the matter with them? They should be so damn grateful. We certainly would be. But would we? Could we have survived and made something of ourselves if we hadn't had to? Odd.

  • 10:29:30

    BURNETT"Suddenly, I don't seem to resent these people for their golden opportunities now. The prostitute who gives up her way of life seems to me more blessed than the pious woman who was never tempted to use her body to make a living. In other words, if you don't like chocolate, then you're not proving much by refusing a bonbon."

  • 10:29:53

    REHMCarol Burnett reading from her new book titled "Carrie and Me." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Here's our first email from Tom who says, "Carol, you are a national treasure. My best friend still talks about your bit wearing the curtains in your "Gone With the Wind" (word?) with the rod still in place.

  • 10:31:31

    REHMAnd I gather that that costume is in the Smithsonian.

  • 10:31:38

    BURNETTYes, it is. And the genius who created the costume -- because it wasn't written to be that. It was written to be where I would run up the stairs and then come down with the draperies just hanging on me. And it was our genius costume designer Bob Mackey who said, that's not so funny. Come in here. I've got an idea. And he -- I was at the costume fitting, and then he picked up that curtain rod. And I fell on the floor. I said, this is going to be one of the best sight gags ever, and it was.

  • 10:32:12

    REHMAnd it was. Absolutely. When you began playing Miss Hannigan in Annie, this was actually at a pretty difficult time in your life.

  • 10:32:30

    BURNETTYes, it was.

  • 10:32:32

    REHMYou were grateful for the distraction.

  • 10:32:35

    BURNETTYes, I was. This was when -- at the time when I didn't know where Carrie was. You know, she was living with "friends," and this was when just before -- and she was 17, so it was in that time that I was doing Annie. And I almost felt guilty about doing it, but it did kind of, you know, take me away at times from all the worry and stress. But I don't mean it totally de-stressed me at all -- not at all. But I had something I had to do and, you know, please people and so forth. And it did help. But then, you know, that's when I said, I've got to love her enough to let her hate me.

  • 10:33:22

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here is Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan in the 1982 movie "Annie."

  • 10:35:01

    REHMCarol, I have to say, you have the best pair of pipes I've ever heard.

  • 10:35:09

    BURNETTWell...

  • 10:35:09

    REHMYou really do.

  • 10:35:12

    BURNETT...thank you. Well, I didn't realize I had -- I could sing that loud until I got to UCLA. And somebody asked me to be in a chorus of a scene they were doing from South Pacific. And I was out-shouting the rest of the chorus. And I think it might've been because I learned -- I taught myself to do the Tarzan yell when I was about nine. And so that's a great vocal exercise. I taught that yell to Beverly Sills one time.

  • 10:35:48

    REHMDid you really?

  • 10:35:49

    BURNETTYeah, we worked together and -- a wonderful special called Sills and Burnett at the Met. And she asked me, she said, how do you do that? And I said, well it's really a yodel. And so she said, oh, that -- and she did it beautifully.

  • 10:36:06

    REHMWould you do it for us?

  • 10:36:08

    BURNETTWell, OK. I haven't done it in a long time, and I'm sitting down so -- well, I'll try.

  • 10:36:24

    REHMThat's fabulous, just fabulous. Really so wonderful to hear you in full voice doing exactly what you were meant to do. But being raised by your grandmother, what sort of life did you really expect for yourself?

  • 10:36:50

    BURNETTI expected a happy life. I expected a successful live because Nanny and I -- my grandmother and I -- I was raised in the '40s and '50s. And we would save our pennies and go to second-run movie features every week. Sometimes we'd see as many as eight movies a week because we'd see double features. And we'd double up on the weekends and all. And in those days there was not a lot of cynicism in the movies. And so I grew up with being hopeful.

  • 10:37:28

    REHMMe too. I know exactly what you mean. Short break here. We'll be right back.

  • 10:40:04

    REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Carol Burnett joins me. And her new book she calls "A Mother-Daughter Love Story." It's titled "Carrie and Me," all about her daughter, Carrie, who died of cancer at age 38. The book is also about Carol Burnett's early life being raised by her grandmother. And as you heard just before the break, it was a happy life for her growing up, enjoying movies. But, Carol Burnett, how did you learn that you were funny? How did you discover you could be a performer?

  • 10:41:02

    BURNETTWell, I wanted -- started out wanting to be a cartoonist and have my own comic strip one day. And then I turned to writing, and I was editor of my junior high school paper. In Hollywood High School News, I was editor. And I always loved the movies, and sometimes my girlfriend, Ilamay, and I would kind of act out some of the movies and play. But I was very, very shy all through school. And so I got to UCLA and...

  • 10:41:39

    REHMOn scholarship.

  • 10:41:42

    BURNETTNo, actually it wasn't a scholarship. I...

  • 10:41:44

    REHMIt was not.

  • 10:41:44

    BURNETTNo. What happened was I wanted to go to UCLA very badly, and we didn't have the money. We were on welfare. And so my grandmother said, now, you should go to this secretarial school where you can be a secretary and someday nab the boss.

  • 10:42:07

    BURNETTAnd so I said, but, Nanny, I really want to go to UCLA and major in journalism and writing and so forth. Well, we lived in a one room apartment -- not apartment. We lived in one room in this building a block north of Hollywood Boulevard. And it was my chore -- our door faced the lobby, and it was my chore to check on any mail in the pigeonhole mailboxes in the lobby.

  • 10:42:32

    REHMRight.

  • 10:42:34

    BURNETTAnd so I saw -- it was one morning. I saw an envelope. And, oh, I forgot to mention that the tuition for UCLA back in those days, the covered wagon days, was $43.

  • 10:42:51

    REHM$43.

  • 10:42:53

    BURNETTAnd we didn't have it. Our rent was $30 a month.

  • 10:42:57

    REHMRight.

  • 10:42:57

    BURNETTAnd we barely made that.

  • 10:42:59

    REHMSure.

  • 10:42:59

    BURNETTShe said, well, we can't afford that. So anyway, I saw this envelope in the pigeonhole mailbox, and I went and got it. And it had my name type written on it and the address with a three cent stamp. But it hadn't been mailed. It hadn't been -- the stamp hadn't been canceled. And so I opened up the envelope, and there was a $50 bill. And to this day, I don't know where that came from because everybody in our neighborhood was poor. Nobody had any kind of that kind of money or anything.

  • 10:43:32

    REHMReally?

  • 10:43:35

    BURNETTBut it was wild, Diane, because I knew -- this has only happened three times in my life. I knew I was going to go to UCLA. It wasn't that I wished that I...

  • 10:43:46

    REHMYeah.

  • 10:43:47

    BURNETTI saw myself on campus. I knew it was going to happen. I just didn't know how and...

  • 10:43:52

    REHMDid you have any suspicion as to who might have put that there?

  • 10:43:58

    BURNETTNo. Have no idea.

  • 10:44:01

    REHMNone.

  • 10:44:01

    BURNETTIt certainly wasn't my grandmother because she would've said, look, what I'm doing for you. You know, plus we didn't have the money. And it -- none of the neighbors, I mean, Ilamay was being raised by her grandmother, and everybody was poor. But, as I say, it just happened. And so that's when I got to UCLA, and I wanted to major in journalism. But there was no school of journalism. You could take a journalism class, but -- and then I also thought I'd like to learn how to write, do plays, playwriting, so forth. So that came under the head of Theater Arts English major. So I did that.

  • 10:44:44

    BURNETTBut if you're a Theater Arts English major, no matter what field you want to go into, you as a freshman had to take scenery building, lighting, sound, costumes and acting -- a freshman acting class. So I was terrified. And I went in, and I enrolled late. So there were 12 in the acting class, and I became the 13th. And everybody had already assigned partners to do scenes, and so I was the only one, you know, solo. And the teacher gave me two monologues to read, one from "The Madwoman of Chaillot" and the other from "The Country Girl."

  • 10:45:32

    REHMWow.

  • 10:45:32

    BURNETTAnd I chose "The Madwoman of Chaillot" because it was shorter. It never occurred to me to read the play to know what I was talking -- who I was and what I was talking about. I just memorized it. And I remember I got up, and I said, this is from "The Madwoman of Chaillot," totally mispronounced it.

  • 10:45:52

    BURNETTAnd I did the monologue, and I got a D minus on it. And the teacher said, the only reason you're not getting an F is because you memorized it. And so -- but then, the next time, I teamed up -- when we were going to do some scenes, I teamed up with a friend, one of my classmates. His name is Dick Danute. (sp?) And we got together, and we came up with doing a scene from Noel Coward's "Red Peppers."

  • 10:46:24

    BURNETTAnd I pretended I was Betty Grable with a cockney accent because I'd watch all those Betty Grable movies. And we got laughs. And I thought, whoa, I kind of like that. And then the next thing I know, some of the -- even juniors and seniors -- now, I'm a freshman -- came up to me and said, we saw you in that scene, and you were really funny. You want to have lunch?

  • 10:46:48

    REHMHow about that.

  • 10:46:49

    BURNETTAnd I'd always been a nerd in school, so all of a sudden I started to get popular. And I was cast in some more one acts and in comedy roles. And I don't know. It just happened.

  • 10:47:01

    REHMAnd that first show you were in was a student-written one act script, and you played a hillbilly girl.

  • 10:47:17

    BURNETTRight, right.

  • 10:47:18

    REHMOK. So give me that line that you used.

  • 10:47:24

    BURNETTOh, yes. Well, you know, I played -- now, I drew upon my heritage because my great-grandmother was from Arkansas, and so was my grandmother. And then I was a Texan and everything. And so I'm playing this hillbilly woman, and I just had this one line to come in and say. And the line was, "I'm back." And they cracked up. Everybody cracked -- and I thought, I just feel so good that this is what I want to do. And I didn't tell my grandmother or my mother. I kept it quiet for a long time because I didn't want them to rain on my parade, you know.

  • 10:48:01

    REHMHow about that. All right. I'm going to open the phones and take some calls first to Athens, Ohio, and to Darla. Good morning to you.

  • 10:48:14

    DARLAYeah, hold on a second.

  • 10:48:15

    REHMDarla, are you there?

  • 10:48:17

    DARLAGood morning.

  • 10:48:17

    REHMYes, good morning.

  • 10:48:18

    DARLAI am. Good morning. You have a wonderful guest today on a wonderful show.

  • 10:48:23

    REHMDarla, are you...

  • 10:48:24

    BURNETTHello?

  • 10:48:25

    REHMExcuse me, Darla, are you on a speaker phone?

  • 10:48:30

    DARLAI was. Is that better?

  • 10:48:31

    REHMYes, that's better.

  • 10:48:32

    BURNETTOh, yes.

  • 10:48:33

    REHMPlease.

  • 10:48:34

    DARLAOK. My question is, I have four children, and so I'm curious as to how -- Carol, how your relationship with Carrie impacted your relationship with your other two girls.

  • 10:48:49

    BURNETTThat's a good question. They were a lot younger when Carrie first started doing drugs. She was 14. And Jody was around 11, and Erin was around 9. And so they were very confused. And I -- naturally my focus was on Carrie, which was unfortunate because I'm sure they felt left out. I mean, and they would -- actually sometimes they would cover for Carrie.

  • 10:49:23

    BURNETTThey knew what she was doing, but they were sisters. And so their dad and I were the enemy. And they didn't understand the seriousness of what was going on with Carrie, so they were kind of siding with her. And even though they knew stuff, they wouldn't tell me. And so they totally were angry with my husband and me when we sent Carrie to rehab because they thought they'd never see her again or we were being mean, we were punishing her, and so forth.

  • 10:49:59

    BURNETTI'm happy to say that, you know, after Carrie got sober and after the girls matured more, they were -- they totally understood, and they -- in fact, Carrie and Jody an Erin were like the three musketeers. They adored each other. And Jody and Carrie -- Jody and Erin were with Carrie when she passed away in the hospital. They were there that morning.

  • 10:50:25

    REHMHow lovely.

  • 10:50:27

    BURNETTYeah.

  • 10:50:27

    REHMAll right. Thanks for your call, Darla. Here's a sweet comment from our website saying to you, "Carol Burnett, your show taught me so much. I learned it's OK to be a girl and be silly and look ridiculous. All those laughs stayed with me. I share them with my kids. Thanks for helping me become a goofy mom."

  • 10:51:01

    BURNETTOh, that is fabulous.

  • 10:51:02

    REHMIsn't that terrific?

  • 10:51:04

    BURNETTOh, that is such a great compliment. Thank you so much.

  • 10:51:08

    REHMAll right. And here we are in St. Augustine, Fla. Good morning, Jill.

  • 10:51:16

    JILLGood morning, Diane. I just love your show.

  • 10:51:17

    BURNETTHi, Jill.

  • 10:51:18

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:51:19

    JILLHi, Carol.

  • 10:51:20

    BURNETTHi, Jill.

  • 10:51:20

    JILLI have to say -- I have to say that I used to watch your show with my great-grandmother who passed away last year at 104 and...

  • 10:51:28

    REHMOh.

  • 10:51:29

    BURNETTOh, my gosh.

  • 10:51:31

    JILLYes. And I loved your show. One of the most memorable skits to me was you and Vicky doing Mildred Pierce, and I just...

  • 10:51:38

    BURNETTOh.

  • 10:51:38

    JILLI loved that so much. And, I mean, I'm 35, so I loved you in "Annie." And I just have to say you are fantastic. And also dealing with addiction is so hard on a family. I've been married to my husband for 10 years, but we've been together since we were teenagers. And he's always battled addiction. And I have to say, you know, if you really truly love someone, like you said, you just never give up, and you have to do everything you can.

  • 10:52:05

    BURNETTWell...

  • 10:52:05

    JILLOf course, my husband is sober now, but, you know...

  • 10:52:08

    REHMThank goodness.

  • 10:52:08

    JILL...it is definitely a battle, but, you know, you have to stick with it.

  • 10:52:12

    BURNETTWell...

  • 10:52:12

    JILLBut you are really (unintelligible).

  • 10:52:12

    BURNETT...Jill, what you -- let me just say something to you. Yes, you want -- you want them to get well, but you can't be a codependent. You can't enable them. You have to be tough. Again, love them enough to let them be really ticked off at you. And I would recommend that -- did you ever go to Al-Anon?

  • 10:52:32

    JILLYes, yes. I mean, we've done things like that, but he is...

  • 10:52:35

    BURNETTYou've done all of it.

  • 10:52:35

    JILL...he is sober now, thank goodness.

  • 10:52:38

    BURNETTGreat.

  • 10:52:38

    JILLBut it is definitely a struggle, but, you know, you...

  • 10:52:42

    BURNETTOh, yeah.

  • 10:52:42

    JILLAnd I was never -- his mom was more kind of let things go and let things go. I was more -- when he -- when we finally got married, I became the heavy. And I think that's really what kind of turned things around.

  • 10:52:50

    BURNETTMm hmm. Absolutely. Well, I'm very happy for you. And I'm happy for your husband. Give him my love.

  • 10:53:00

    REHMI should say. Jill, thanks for calling. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Carol, there is a song that you began singing...

  • 10:53:16

    REHMYes.

  • 10:53:17

    BURNETT...early on that gave you your big break.

  • 10:54:07

    REHMCarol, tell me about that song.

  • 10:54:12

    BURNETTIt was -- I was doing a nightclub act at The Blue Angel here in New York which was a wonderful little club for people beginning in the business. And I had this wonderful coach who is still a dear, dear friend of mine, Ken Welch, who wrote my act for me at The Blue Angel. You would do a 20-minute act. And then you'd finish, and then you'd do a midnight show.

  • 10:54:37

    BURNETTAnd so he -- we were working on the act. And this was in 1957 at the height of the Elvis Presley craze. And so Ken said, you know, why don't we write a song about a fanatic fan, but make her the fan of John Foster Dulles. Now, John Foster Dulles was aptly named. He was dull. You know, and he had -- he wore those overcoats and those fedora hats, and he never smiled, you know.

  • 10:55:08

    REHMSure, sure.

  • 10:55:12

    BURNETTAnd, yeah, he was the Secretary of State then. And so...

  • 10:55:15

    REHMVery dour looking.

  • 10:55:16

    BURNETTOh, dour. And I laughed when Kenny said, let's do "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles." And he wrote the song. And it became a hit at The Blue Angel. That was my opening number. And so Jack Paar heard about it. That was when he was hosting "The Tonight Show." I remember it was a Tuesday. And he had me come on. I did the Dulles number. Then I went back to The Blue Angel to do the midnight show. And the phones were ringing off the hook. And one of the callers was a man named David Waters who was Mr. Dulles' publicity advisor or whatever. Anyway...

  • 10:56:01

    REHMWhatever.

  • 10:56:01

    BURNETTYeah, and he said, could you do this again on Thursday night? Mr. Dulles didn't see it, and he'll be -- and, you know, so the Paar show called. I went back on Thursday night, and I did the song. Well, I didn't hear anything. And there was an editorialist in The New York Times, Scotty Reston...

  • 10:56:20

    REHMYes.

  • 10:56:21

    BURNETT...and he wrote an editorial about this girl singing this song. Is she a Republican or a Democrat? What's she trying to pull?

  • 10:56:29

    BURNETTIt was very funny. So then I did it again Sunday night on "The Ed Sullivan Show." So three times in one week, I sang this song. And so I was, you know, yesterday's news the following week because it was just -- you know, it hit, and then everybody forgot about it. But the following Sunday, or maybe a couple of Sundays afterwards, I was watching "Meet the Press," and Mr. Dulles was on.

  • 10:56:55

    BURNETTAnd so it was, you know, all the serious talk about what the Secretaries of State talk about. And then at the very last part of the show, the moderator said, all right, we're going to leave now, but, Mr. Dulles, just tell us what is this about you and that young girl that sings that love song about you. And I looked -- oh, I got real close to the television set. And he got a twinkle in his eye, and he said, I make it a matter never to talk about loves in public, something like that.

  • 10:57:36

    REHMOh, I love it.

  • 10:57:38

    BURNETTIt was so cute and funny, and thinking about, never to talk about my private love affairs in public.

  • 10:57:45

    REHMCarol Burnett, her new book "Carrie and Me."

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