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Celebrities such as Dionne Warwick, George Takei and Barbra Streisand engage with their fans on Twitter and have millions of followers, but Carol Burnett isn't interested in sharing her life on social media in 280 characters or less.
"The internet is wonderful and then it's awful," Burnett said during a recent phone interview with The Desert Sun. "I stay away from all of it. I live in my own little dream world, but I'm aware of what's going on. I read the newspaper and watch the news, but I keep saying 'This too shall pass.' It's inevitable."
Instead, Burnett gives her fans a full 90 minutes with a live retrospect called "An Evening of Laughter and Reflection" talking about her life and experiences of working in Hollywood and her 11-year run on "The Carol Burnett Show."
Burnett will bring her memories to the stage on Jan. 28-29 at Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa in Rancho Mirage. The show doesn't perform any stand-up routines or sketches, but does include video clips of her favorite musical and movie moments and a Q&A with the audience.
"I don't know what anybody is going to say when they raise their hands and I don't want to know because that takes the fun out of it. I like it, it keeps the old gray matter ticking. I have to be on my toes because I can't be thinking about yesterday or what I'm going to do tomorrow, I have to be in the moment."
Some of the common questions from the audience are why she pulls on her ear, how she learned to do the Tarzan yell and what actor and comedian Tim Conway was like to work with. There's an occasional moment where things go wrong and she explained how to build on those moments.
"They raise their hand and say something like 'We really love watching your show.' But that's not a question, and what I do is ask, 'Well, what parts of the show did you like the most?' They might say they loved it when I did Mrs. Wiggins, then I have a story to tell about playing Mrs. Wiggins, so I can tap dance around it."
Her first role was on a children's show
Burnett's first role as the girlfriend of a ventriloquist dummy in 1955 on the children's program "The Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show" provided the spark for her booming career. She went on to star in the short-lived comedy series "Stanley" opposite comedian Buddy Hackett. She also appeared in the 1959 musical "Once Upon a Mattress" on Broadway and earned her a Tony Award nomination.
The characters she played as a regular on "The Garry Moore Show," including her well-known cleaning woman persona, clinched an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series." Burnett then performed "Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall" in 1962 with actress and singer Julie Andrews, which clinched another Emmy for "Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Music."
The first season of her own comedy sketch series "The Carol Burnett Show" in 1967 began a successful run fea castmates such as Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, Conway and Dick Van Dyke over its 11 seasons. Guest stars during the first season included her friend and mentor Lucille Ball, Liza Minnelli, Smothers Brothers, Sonny and Cher and many more.
At the end of its run, "The Carol Burnett Show" won 25 Primetime Emmy Awards and was included on Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All Time" list in 2007.
Burnett enjoyed performing characters such as Eunice, Mrs. Wiggins with Conway, and said the "Gone With The Wind" sketch credited to costume designer Bob Mackie is "one of the funniest sight gags ever on television."
"I loved doing the movie takeoffs like 'Mildred Pierce,' 'Double Indemnity,' 'The African Queen' and 'Laura,'" Burnett said. "I was raised by my grandmother, and in the '40s all we did was go to the movies. We would save our pennies and I would see as many as six to eight movies a week because they were double features."
Children recognize her as Miss Hannigan from 'Annie'
In 1981, actor and director John Huston began the laborious undertaking of bringing the 1977 Broadway musical "Annie" based on the "Little Orphan Annie" comics to the big screen. When the film — starring Aileen Quinn as the title character and Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks and Burnett as the drunken orphanage manager Miss Hannigan — premiered the following year, it was met with mixed reviews.
Despite earning $57 million at the box office against its $35 million production budget, it did not make a profit.
Film critic Roger Ebert said in his 1982 review, "It's like some kind of dumb toy that doesn't do anything or go anywhere, but it is fun to watch as it spins mindlessly around and around." But many critics praised Burnett's performance, such as Vincent Canby of The New York Times who said she "tears into her role as if there were no 'Tomorrow,' which is all to the good."
But many people have obviously seen "Annie" and showed it to their children and grandchildren, because Burnett is often recognized by children as Miss Hannigan and they remember her singing the scornful song "Little Girls" in the film.
"When I go out to dinner and there's a little girl with her parents, they might walk by the table, recognize me and say 'Oh, look over there, it's Miss Hannigan,'" Burnett said. "The little girl will just look and her eyes bug out. I always say, 'Hi sweetheart, I was just pretending, I really do like little girls.'"
Smiling at people and being nice is 'essential'
Burnett and her husband of 21 years, Brian Miller, reside in Santa Barbara. The pair spent the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic doing crossword puzzles, watching classic films and taking walks around their neighborhood. They visit friends and dine out but do it in the late afternoon when restaurants are less crowded.
She counters the negativity in the world by having a sense of humor and being nice to people, which she said is "essential" and practices it in public.
"I always make it a point to smile at people," Burnett said. "If I'm in a grocery store and the sales clerk is ringing up my groceries, I'll find something nice to say to them like 'Oh my gosh, you have the prettiest hair' or 'Oh, you have a lovely smile.' I have to be truthful and I'm not making it up."
When asked if she has any ties to the Coachella Valley, Burnett said her sister and brother-in-law once lived in Palm Springs and would visit them, along with friends Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé.
The entertainment industry has changed drastically since Burnett started her career, but she believes anyone who wants to work in Hollywood needs to "keep at it and have fire in their belly" and expect to feel disappointed after auditioning for a role and not getting the job, which happened to her once in New York after trying out for a part in a Broadway show.
"I thought, 'It's her turn, it's not my turn. My turn will come eventually,'" Burnett said. "That saved me from being discouraged and that would be the advice I would give, to keep at it if you really trust yourself and trust your talent. But after a few years, if you're not at least putting food on the table and paying your rent in show business, I suggest finding another vocation."
If you go
What: Carol Burnett
When: Tickets are still available for Jan. 28; Jan. 29 is sold out
Where: Agua Caliente Resort Casino, 32-250 Bob Hope Drive, Rancho Mirage
Tickets: $65 to $125
Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bblueskye.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Carol Burnett will bring her memories to Agua Caliente Casino