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Interview With Carol Burnett

Aired April 24, 2011 - 21:00   ET


PIERS MORGAN, HOST: This is the sound of pure comic genius. There's nothing that Carol Burnett wouldn't do for a laugh. And millions of people around the world love her for it.

A long-running series as part of a golden age of television comedy and her fans would love nothing better than to have Carol back on TV. Well tonight, they'll get their wish.

The one and only Carol Burnett is back and I've got her.

CAROL BURNETT, COMEDIAN/ACTRESS: Piers, I'm so glad we have this time together.


Carol, welcome. It's such a joy to be here. This book is an extraordinary story. Your life is extraordinary, isn't it?

BURNETT: I think so. Yes.

MORGAN: And really, of all the Hollywood stories I've read, I think yours is one of the most heart warming and fascinating. And as somebody said here on the front of the book -- it's called "This Time Together" -- it's the tiny details that you bring to your extraordinary life that I found so compelling.

BURNETT: I have a great memory. And I love to write. In fact, that was my first love was wanting to be a writer. And so to be able -- the way I write is by writing stuff I know. And I wrote a book years ago that was a memoir based on my family. It was an open letter to my three daughters about their mother up until the time I was 25. That's when I ended it.

And so this one came about because I go across the country often and I do an evening of questions and answers. And I just go out on stage and there's the audience there. The way I used to open our show with. And I would say, OK, bump up the lights, you guys have any questions, raise your hand.

MORGAN: So it's completely random.

BURNETT: I have no idea what they're going to ask.

MORGAN: But that's the best way, isn't it?

BURNETT: Of course. And so sometimes over the years, of course, when they ask about Tim or Harvey or Vikki, I have told stories about them that then become sort of set pieces because I usually get those questions.

But then I never know what anybody really is going to ask when I call on that lady in the pink or that guy with the red tie.

MORGAN: Anything could happen.

BURNETT: Anything. And --

MORGAN: The irony, of course, of the writing that you do is when your mother first talked to you about writing.


MORGAN: She didn't really mean it in the most flattering way, didn't she?

BURNETT: No, no. Because I wrote and I was the editor of my junior high paper -- high school paper, and all. She wanted to be a writer. And she said, honey, no matter what you look like, you can always write.


MORGAN: The most reverse flattery I've ever heard.

BURNETT: I know. But I was never that -- I never thought I would ever be in front of a camera or, you know, perform until I got to UCLA and it happened.

MORGAN: And what brings you the most pleasure? When you look back over your whole career, is it the acting? Is it the writing? What is it?

BURNETT: Well, right now it's the writing. I'm doing another book. I'm in the middle of starting another one. I love the writing. I love the idea of typing and seeing it on the computer and printing it out myself and, you know, moving sentences around. I like that.

But also there's nothing better than hearing somebody laugh at you when you want them to.



BURNETT: Yes. That is -- that's a lift. That is a great lift. It gets the endorphins going. And that's -- I love both. I love both. And I love the laughter, I love music.

MORGAN: How do you feel about being described as a living legend?


(LAUGHTER) BURNETT: You don't become a living legend when you're 30, I don't think, you know. Unless you're Justin Bieber. He'll be one when he's 30. But it makes you feel like, wait a minute, you know, all of a sudden awards start coming. You know?

MORGAN: Lifetime achievement.

BURNETT: Lifetime achievement things and I'm saying, I really don't want one.


BURNETT: Not yet. You know? I still, I hope, have a long way to go.

MORGAN: Yes, I mean, you seem indefatigable to me.

BURNETT: Thank you.

MORGAN: You never seem to stop.


MORGAN: I wouldn't -- I haven't checked how old you are. I wouldn't made a guess but you look --

BURNETT: I'm 77.

MORGAN: Are you really?

BURNETT: Aren't you sweet? Now I knew you'd say that.

MORGAN: Well, no, because you look so remarkably youthful.

BURNETT: Well, thank you. Thank you.

MORGAN: You really do. You're sort of --

BURNETT: Thank you.

MORGAN: You exude vitality.

BURNETT: When I was growing up as a kid, with my grandmother, I roller skated. I mean back in the covered wagon days, you'd go out and play. We'd play after school, we'd play at recess and after school until dinner time.

And so I was always running and playing and flying kites and doing all of that. Then when I got my own show, I never stopped doing stunts. I would jump out of windows, I would fall downstairs, I would -- it's a wonder I never broke anything.

MORGAN: How important was it for you to lead a sort of healthy, active life given that you came from two parents who were both alcoholics, weren't they?

BURNETT: Yes. MORGAN: Did that sort of send you the message right, I was not going to abuse myself that way?

BURNETT: No, I never made up my mind -- I never said that to myself, I just wasn't that interested in, you know -- and I always felt there was something that was going to happen. I always -- I visualized myself in certain places. And, you know, we were poor.

But I always knew something good was going to happen. And one time I visualized myself going to UCLA, which I wanted to do very badly. And we didn't have the tuition for it, you know. And I had the grades. And the tuition, get this, was $43.

MORGAN: Is that what it was?

BURNETT: Yes. And we were on welfare and so couldn't do that. And my grandmother wanted me to go to some Woodberry College for secretaries so I could nab the boss.


BURNETT: You know? To her it was get a rich man.


BURNETT: And I said, no, I know I'm going to get -- I'm going to get to go to UCLA. And we lived in this one-room apartment off of Hollywood Boulevard, and our door opened into the lobby and I could see the pigeon hole letter boxes. And this one -- and it was my little chore to run out and get the letters if there was one in our slot.

And I -- this one morning I came out and saw this letter and then I got it and it was addressed to me. With a $0.03 stamp on it, but it hadn't been mailed, hadn't been canceled. An address, typewritten, I opened it up and out came a $50 bill.

To this day, I don't know where that came from.

MORGAN: Really?

BURNETT: We didn't have the money.

MORGAN: What an extraordinary story.

BURNETT: Yes. It just happened. And that was -- that's how I got to UCLA.

MORGAN: And without that, it would never have happened?

BURNETT: Well, not -- you know, I don't know what would've happened, but that was when I was bitten by the theatrical bug at UCLA.

MORGAN: Because you did have this other extraordinary benefactor who also remains secret, actually.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes.

MORGAN: But this was a guy who hired you and a group to come perform, right?

BURNETT: Perform at a black-tie dinner party. And it was a bunch of us in the Music Department at UCLA. And we were doing scenes from musical comedies, and our professor was going to be there, and he said you guys come down, do your scenes, you'll be the entertainment for the party. And I'll grade you on your scenes.

So we got down there, and I did a scene from "Annie Get Your Gun" and it went over very well. And then I headed for the hors d'oeuvre table. Because my grandmother -- I was stealing hors d'oeuvres and putting them in my purse in a napkin and putting -- to take home to my grandmother. And there's this tap on the shoulder, and I thought, oh, my god, I'm busted.

And it was this gentleman and his wife there. And they were very complimentary and they said, well, what are your plans for your future? And I said, some day I'd like to go to New York and be on the Broadway stage in musical comedy. And he said, why aren't you there now? And I thought, yes, we had no money. And he said I will lend you the money to go.

MORGAN: And it was $1,000 for you and your boyfriend at the time.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes. At the time.

MORGAN: I mean it's a huge amount of money then.

BURNETT: I'd never seen that many zeros in my life. He wrote this check out and --

MORGAN: And he didn't want you to ever say who he was?

BURNETT: Correct.

MORGAN: And you never have, right?


MORGAN: You've never named that man.

BURNETT: No. He said there are these stipulations, don't reveal my name, use the money to go to New York, pay me back in five years, if you can, you know, no interest. And help other people -- if you are successful, help other people out. With what they want to do.

MORGAN: And you did all those things, didn't you?


MORGAN: You paid him back five years to the day.


MORGAN: And you've helped lots of people since yourself. But you've met up with this guy, didn't you?

BURNETT: Yes. Years later -- this was in 1956 when I went to New York. Years later I have my own show and so it's in the '70s, and I'd never heard from -- I sent him notes when I was on the "Ed Sullivan Show," I sent him the check five years to the day because it was great closure for me, and I never heard anything.

So in the '70s and our show is on the air and --

MORGAN: That's huge. It's the biggest show on TV.

BURNETT: It was a good show. And his wife was on the phone for me. And I said, oh, my gosh, all these years. And she said we would love you to come down -- they lived in San Diego -- and have lunch with us at the yacht club. Absolutely. So my husband then Joe Hamilton and I drove down, we had lunch, he was there. And he was very quiet, sweet, shy.

And as we're walking back to our cars, his wife grabbed me and said, you know, there were many times over the years when maybe just in conversation your name might come up or you might have been on television, and he was there with other people, he never said a word.

MORGAN: Amazing.

BURNETT: Never said a word. Evidently when he came over to the country -- this country, somebody had staked him to a claim, had helped him out with the same stipulations. So he -- I was not the only one he helped. He helped somebody start a restaurant, he helped somebody --

MORGAN: But without that $50 appearing out of nowhere in the mail.

BURNETT: Exactly.

MORGAN: And without this guy paying for you to effectively go to New York.


MORGAN: I mean your career may have been completely different.

BURNETT: Absolutely.

MORGAN: Amazing strokes of luck.

BURNETT: Well, yes. I kind of think -- because I did see myself in New York. And I saw myself working in my first Broadway show for George Abbott. I just visualized it and then forgot about it.

MORGAN: You had all the dream.

BURNETT: And that's exactly what happened.

MORGAN: You had the dream, you just didn't have the funds.

BURNETT: You put it out there.


BURNETT: In the universe as far as -- anyway, I've had those two extraordinary things happen.

MORGAN: Do you think if you live a dream properly and you have this game plan luck comes your way?

BURNETT: You have to be ready. You have to be prepared. You can't just sit on a couch and wait and dream and hope for luck. Hello, I'm luck. No, you have to be there and be prepared.

MORGAN: So when the chance comes, you can take it? Yes.

BURNETT: But be open. Be open. I used to audition in New York, you know, the cattle calls, because I wasn't in equity or the union or anything. And I'd go into these cattle calls with all of these girls and so forth. And a few times I got close to getting the job but missed out.

And I realized it wasn't my turn. It was that girl's turn to get that job. My turn will come. So I never got discouraged.

MORGAN: We'll go on a short break. When we come back, I want to talk to you about the pressures of fame and the toll that it takes.


MORGAN: Back now with Carol Burnett whose book "This Time Together" has just come out on paperback. And it's an extraordinary read, like I said.

One of the interesting aspects to me about this was the apparent pressure that fame brings to any normal kind of life. And I suppose in your case, the most striking examples would be the fact that you have three marriages, you're on your third marriage now. So presumably, I'm imagining that being a big TV star in America and the way that you were must in some way have had an impact on those relationships.


MORGAN: Oh, really?


MORGAN: You really don't think so?

BURNETT: No, I don't. My first marriage was my college sweetheart. And we just kind of -- we got married because we thought we should. And we weren't together that long, but we parted very -- on very friendly terms. We were just going in parallel lines.

My second marriage, actually, was to Joe Hamilton and he -- he was my boss at one point. When I was doing "The Garry Moore Show," he was one of the producers. So he hired me for the "Garry Moore Show," so -- and then when we got our show, Joe was the producer on that. So he was a star in his own field, you know. So there was never that competition.

MORGAN: Doesn't that create even more competition?

BURNETT: No, we worked very well together.

MORGAN: Rivals and all that?

BURNETT: No, no, no. Because he produced and I was in the show. You know? So it wasn't like we were both in the show or both in front of the camera, he was behind the camera. And also he was a very good, terrific producer, and ran a really good show, and everybody had fun, and in fact he was known as running the quietest booth in town which means they're in the back in the booth and usually in a lot of shows they're yelling, take one, take -- it was all very calm and cool.

MORGAN: And when you -- when you met him, he had eight children already?


MORGAN: A huge family.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes.

MORGAN: And you then had three more children?

BURNETT: Yes. Yes.

MORGAN: So it's now eleven?


MORGAN: And why didn't it work out, the marriage, do you think, when you look back on it?

BURNETT: Well, I think towards the end, I -- it's really too personal, but we also parted as friends. And he -- in fact, we were still friendly when he got cancer and he passed on. And so now my present husband is a lot younger --

MORGAN: He's like -- almost a toy boy. Well, quite.

BURNETT: Well, yes. Like I'm a cougar.


MORGAN: He's 20 years younger than you, yes?


MORGAN: It's not bad, is it?

BURNETT: Not bad at all. (LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: And he's a throwback. Also he's a musician and a contractor. And he hires musicians, works with the Hollywood Bowl for 20 years. And he knows more about some of the old movies than I do and I was raised going to them. And we have -- and he's got just this sensational sense of humor and a fabulous job. He works his tail off and we have a great relationship.

MORGAN: Would you recommend a younger man, do you think? I saw -- Joan Collins sat here a few days ago.


MORGAN: And she has Percy who's about 30 years younger and she loves it.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes. Well, it's not really -- I don't feel that about him that much at all. And we've -- I don't know with -- I think it would be different if I were 40 and he was 20. That would be -- you know, but now he's in his 50s.

MORGAN: Yes. Yes.

BURNETT: And so that's -- he's grown up. He's a grown up.

MORGAN: What have you learned about who you need to be around?

BURNETT: That's an interesting question. Who I need to be around. Well, I love being around Brian, he does make me laugh. We have --

MORGAN: Is that an integral part of your life?

BURNETT: Absolutely. Humor.

MORGAN: It's not a question of laughing at you, it's laugh -- making you laugh.

BURNETT: With me -- yes, exactly. And that is really -- that's what first attracted me to him, in fact. And the fact that he is a consummate musician. I love that. And he's classically trained.

MORGAN: He's a very talented guy.

BURNETT: Yes, he's been the drummer for the Hollywood Bowl for 20 years, the official -- plus he contracts the orchestras and, you know, works for the Nederlander Theatres and Disney Hall and all of that.

MORGAN: Have you trimmed out boring friends? I mean as you get older, do you get more selfish?

BURNETT: I don't have any boring friends. But I have had some people that in my life that I have had to like cut off because -- what is it? Well, finally I realize they can suck the oxygen out of you. And life's too short, and I would rather give my time to the people that mean more to me or that don't do that to me. MORGAN: They're too emotionally needy?

BURNETT: Yes. Yes.

MORGAN: The drama queens?

BURNETT: Exactly. And so I have -- just, you know, I don't want to hurt their feelings, but they take and take and take. And finally it's -- what is it? I finally learned that no can be a complete sentence.

MORGAN: But you've learned the power of saying no?

BURNETT: Yes. In a kind way.

MORGAN: And not having to explain yourself.

BURNETT: Well, that's -- absolutely. If you can do that, that's pretty good.

MORGAN: And is there something you have to learn with time, do you think?

BURNETT: Yes. This is an old cliche but you look up people pleaser in the dictionary, and you would have seen my picture. I couldn't say no to anybody. I just wanted to be loved and liked and -- you know?

MORGAN: How much of that was from the experience of your parents? Obviously very difficult --

BURNETT: I think probably growing up that way.

MORGAN: Do you feel real love from them or not?

BURNETT: I -- yes, I felt love from them. I really felt love from my grandmother.


BURNETT: She was my rock. She was crazy as all get out, I mean very -- not crazy, but eccentric. And she had quite a past. She had six husbands.

MORGAN: Did she really?

BURNETT: Yes. And when she died. Now this is funny because it's like me. She had it -- she was 81 and she had a 40-year-old boyfriend who was a jazz musician from Redondo Beach.


MORGAN: Fantastic. Well, that's just great, isn't it?

BURNETT: Love it.

MORGAN: I love stories like that. Why should it always be the other way around? Why should it always be the older guy with a younger woman?

BURNETT: Exactly, exactly.

MORGAN: Sounds like your family has been trail blazing this for years.

BURNETT: I guess. I never thought I would. But what the heck.

MORGAN: But when you look back, you've never felt that fame itself has had any kind of corrosive impact on your life?

BURNETT: No, no. It might if we had our show today which, of course, could never happen because our show could never be picked up for today. We were at the right time at the right place for variety shows in America.

And the paparazzi was around, but it wasn't as awful as it is now. It was pretty bad, but not the way it is where they're just totally in your face at you're home or this or that or so forth. And I think that helped. We had a fairly normal life.

MORGAN: I'm going to stop you there. Another short break. I want to continue that when we come back. Because I think it's very interesting how you, who was born and raised in Hollywood, how you've seen it change and the pressure change accordingly.

BURNETT: Yes, sure.


MORGAN: Back now with Carol Burnett.

Carol, very interestingly you told me before the break about how you've seen Hollywood change in the sense of the paparazzi exploding and thus -- I guess the Internet as well, never existed in your early years here.

So now everything that any celebrity does is under this huge microscope, isn't it? And what you've seen in recent years with Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan or any of these stars who fall off the rails as they become huge news all around the world in seconds. Every tiny thing they do becomes this dramatic thing. That wasn't like it in your day, was it?

BURNETT: No, also I'm not -- I don't think even if I were around today and this was my time to be on television, I don't think I would be pursued as much. I'm just not that type. That they would be that interested in. At times we go to dinner out here in Beverly Hills or whatever and sometimes there's paparazzi in front of the restaurant waiting for Angelina Jolie to come out and here I am.


BURNETT: But they still, oh, Carol, Carol. So I stop, I pose, I smile. And it's over. And that's fine. And I think that's what it would have been before. The only time that it bothers me when we did have our show was we had a house on Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills.

And it had a little gate and stuff and I would take the girls to school. But there would be people outside of the gate taking pictures of me putting the girls in the car. And that upset me. I didn't like that at all. If they've said come over and pose for us, Carol, I would have done it. And then they would have left, but I didn't like them taking pictures of the kids.

MORGAN: You've written very movingly about your daughter who tragically died in her 30s.


MORGAN: She went through a lot of problems with drink and drugs and so on. When you see the position of somebody like Martin Sheen right now who just doesn't seem to be able to get anywhere near his son, do you feel a great empathy for him? Can you relate to that?

BURNETT: Yes, I do. Carrie -- we were very fortunate. Carrie got sober when she was 17. So she had a wonderful period there before she died at 38 of sobriety and great success in her career. She was an actress, she did a lot of television shows, she had a lead in "Fame." She did a wonderful cult movie called "Tokyo Pop" where she got fabulous reviews. She was a writer, she was a director, and so forth. All of that so that it's easier -- I think, it's easier when they're younger and you can get them sober before --

MORGAN: How did you manage it with Carrie when she was in her late teens? What was the trick, you think?

BURNETT: The trick was I got her into rehab before she was going to turn 18. And it was tough love. And she hated me. She was mad and all -- so forth and so on, and she went through the rehab. We went through the family thing with this particular program. And it clicked for her. It clicked. And --

MORGAN: Is it harder when you've got somebody like Charlie who's 50 now?

BURNETT: That's harder.

MORGAN: You know, he's a grown up. He's --

BURNETT: That's harder.

MORGAN: He believes as he said it to me here when he sat here that it's his life and it's not for his father to interfere.

BURNETT: Well, not now. I mean maybe his dad can't interfere anymore, but it doesn't mean his heart isn't breaking.

MORGAN: Carrie devastatingly got lung cancer.


MORGAN: And it was that took her in the end. BURNETT: Yes.

MORGAN: An awful thing for a parent to have to endure.

BURNETT: It's the worst. It's not supposed to be that way, is it?

MORGAN: No, it's not.

BURNETT: We're supposed to go first.

MORGAN: It's unnatural. How did you deal with it? Do you deal with it? Or do you live with it every day?

BURNETT: I live with it every day. You never -- I never forget. You cope. You learn to go -- otherwise, what's the alternative? But she and I were in the middle of writing a play together. And we were working on that when she got sick.

And it later became a Broadway show directed by Hal Prince. So we had that. But when she died, the play hadn't been finished yet. And I didn't want to get out of bed. And my husband Brian said you've got to do this. And Hal Prince called and said, you owe it to Carrie to finish the play.

And I think that is what got me through. And to know that I was doing that for Carrie and me together. And that helped me.

MORGAN: Did you feel that, devastating though it was that she died in her late 30s, that actually because of the way she turned her life around in her teens, you kind of got possibly 20 more years than you may have done, had she continued down the early route?

BURNETT: Totally. And it just -- she had all these irons in the fire that she was doing. She -- actually, she had done a short movie for the Latino Film Festival that she wrote and directed. It was 11 minutes, 12 minutes long. And in its category, she was the first non- Latina to win best director and best short subject -- short movie for that.

MORGAN: Very talented girl.

BURNETT: She was ready to, you know, blossom. And she really wanted to get into writing and directing more. She was a hell of an actress too.

MORGAN: Did you change your life since she died? Did you change your outlook on life?

BURNETT: I think I have the same outlook I had before. I think there's something more than what we see. I don't know what you want to call it, one mind or one universe or one this or that. Because too many things have happened in my life that make me feel that there's more to it than what we can possibly think about.

I do feel Carrie's presence. Now, this could be just in my heart, but I feel her with me. And I'm writing about her now. MORGAN: And how are you finding that?

BURNETT: I'm doing OK. It's been nine years since she died. And she wanted me to write something. And she asked me to do it. And finally I'm getting around to it after nine years. And it's OK. It's OK.

MORGAN: What kind of book is it?

BURNETT: I don't want to say yet.

MORGAN: It's a secret.

BURNETT: Well, I've just started it. I've got 100 pages, only.

MORGAN: Obviously an incredibly personal thing.

BURNETT: Yes, but I think it's funny too. There's a lot of stuff -- I'm taking some of the things that she'd written to me and putting them in the book, because she had a great observation about life and what struck her funny and stuff. So it's not -- it's not going to be maudlin.

MORGAN: No, it'll be a fitting memory.

BURNETT: I hope. It really is a thing about mother/daughter. The relationship that we developed over the years that was -- we were joined at the hip.

MORGAN: I look forward to reading it.

BURNETT: Thank you.

MORGAN: Another short break. When we come back, I want to talk to you about this incredible show, the variety show that changed American television and propelled you into the stratosphere of super stardom.



MORGAN: Back now, my guest Carol Burnett. Carol, your show, "The Carol Burnett Show," ran for 11 glorious years. I want to play you a little clip from the show. We'll get into how this all began.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can take her or leave her.

BURNETT: She's one of my all-time favorites. Of course, you know who my all-time, all time favorite is? Sid Grabel (ph)?


BURNETT: Now, you just get your mind on the right track.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MORGAN: It became an absolute classic. It was hugely popular. The irony being that CBS, who put it on air, they didn't think this was going to work. And they certainly weren't convinced that a woman could make a variety show work. You were the great trail blazer for female entertainment.

BURNETT: Well, they had to put us on because I had a contract that was a ten-year contract. And the first five years -- for some reason, some brilliant lawyer on my side put it in that within the first five years, if I wanted to do an hour-long variety show, all I had to do was push the button and they would have to put it on, 30 shows pay or play.

MORGAN: Good deal.

BURNETT: Yeah, at the end of the -- coming close to the end of the fifth year, I never thought it would want to do that. So my husband Joe and I were saying, gosh, maybe we should, because we were kind of sitting on orange crates in a house we couldn't pay for.

So it was Christmas week. And I called CBS in New York. We were out here in California. And I got one of the president -- vice presidents of CBS on the phone. Hi, Carol, merry Christmas, doll. How are you?

And I said, well, Mike, I'm going to push the button. He said, button, what button? I said, you know, the one where I get to do a variety show for an hour, and you have to put it on for 30 shows.

Oh, totally forgot. He said, I'll call you back tomorrow, dear. I'm sure umpteen CBS lawyers were poring over the contracts. Sure enough, that was there. It was solid.

He called back the next day and said, oh, honey, it really is a man's game. It's Sid Caesar. It's Milton Burle. It's Jackie Gleeson. It's Dean Martin. He said we've got this great sitcom pilot we want you to do. It's called "Here's Agnus."

Can you just see it? "Here's Agnus." And I said, no, this is what I want to do. This is what I know, music, comedy, Broadway review a week. And they had to put it on.

MORGAN: They didn't really want to do it?

BURNETT: They didn't want to do it and they didn't think we'd run past even a half a season.

MORGAN: When was the moment you knew this had popped? This was going to be big?

BURNETT: When they renewed us. When they renewed us the first year. Not that it was going to run 11 years. I had no idea about that. But I knew we were proving something. And all we did was go out and have fun.

MORGAN: It was a crazy show.


MORGAN: You were always dressing up, doing mad things. You had the biggest stars come on. It seemed sort of pandemonium.

BURNETT: It was wonderful.

MORGAN: Was it controlled chaos?

BURNETT: Yes, it was. But it was controlled, but within it was chaos.

BURNETT: Let's rattle off some names, Sonny and Cher, Liza Minnelli, Don Rickles, Joe Rivers, the Jackson Five, Ronald Reagan, Ella Fitzgerald. Marlon Brando rang you up one day, leaving a message asking about some body part you'd been using, right? How did that happen?

BURNETT: Oh God. Oh, my -- well, I had -- I had gotten an operation here, on my chin. I'd always wanted a chin. I had a weak chin. You can see it in some of those pictures.

Anyway, I had a weak chin. And after I went off the air and I was doing a movie "Annie" -- and so anyway, I was living in Hawaii, and my daughter -- my middle daughter went to this oral surgeon because she had to correct a bite.

So he talked to me. And he said, you know, I can pull your chin out about three millimeters. Which -- so I said, I've always wanted to, so that if it rained, I could feel it on my chin without having to look up.

So I got this operation. And it was in -- I talked about it in "People Magazine," showed a profile before, after, and so forth. OK.

About a year or so later, I'm in New York and I'm staying at the Wyndom Hotel, which is kind of an actor's hotel, with a switchboard and Rose is at the switchboard. And I went -- came in from something. And there was this little pink slip with a note on it. Said Marlon Brando would like you to call him. He's in Los Angeles.

And I looked at it. I looked at Rose. She said, yep, that's Brando all right. I recognized the voice. I said, OK.

I went upstairs and I didn't even take off my coat. I had groceries and stuff. And I picked up the phone and Rose was already dialing him, because it was a switchboard. I didn't -- so I picked up the phone.

I said, Mr. Brando? Yes. I said, this is Carol Burnett. You called me? What about? He said, so where'd you get your chin? I said, oh, well, you know -- and I explained to him that I'd gotten --

MORGAN: Did he have it done?

BURNETT: No, he said his wife's sister has a weak chin and he wanted to know what I went through. So now I'm talking to Marlon Brando. MORGAN: About a fake chin.

BURNETT: Wow. Now he says -- so he starts asking me about our show. Starts asking me about comedy. He starts asking me about how -- how did they come up with those costumes? How long did it take? And I'm realizing, I'm talking to Marlon Brando and he's asking me advice. And I had to pee.

MORGAN: Not in the middle of the call.

BURNETT: In the middle of the call. And now -- I had to go to the bathroom before I even went to -- I didn't know it would take this long. Now it's been about half an hour. And I'm like this. And I didn't have the wherewithal to say, could you excuse me for a minute? Because I didn't want to lose the whole thing about talking to him.

Well, about 50 minutes into the conversation, I thought I was going to explode. And finally I couldn't stand it any longer and I said, Mr. Brando, I'm sorry, but my other line is ringing. And I think it's my daughter.

He said, oh, sure, well, I hope I see you some day. Click. I ran into the bathroom, came back out, and I picked up the phone and Rose was on the line. And she said what other line?

MORGAN: Your weak bladder cost you possibly another three hours of Marlon Brando?

BURNETT: I think so. Actually I was pretty strong at the time. I don't know, I was so excited I couldn't --

MORGAN: Fantastic story. When we come back after this break, I want to talk to you about other stories like that, and also your recent appearance in "Glee."



MORGAN: Back now with my guest Carol Burnett. Carol, I want to play you a quick clip from "Glee," which you recently co-starred in. Very exciting.


BURNETT: I'm Doris Sylvester. I'm this one's mother. Marcia, I bet people say you look mannish. But you know something, I think it's perfectly all right for a woman to be handsome.

Takes all kinds. Lucy, come give your mother a hug.


MORGAN: Was that fun for you?

BURNETT: Oh yes. I just adore Jane Lynch. And when they said I'd be playing her mother, I said lead me to the set. I don't care what you want me to do. I just want to lock eyeballs with that talented woman.

MORGAN: Very classy. And wonderful show.

BURNETT: Oh, yes. Well, again, how great that people are -- they're zooming in on doing musical numbers. I just love that. You know, because it's been -- it's been a big desert out there. And to see these kids and they're -- all so talented. I love Chris, who plays Curt. I was so happy when he won a Golden Globe along with Jane.

MORGAN: You worked with some of the most talented people that have ever graced the world of entertainment. Who to you were the most talented? Who were the greatest stars of them all?

BURNETT: That's --

MORGAN: It's like choosing favorite children.

BURNETT: Exactly. The first big excitement that I had was working with Julie Andrews. We did three specials together. The first one was at Carnegie Hall. And it just won all kinds of prizes and things. She and I have been chums ever since. In fact, I'm having dinner with her tonight.

MORGAN: Are you really?


MORGAN: How is her voice these days?

BURNETT: It's pretty good, actually. She can't hit those high notes that she used to. But a lot of -- it is not as raspy as it was at the beginning. Of course, I loved working with Beverly Sills, who was a great pal.

MORGAN: And Lucille Ball.

BURNETT: And Lucy. I mean, yes, and Placido Domingo. They were kin of odd couples, you know, my working with these types. Even Julie and I were miles apart, but yet the chemistry worked.

MORGAN: Who was the nearest thing to a proper Hollywood heartthrob? Who was the best looking guy of them all?

BURNETT: I loved working with Burt Reynolds and I loved working with Tom Selleck?

MORGAN: Did you?

BURNETT: Oh, yeah. I mean, what is not to love?

MORGAN: They've both quite rugged chaps.

BURNETT: Yes, and funny. Again, the humor.

MORGAN: Got to have the humor.

BURNETT: Yeah, yeah.

MORGAN: Obviously, it's been the bedrock of your life. But have you always tried to surround yourself with funny people too?

BURNETT: I don't try to, but I'm lucky to have them around. I mean, working with Harvey Korman was a delight. I don't talk about him, God rest his soul. Is that -- if you're playing tennis, you want to play tennis with a better player, because it is going to make your game better. That's what Harvey did for me. He was a better tennis player than I was, and he made me come up, at times, if I was lucky, to his level.

Conway is a case all to himself. He is so brilliant and funny and delightful as a person. I've just been very fortunate in having been surrounded by these lovely people.

MORGAN: I read you say often that you're no standup comedienne. You can tell funny stories, but you're not a joke teller.

BURNETT: No, no.

MORGAN: Is it a particular genius, that, to be a great gag merchant?

BURNETT: Oh, I think. Yes, it's -- I'm a sketch player. I'm a sketch performer, comedic actress. But to get up and do standup, I would be terrified. Just terrified. Couldn't do it. I admire people who can do that.

MORGAN: Going to have a final break now. When we come back, I want you to think about this. I want you to think about all of the moments that I've read in this book and the previous book. If there's one moment in your life that you could relive again, what would it be?


MORGAN: Carol, you've had a few minutes. I want you to tell me, what's the moment you would relive if you had the chance?

BURNETT: I think it was probably when I lost out on a show that I was auditioning for. I was 25 years old in New York. I lost out on the show. And I was very blue and upset, because I came so close to getting the lead.

And my kid sister, whom I was raising at the time, she said, sissy -- cliche -- don't you always say when one door closes another one opens? Swear to God, the phone rang, picked up the phone and they wanted me to come down and audition for George Abbott, whom I had said that would be my first show, because he was a brilliant musical comedy director, in a show called "Once Upon a Mattress."

I went down there that same afternoon, got the job. Had I gotten the other job, I would have never had this.

MORGAN: Amazing turn of fortune again.

BURNETT: On a dime, turned on a dime. MORGAN: And you can remember it like it was yesterday at that.

BURNETT: It was my first big break, yeah.

MORGAN: Obviously your most famous signature --

BURNETT: I know where you're going.

MORGAN: It would be remiss of me to do an interview with Carol Burnett and not ask if you still do that extraordinary Tarzan yell.

BURNETT: Yes, I taught it to Beverly Sills, as a matter. It's a great vocal exercise.

MORGAN: Can you still do it?

BURNETT: I'll try. I have to put my hand here. (TARZAN YELL)

MORGAN: That's fantastic.

BURNETT: It's scary.

MORGAN: What a pair of lungs. Johnny Weissmuller.

MORGAN: That wasn't a good one. But sometimes I'm asked to do it in public. But one time a guard -- I did it once in public at a department store and a guard burst through the door with an exit sign with a gun. I only do it under controlled circumstances.

MORGAN: You get people on the street all the time saying --

BURNETT: Yes, do the Tarzan. No, I don't think so.

MORGAN: Do you hope that when you finally leave us, you don't have loads of obituary saying Tarzan woman dies --

BURNETT: Saying Tarzan woman -- ape woman.

MORGAN: What's in the pipeline for you now? I know you never stop. Obviously, you're working on the book about Carrie.

MORGAN: I'm going out to do some more Q &As. I'm doing Durham, Florida, Tampa, Florida and North Carolina. And I do three at a time. So I'm going out to do that. Then I'm working on the book. Then I hope to get another guest shot on "Glee."

MORGAN: Yes. Is that in the pipeline?


MORGAN: Great. It was wonderful seeing you in that.

BURNETT: Thank you.

MORGAN: I've got to say, it's been an amazing hour with you. Because I think for anyone who works in television, you are the goddess of variety, of fun, I think, television, a throwback to how I thought television is best, was when you had all these huge stars causing complete chaos -- or controlled chaos.

BURNETT: At one time there were nine variety shows on.

MORGAN: Isn't that amazing. Now there aren't any. Have you given up hope? Do you think maybe --

BURNETT: I hope they do. They'll have to rethink it, again, because of the cost and stuff. But there's certainly the talent out there who can do it. I know that.

MORGAN: Carol, it's been a delight. Thank you so much.

BURNETT: Thank you.

MORGAN: Really enjoyed it.

BURNETT: I did, too.

MORGAN: Good luck with your tour.

BURNETT: Thank you.

MORGAN: That's Carol Burnett. A fascinating hour with one of Hollywood greats. Now here's "AC 360."