Watching someone as iconic as Carol Burnett, it’s easy to think she was born to be on television. Her comedic instincts and singing ability seem tailor-made for variety show sketch comedy. But entertainment was never a serious consideration for Burnett growing up.
Born in San Antonio, Texas, Burnett and her grandmother moved to southern California to live closer to her mother. Burnett told the Archive of American Television, “I grew up a block north of Hollywood Boulevard but, really, a million miles from Hollywood.”
But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t a fan. She and her grandmother would see eight movies a week! “We saw four double features every week,” Burnett recalled. “Of course, back in the covered wagon days, when I was a little girl,” she joked, “I got in for eleven cents.”
Burnett’s love of classic cinema is clearly evident in many of the bits developed for her show. The “Went with the Wind” parody is one of the most well-known sketches of all time.
“I had no inkling that I was going to be an entertainer until I went to college,” she told the Archive. The TV icon loved to write as a child, editing both her junior high and high school newspapers. Drawing cartoons was the closest she thought she would get to comedy.
At UCLA, Burnett majored in Theater Arts in order to take playwriting classes, but a mandatory acting course revealed her true talent.
As a kid, she remembered doing impersonations with friends but, “All of us did that, so that was part of growing up.” She went on to say, “I was a good student and pretty quiet in class.” In fact, Burnett related that, “When I did start to get on television for the first time, I would get letters from kids I’d gone to school with that said, ‘We can’t believe that was you!’”
They might not believe it but we definitely can. Carol Burnett was born to be a star, she just needed the right moment to shine.