CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!
Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Carol Burnett

Aired October 31, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight -- Carol Burnett. Moving ahead after a devastating personal tragedy. America's favorite funny lady is here to talk about her inspiring and uplifting life story in a rare, in depth and emotional interview.
It's next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Later in the program we're going to meet the cast of a new play called "Hollywood Arms" that has just opened here on the Great White Way.

And here in New York, we're proud to have as our special guest to kick things off -- she'll be with us through the show, joining the cast as well, is Carol Burnett. She's the co-author of this new play. It is based on her own best-selling 1966 -- 1986 memoir -- 1966 she was a child -- called "One More Time."

And she wrote the play with her daughter Carrie who passed away in January of this year at age 38 due to cancer. How did it come together that Carrie would write this play?

CAROL BURNETT, ACTRESS: Carrie was a very good writer, a performer and film director.

KING: Carrie Hamilton?

BURNETT: Yes, my daughter. And she had a very major sense of history and family. She was very into that and she read the memoir which had been just an open letter to my three girls about growing up in this family.

KING: I remember the book.

BURNETT: So she called me about -- it was about four years ago -- three and a half, four years ago, and she said, Mom, why don't we just, for a lark -- for the fun of it, let's take the first part of the book, the young years, and let's write a play. I think it could be, you know, it could be fun for us.

So I said, OK. How do you want to do this? She had a hideaway in Colorado where she loved to go away and write. She said, Let's just make up what the scenes are that we want. And she would write a scene and fax it to me in Los Angeles and then I would write the next scene and fax it to her and then we'd maybe offer suggestions and so forth. But we wrote. We never sat in the same room and wrote. Never, ever. And then...

KING: This is truly co-writing.

BURNETT: I guess. But nobody could tell who wrote what. And so we sent some pages to the Sundance Theater Lab Workshop and they accepted Carrie and me for the -- they have a 10-day workshop there, where they provide actors and dramaturgs.

KING: They also help you make changes.

BURNETT: They would say, Well, you know, maybe don't need that scene or maybe you need another scene here to explain the next one. And then we would say, Oh, that's a good idea or, No, we don't think that's a good idea. We would take it or leave it.

She'd go to her cabin, I'd go to mine. Then we'd go to Kinko's to get the pages ready.

KING: This takes us to what stage -- up to what age?

BURNETT: It takes us through when -- we call her Helen in the play. She's about 20.

KING: So it's really early.

BURNETT: It's just when she's getting started. It's when she leaves to go to New York.

KING: You could have picked any part. Why that part?

BURNETT: Because that's the part -- the rest is -- and then I met Cary Grant.

KING: I know, we know this.

BURNETT: That would just be anecdotes and so forth. But I really wanted and Carrie wanted to get into these women, these generations. And so there's my grandmother -- who is quite a character -- and my mother and then my dad, of course, but they didn't live together. So I was raised by my grandmother.

KING: It's a comedy?

BURNETT: Drama. Comedy-drama.

KING: So this is kind of both a tribute and nostalgic look back at -- what's the feeling for you?

BURNETT: There are so many levels, Larry. First of all, it's about growing up with these women and my dad. So that's that. And I look at that and I see, oh my God, that really happened. About 85 percent of this play is verbatim. Yes, pretty much. And so it's that level. Then it's the level that it's a play that my daughter...

KING: Wrote.

BURNETT: ... wrote with me. So that's that -- I'm seeing that. And it's -- I feel her with me constantly, whenever I'm in the theater. There's this overwhelming presence. I just feel it. More there, of course, because we're sharing this and it's -- I hope -- going to be a wonderful legacy for Carrie.

KING: So it is emotional to watch it?


KING: But you also have to watch it as a playwright who might say, I think I want to change that one thing.

BURNETT: And, of course having Hal Prince...

KING: Not a bad guy.

BURNETT: Not a bad guy at all. We had sent him the script, Carrie and I, to get suggestions from him as to some names he might recommend to direct. There were two that were talked about, and I said, Do you know these guys? And he said, Oh, they're both wonderful. I've worked with both of them. And I said, Which one do you think Carrie and I ought to send the script to? He said, Let me read it and I'll tell you.

And it took him a while but he said, I'd really like to do this. Well, that's not why I sent it to him. He was kind of embarrassed.


BURNETT: Yes. He said, You know, I really want to do it.

KING: Famous though for musicals.

BURNETT: Yes. But he's a director for actors. And this play, he's just wonderful on all counts. Twenty Tonys.

KING: What's it like to watch a play about you? With someone playing you?

BURNETT: It's OK. I changed her name. I'm used to it. And there's a little girl, Sarah Nimitz (ph) who plays Helen in the first act. She's 10-years-old and then we jump to the second act, it's 10 years later. And that Donna Lynn Champlin who plays older Helen.

KING: Do you -- will you go to many performances or once this gets rolling...

BURNETT: Once this gets on I'm going back to the coast, but I want to try to come back around Christmastime or just before Christmas.

KING: Did Carrie write other things?

BURNETT: yes. KING: Published?

BURNETT: She wrote a film. It was an 11-minute film called "Lunchtime Thomas." She wrote it and directed it and then submitted it to the Latino Film Festival and won for that category. And she was the only non-Latino to win.

KING: The Latino Film Festival.

BURNETT: Exactly. And they -- she couldn't go to accept it she was in the hospital.

KING: She obviously had a feeling for others?

BURNETT: Oh, definitely, oh, yes.

KING: Did she write any of this play while ill?

BURNETT: Yes. We -- in fact, one of the final scenes that we put in with an idea that Carrie and I had in the hospital and we kind of acted it out together, that was the most we've ever been together as far as the writing goes.

KING: Isn't that hard for you?

BURNETT: She was so into it and so was I that you dip and then you come back and her attitude was incredible in the hospital. She cheered everybody else up.

KING: Really?

BURNETT: She had -- I told this before but she had a relapse early on, and had to go back into the hospital. She been at home -- she had a little place she was renting in L.A. And then she had to go back. And so they called me and I got to the hospital around 5:00 in the morning. She had -- they had gotten her into a room. Was kind of asleep and I walked in and she said, Hey. And I said, So, you had to come back to the hospital, huh? And she said, I miss the food.

KING: That's her mother.

BURNETT: Well, that's my daughter.

KING: Was she funny then?

BURNETT: She's hysterical. She was just an upper.

Regrets? Yes. And a big part of it is that the gang here that's doing the play really never got to know her. Frank Wood did, though, who plays Daddy, who plays...

KING: He did get to know her?

BURNETT: Yes, because he was in practically from the get-go...

KING: What did she have cancer of? BURNETT: Lung.

KING: Was she a smoker?

BURNETT: Yes. She apologized to me.

KING: For smoking?

BURNETT: For smoking.

KING: But that's early, 38.

BURNETT: Oh, it's very early.

KING: For smoking, usually it's in the 50s, right?

BURNETT: Yes. Well, you know.

KING: Tommy Lasorda said a great thing when he lost his 33-year- old son. Did he ever feel regrets? He said, God, if you'd have said to me 33 years ago, `I'll give you a boy for 33 years,' I'll take it, right.

BURNETT: Absolutely.

KING: So this is a big thing for you, because it's more than just Carol Burnett writing a play.


KING: You don't need the money, right?

Let's say it's a hit. You want to do stock with this?

BURNETT: Your lips to God's ears.

KING: God hears me. I'm Jewish.



KING: But he hears me on Sundays. You're all in church, he hears me.

Is this something you'd see at road shows, playing Los Angeles?

BURNETT: We'd love it. Of course.

KING: What's the title mean?

BURNETT: "Hollywood Arms," it's kind of a double title.

KING: Sounds like the name of a building.

BURNETT: It is. It's the name of the building that I was raised in, and in this one room with Nanny and a pull-down Murphy bed. And it wasn't the name of the building when we lived there, it was a different name, but in going back and finding out about the building when it was first built in the '20s, it was called Hollywood Arms.

And then it's also the seduction...

KING: Yes.

BURNETT: ... of Hollywood, because my mom went out there wanting to be a writer and to interview movie stars, like Louella Parsons. So that was the...

KING: She wanted to be Hedda Hopper or Louella...

BURNETT: Yes, but she was a lot prettier.

KING: And didn't wear hats.


KING: Carol Burnett's our guest, the co-writer of "Hollywood Arms," now open on Broadway. The rest of the cast will be -- or most of the rest of the cast will be joining us later. More about the extraordinary career of a great lady right after this.


BURNETT: That was wonderful. Wasn't he wonderful? Do it again. They had told me a paper moon over a cardboard sea, but it wouldn't be make believe -- honkytonk parade without your love it is a melody played in a penny arcade it is a Barnum and Bailey world as phony as it can be but it wouldn't be make believe if you believe in me.

Oh, that was a...



BURNETT: Is it Rudolph (ph)?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, Mr. Valentino is here.

BURNETT: Rudolph, at last you've come to beg my forgiveness. Well, it's too late for that.



HARVEY KORMAN, ACTOR: Carol, it's Tim and Harvey. We love you. We wish you so much luck tonight. We just want it to be a huge hit.

Don't we, Tim? Tim and I really want you to have the biggest success on Broadway, and this should run forever, and that Broadway will be yours, it'll be at your feet.

Right, Tim?

Tim and I can't tell you how much we love you and how much we're rooting for you, because this play that you wrote, that was about your early years, it was so important in your life, and the audiences will love it, they will be so moved by it. And laugh. It's funny. It's a great play.

Right, Tim?



KING: How...

BURNETT: Well, that's kind.

KING: That interview is going to...

BURNETT: The two of them play off of each other...

KING: That full interview will play New Year's Eve.

How were you able to work with them and keep control of yourself?

BURNETT: I wasn't.

KING: Tim Conway, how could you -- look at you, you're shrieking now.

BURNETT: Of course. Yes. Well, see, I invested in Depends.


BURNETT: I am sure there wasn't much there in the first place.



KING: How'd you find them?

BURNETT: I found them to be very funny.


Actually Conway was a guest a couple of times, maybe more than that, on "The Garry Moore Show" when I was a regular, so that was my first introduction to that one.

Harvey, I saw as the second banana on "The Danny Kaye Show," and when we were going to do our show, I said, "You know, we've got to get a Harvey Korman type." And then finally: Duh, it hit, let's try to get Harvey, because Danny's show was going off the air.

So I attacked Harvey in the parking lot at CBS this one afternoon. I said, "You've got to be on my show." So we got him.

KING: You know, that's where I first -- most of us came in contact with you, was Garry Moore.


KING: He had extraordinary lot to do with your career, right?

BURNETT: Oh, my, yes.

KING: A kid from Baltimore, right?

BURNETT: One of the nicest human beings in the world.

KING: Where did he find you?

BURNETT: I auditioned. I auditioned for him. He had a morning show.

KING: I remember.

BURNETT: You know, five days a week. And he would personally audition young new people, and if he liked them he'd book them on the Friday show, which was an hour-and-a-half show, so they could do their stuff. So that's how I first met him.

KING: Were you acting around New York?

BURNETT: A little bit. I'd done a couple of things. But it was Garry who got me my start. So when I got that what they used to call Kinescope of my bit, then it was sent to "The Ed Sullivan Show," and then Ed got me on. But it took a while until I started to get real work. I mean, permanent work.

KING: Now, when you started there weren't many female funny people; correct?


KING: Lucy.

BURNETT: Lucy. Yes.

KING: And some on radio prior to that.


KING: Joan Davis, right?

BURNETT: Yes. Yes.

KING: But not many.

BURNETT: And some in the movies. I mean, Martha Raye.

KING: Right. But it's changed now, right?

BURNETT: Yes. Oh, yes. And I love seeing it.

KING: Do you think it was just harder for women to go on stage and be funny?

BURNETT: I think so. I think so. I think there was this whole idea that when you're raised, you know, little boys can be cut-ups and cautions, and little girls have to sit there and be little ladies. But I wasn't raised that way so it was fine. You know, I never had that intimidation.

KING: As we might well learn from "Hollywood Arms." Were you a funny kid?


KING: Not?


KING: Not the class cut-up?

BURNETT: No, only with my friends. We'd go see movies and then we'd come home and act out the movies. But as far as being funny or a cut-up as a child, no. Everybody was, kind of, surprised.

KING: So when did you want the stage?

BURNETT: I wanted to be a writer like my mother and also a cartoonist and...

KING: You drew?

BURNETT: Yes, and have my own comic strip maybe. You know, that kind of -- those fantasies. And then I went to UCLA and majored in theater arts, English, to take the play-writing courses.

KING: No idea of being on stage?

BURNETT: No, but you had to go on stage if you were a freshman. You had to take costumes, you had to take scenery, you had to take lighting, sound, all of those things. And acting.

So I got on stage in this little class and did something and they laughed. And I thought, "I like that." Because I was really, kind of, a nerd in high school and junior high. I was a friendly kid but, you know, it wasn't like -- football players didn't necessarily come after me.

But then when I did some of the college things and people were laughing, all of a sudden some big men on campus would come up and say, "Hey, you want to have lunch today, you know, out on the lawn and stuff?"

KING: So you found you liked it?

BURNETT: I liked it because I started to get a little popular. And I liked that feeling too. You know, that, "Wow, they're, kind of, noticing..."

KING: Did you like the applause and laughter?

BURNETT: Yes, laughter, especially. It's the laughter.

KING: Nothing like that.

BURNETT: No, no it's a high.

KING: Did you enjoy stardom? Did you like...

BURNETT: I never...

KING: ... all the trappings that went with?

BURNETT: Well, I liked knowing where my next meal was coming from. I liked...

KING: You never had a doubt of that, right?

BURNETT: Well, not really.

KING: Once after Garry Moore...

BURNETT: Yes, no, no, no. So, but far as like going to premieres or doing stuff like that, no.

KING: Never a Hollywood lady?

BURNETT: No, no, I just loved the work. I loved the laughter that we had those 11 years working with him and Harvey and Lyle, Vicki.


BURNETT: Mama, you hear that little (EXPLETIVE DELETED)...


Again I think that's why I'm so healthy. I laughed so hard.

KING: Harvey said he was always uncomfortable as the father in that -- with Vicki and the mother and the son...

BURNETT: Oh, he thought...

KING: He never felt it was right.

BURNETT: Oh, he was perfect.

KING: Isn't that weird? It was perfect.

BURNETT: You mean as Eunice and Ed and Momma and that group?

KING: Yes, he just never felt that...

BURNETT: Harvey is not his best -- own best judge. He really isn't. No, he -- I don't ever pay any attention to Harvey when he starts to talk like that.

KING: (inaudible) yes.

BURNETT: Yes. Just treat him the way Tim treats him: Ignore him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That remind you of anything?

BURNETT: Joe Namath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, because you would need 10 other men to help you score.


KING: How about movies and Carol Burnett?


KING: Why not?

BURNETT: I never enjoyed doing them.

KING: You've got to like it, right?

BURNETT: You've got to like it. I don't like getting there at the crack of dawn and have -- you know, stick the makeup on and then maybe go on camera at 3 in the afternoon because they're busy lighting or they're doing this or that.

KING: And then timing it without laughter...

BURNETT: Yes, exactly. And so that's why our show was done as you would do a Broadway show. We did a musical review a week.




KING: Carol Burnett is our guest. She's the co-author, along with her late daughter, of "Hollywood Arms," now on stage on Broadway. And in a little while, we'll meet some members of the cast. Don't go away.







BURNETT: What brings you to Tara?

KORMAN: You, you vixen you. Scarlett, I love you. That gown is gorgeous.


BURNETT: Thank you. I saw it in the window, and I just couldn't resist it.



BURNETT: That's one of the greatest sight gags ever. And I have to give Bob Mackie credit for that gag. He was our costume designer. He came up with the idea of the curtain rod. Isn't that something?


BURNETT: The man is a genius, I must say. And he designs all of these things. And I think, since we are not on in the family hour, that you can see this.


KING: Now, when you had to do plays -- as you say, you did television less (ph) than plays -- and you cracked up, you just let the crack-up stay, right?

BURNETT: Yes, yes. Because we didn't want to stay long. We'd just do it and run and change clothes and do the next thing and so forth.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You mean you don't remember how many spaces you moved that thing just a second ago?




KING: Why do comedians -- largely true -- do well with drama?

BURNETT: I guess people don't expect them to. I think...


You know, I think it's probably...

KING: Or is it that comedy is a serious business?

BURNETT: I think comedy is a serious business, and I think it's probably easier for comedians to do it than the other way around, than for dramatic actors to do comedy.

KING: Oh, yes. You're in-born for comedy.

BURNETT: Yes, yes.

KING: And also, the comedian often lasts on laughs, goes on when the terrible day happens in this life.

BURNETT: Well, so do the dramatic people, you know, but...

KING: Yes, except...


BURNETT: That's right, yes.

KING: Doesn't have to make people laugh. You also did Broadway twice, right?

BURNETT: I've done Broadway three times.

KING: Three times. Did you have a...

BURNETT: Four times.

KING: ... hit?

BURNETT: I had a hit in "Once Upon a Mattress," yes. Then I did a musical, God, 38 years ago, "Fade Out, Fade In," that Comden and Green...

KING: I remember that.

BURNETT: ... and Jule Styne wrote.

KING: (inaudible)

BURNETT: Yes, I know, I know.

KING: And then you have a weird play about Buffalo?

BURNETT: "Moon Over Buffalo." And then I had the privilege of being in "Putting It Together," written by Stephen Sondheim.

KING: Have you ever been in a failure?


KING: Boy, that you have to think is just...

BURNETT: No, no, no...

KING: No, that's great.

BURNETT: Sure I have. I mean, I've done a lot of awful stuff on our own show. One time we had such a bad show that I apologized on the air to people watching it.

KING: You mean it wasn't funny?

BURNETT: It just was bombing, you know. When you do a show every week, you couldn't hit a home run, you know. And there was this one sketch where no laughs, no nothing. And we thought that I would be playing this character often, and so the last part of it we'll say, "Now, some day I may even be coming to your doorstep, so be sure and be on the lookout for me." I was playing a woman named Mary Worthless who just was just a nosy busybody.

So I said, "I may be coming to your door and, you know, being in your home soon. On the other hand, I won't, because I'm never going to do this character again. I am so sorry."


BURNETT: I was cleansed.

KING: What's the difference, Carol, between backstage and onstage? In other words, what's the difference between being a writer and watching it than performing it?

BURNETT: I actually am more nervous about this, because, you know, it is Carrie, me, and all. And then I'm up there with everybody and I'm so thrilled when everything's going well for them, you know, and that they're doing what they do so brilliantly and just adding to what has been written on the page.

KING: Have you been able to accept -- is that the word -- loss? There's nothing else -- you can't do anything about it.

BURNETT: No, you can't. You live with it. You just live with it.

KING: It's always there, though, right?

BURNETT: Yes. Well, there's an amputation. There's a part of you that's gone and it's not the way things are supposed to go.

KING: Are the other children helpful?


KING: They're important...


KING: ... in this concept. And the new marriage is good, right?


KING: And that's works well, right? So there are other reinforces in your life.

BURNETT: Absolutely.

KING: You're coming back on stage?

BURNETT: I don't know. I don't think so.

KING: Why not?

BURNETT: Again, I'm just...

KING: Don't you want to go on stage?

BURNETT: If I go on stage, I'd like to just do matinees.


KING: Just Wednesday and Saturday afternoon.

BURNETT: Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. I could do that. You know, they do Sunday matinees.

KING: Nights, you don't need.

BURNETT: No. I'd just like to, you know, go out to dinner, you know. And then have time during the day not to worry about gearing up for that eight times a week. That is so hard.

KING: Supposing someone came you with a great script of a sitcom that you fit -- that just fit you and you laughed reading it, would you do it?

BURNETT: No, because of the suits. It's not like it was...

KING: Atlanta, L.A., New York.

BURNETT: It's not like it was when we did it. Mr. Paley hired you, CBS. And you hired your staff. And he would let you do what you do. As long as it worked, they'd leave you alone. We never had suits come in to run through their rehearsals or anything. They just left us alone.

KING: Gleason told me that. He said, if an occasional suit came...


KING: ... he would chase them. And he said, Go talk to Paley.

BURNETT: Exactly. And that way you had fun.

I did a show at Disney, which was an anthology, for a while. And I remember the first run-through. All of these suits from NBC and Disney, all of them came in and they all had scripts, right. And as we started to do our run-through in the rehearsal hall, I looked up and they were doing this. They were reading the lines and making notes. So I just stopped. I'd never seen such a thing, you know.

And I stopped and I said, Please, we want to start over again, because Richard Kind over here is doing a very funny reaction that's not on the page. You know, so, Would you do me a favor, I'd sure appreciate it: Take your scripts and sit on them?

And they did. They were stunned, but they did do it. They could see it and get it, but they were...

KING: Do you feel even -- although this pilot may look great and everything, they would have to...

BURNETT: And the way people shoot television nowadays, my God. You go in to do 22 minutes of show and you're there for six hours, seven hours.

KING: Was "The Carol Burnett Show" a hit from the start?

BURNETT: It did well from the start. And the second year, they moved us to a time slot where we went (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they put us opposite "Adam 12" and that was a big cop show, you know, and so we went (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

But again, they kept with us and they moved us and they nurtured us.

KING: They wouldn't do that now. Good-bye now, right?

BURNETT: It would be bye-bye. And they did that with the original "Dick Van Dyke Show" and, you know...

KING: Some shows were bombs and they held on to them.

BURNETT: And they held on, and then they made it.

KING: All right. We're going to meet some other members of the cast in just a moment.

Carol Burnett comes to Broadway with a play co-written with her late daughter, Carrie Hamilton. The play is "Hollywood Arms".

And when we come back, Linda Lavin, Michele Pawk and Frank Wood will join us. Don't go away.







KING: "Hollywood Arms" is now open on Broadway. Carol Burnett, one of America's most beloved funny ladies, the co-author, along with her late daughter Carrie Hamilton, of this play, is with us.

And now joining us is Linda Lavin, the Tony Award-winning Broadway actress from "Broadway Bound." Also was nominated for "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife." Probably best known for her starring role in the TV sitcom hit "Alice." She plays the Nanny in "Hollywood Arms."

Michele Pawk, Broadway, film and TV actress, very familiar face, seen her in many, many, many things. She plays Louise.

And Frank Wood, the Tony Award-winning actor. He won the Tony for the best featured actor in "Sideman." He plays Jody in "Hollywood Arms."

Linda Lavin, tell us about the Nanny character.

LINDA LAVIN, ACTRESS: The Nanny character is a woman who, post- Depression -- during the Depression and then post-Depression raised this child, and as I understand it, was the bulwark, the strength, the beyond survivor; a woman who wanted to do more than survive but who understood that economics was everything, as it still is for women. This is an unusual play.


BURNETT: Oh, yes.

KING: Is she the strength of the play, the Nanny?

BURNETT: Well, the strength of the play, I don't know that you would say that, but she is the strong one in the play, yes.

KING: That's what I mean.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes.

KING: She's the spiral -- central point as the strength.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes. Yes.

KING: You like the part?

LAVIN: The inspiration -- I love the part. I love playing somebody who gets to be as angry and outraged with the way things are and wants to change the way things are, who has the charge of a young person and knows -- you know, it reminds me a lot of the women that I come from, who were also from immigrant women and who understood and knew that the only way to assimilate was to keep your identity strong, to be specific in your own force of life.

KING: And, Michele, who is Louise?

MICHELE PAWK, ACTRESS: Louise is the mother character, the daughter of Nanny.

I have always, sort of, seen here as a bit of a dreamer, a passionate woman who pursued her hopes and dreams.

KING: Who is Helen's mother, Helen being Carol, right.

PAWK: That's right. So there's the three generations of the women in the play.

KING: Do you get laughs? Are there lines written...

PAWK: I like to think of myself as the straight girl.


KING: It's a drama-comedy.

PAWK: I do the "buh-dum-bum" part of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KING: Did you have to audition for this?

PAWK: I did, about a year ago this time.

BURNETT: I think so.

KING: Carol, were you the picker or did Hal Prince pick?

BURNETT: Well, Hal. And then they were kind enough to send the tapes. They taped some of these auditions so that Carrie could see them in the hospital.

KING: Oh, she got to see them.

BURNETT: She got to see.

KING: So she helped in the selection process?


KING: How's that make you feel?

PAWK: Oh, honored and thrilled. Disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to get to know her.

KING: You never met her?


KING: Linda, do you meet her?

LAVIN: I met her when Carol and Carrie came to see...

BURNETT: "Allergist."

LAVIN: ... "Allergist's Wife" off-Broadway. I can still see exactly where she was standing, see her face, her smile. I got to meet her, yes.

KING: Did you have to audition for this?

LAVIN: No, I didn't.

KING: Frank Wood, who is Jody?

FRANK WOOD, ACTOR: Jody is Helen's dad, and he is, I think, a really sweet presence who doesn't get to be present often enough. So he is -- in her life, that is.

KING: Because they're divorced, right?

WOOD: Yes, they're divorced, and he is an alcoholic and has, in the course of the time preceding the play, contracted tuberculosis and spends a lot of time battling both. And he appears, I think, as the person that Helen, you know -- just enough so Helen imagines what her father might have been like, you know, and the kind of support that she could have had, you know, what a father could be but never quite is.

KING: You're watching people play people you knew. How good is he as your dad?

BURNETT: I'm sitting here, and, you know, you go on a show and you are always talking about how wonderful everybody is in this, you know, because that's what you do when you want to promote something.

KING: But you're watching a guy play your father.

BURNETT: But I am honestly saying that the three people sitting here, I'm almost, at times when I watch it, I think they're being channeled, because that's the essence of Nanny, the essence of Momma and the essence of Daddy are in Frank and Michele and Linda. And I just -- I'm aghast at times. I mean, they almost start to look like them.

KING: When you have to read for something, Michele, when you have to audition -- Linda didn't have to audition. You knew Linda's work and you know, her credits precede her, et cetera. When you have to audition, what do you have to find?

PAWK: I searched for whatever the truth is for me, and you, sort of, hope and pray that it's the truth for them and that it's what they're looking for.

KING: So it's just you.

PAWK: In essence, some of it.

KING: Frank?

WOOD: When you audition you -- I would agree with that and add to it though, that you are looking to see what the play or the scene you're auditioning draws out of you -- so the things that you might not have anticipated. And you spend enough time before the audition hoping to feel some conversion, something from just yourself to somebody you didn't know existed.

BURNETT: Well, Frank, you...

WOOD: I didn't audition but...

BURNETT: ... you did not audition.

WOOD: Although I didn't, but I...

BURNETT: Harry and I saw him in "Sideman." And we...

KING: I don't (ph) know if you want to tell me...

BURNETT: We both said -- this is before the Tony, before all that...

KING: You said "Father"?

BURNETT: I said, "That's Daddy. That is Daddy."

WOOD: And I did -- I had, sort of, an interview of sorts that you sent me -- Carol sent me this beautiful letter describing her father. It was quite touching. And then I did have an interview with Carrie at the Pink Teacup in the West Village. And when she told me about her dad and about the whole family. And I got the impression it was a little bit for her making sure. Yes.

KING: We'll be right back with the cast of the new Broadway play. What an honor to have you with us as the co-author.

BURNETT: Thank you.

KING: "Hollywood Arms" is the play. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What? You did it already? Oh, my God. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), well, of course I am surprised. Dumfounded is more like it. Well, of course, we are all going to watch it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shush. It has started -- it is a quarter past 8:00. You are on in five minutes? How do you know that? Oh, well, for God's sakes, say goodbye. Goodbye, I love you. Louise! Carol is going to be on "Ed Sullivan" tonight.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Somebody got sick and they told her to come in at the last minute.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How the hell should I know?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we need is a girl that can really sing a ballad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The band has to play tough music so the people can dance to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alice, Alice, Alice, you want to hold it down?


KING: We're back.

Linda Lavin was -- is theater much different from doing "Alice"?

LAVIN: You know, a little bit, because "Alice" was shot in front of an audience so you had the best of both. You had cameras around you the way Carol did her show and you had the live audience. You could stop however, because you could always retape something so that if you screwed up you stopped a lot. And, of course, the audience loved that.

Here, you know, you're on a high wire without a net in the theater.

KING: The theater is the actor's medium, right, because the director can't do anything once the curtain opens. I mean, he's developed everything but once the curtain...

LAVIN: Well, that's true. They can't do anything while you're on stage. But they can sure as hell come backstage after you.


LAVIN: ... they want changed. Or they could fire you.

KING: Do you have to like the character you play?

LAVIN: You have to love the character you play I believe. But I don't think you have to like. I think like has a judgment in it. And I think if you're playing somebody who's done really evil, bad deeds, and that you don't necessarily like that person. But you have to find that person in yourself. You have to find out who that would be if it were you.

If this were me, how would I be this way? What is the motivation for being this person? What's the background of this person? And that helps you to love the person.

KING: Carol said she would not go back to do a sitcom. Would you?

LAVIN: If the material were interesting and challenging enough and if I had a group of people with whom I could share the work and the money were as good as it could be, you bet I would.


KING: A different kind of need, right?

LAVIN: Yes, yes.

KING: You, Michele?

PAWK: Frank and I would in a second.


KING: Do you feel more pressure having the co-writer being Carol Burnett? When Sal (ph) Glick...

LAVIN: Well, no offense to Sal (ph)...

KING: Sal (ph) Glick has written some nice plays, by the way.

LAVIN: I think initially it was incredibly intimidating, not just because she is the writer, but because she is, you know, the magnanimous woman that she is. So I think at the beginning it was, yes, absolutely terrifying. But it got easier. And she's so warm and lovely and supportive.


KING: ... I mean you're aware when you meet people...

BURNETT: No, the first time I met Michele I...


It was a breeze after that.

KING: Was it tough for you, Frank?

WOOD: I was very excited. I got this note from Carol and then going to rehearsals I was worried about Hal Prince. I was worried about Carol a little bit. But mostly I was just very, very excited.

LAVIN: There is a sense of obligation, responsibility. It's tremendous when you're doing the life of someone and they are sitting there watching you.

KING: I'll bet.

LAVIN: It's their history. And then it becomes your history because you bring your history to it. The women that are my history are inside this in me. And so, in the creation of Nanny, who comes from Arkansas and who is a pill-popping Christian Scientist, and I'm a Jewish girl from Portland, Maine, you would think we have nothing in common; we have a great deal in common.

And that's the thing about the beauty of this play. It's that audiences are identifying with this play because it's about a family and about the disorder in a family.

KING: How much liberties are taken with the truth?

BURNETT: I would say 90 percent of it is true.

For instance, there's a bookie scene in the play that's got everybody in it practically, because Momma rented out our apartment and then let these bookies put extra phones in so we could make a little money. And the cops came and busted us. But instead of all of us being in the room, actually I was the only one in the room. I was about 8 or 9 and the cops came in. And then, Nanny and Momma ran down the hall and say, "Oh, please. Our poor little baby. We're just doing this to try to, you know, make ends meet and so forth." And I started to stand up and I was really tall and Nanny went...


... like I would be a lot younger, you know. So we made the bookie scene a little more fun, actually.

KING: So there's some liberties, but basically I'm watching your young life.

BURNETT: Basically, it's this. Yes, yes.

KING: We will be back with our remaining moments with the cast of "Hollywood Arms," and the writer too. Don't go away.





PAWK: Nick will take us to all those big Hollywood premires. we'll walk down that long red carpet. everyone will look at us and say, My, but who is that gorgeous woman? And who is that adorable little girl with her.

That's you!


KING: We're back with Carol Burnett, Linda Lavin, Michele Pawk and Frank Wood. We're talking about "Hollywood Arms."

This is playing on opening night, so we're going to have to gather. How nervous that might be for you. Because Chicago's a great town, but it ain't New York. And there are no rewrites.

BURNETT: But it's a toddlin' town.


They know rewrites now. And there are a lot of friends who are flying in from California. My sister's going to be here. And she's a major part of the second act, her character.

So, yes, I'm going to be crazed, I'm pretty sure.

KING: Are the previews helpful, Linda?

LAVIN: Enormously helpful. To me, to get out of the rehearsal room as soon as possible is my mandate, you know.

KING: You're not a rehearser.

LAVIN: I'm not. I never liked practicing the piano either. I like just to get out there and do it; to perform it in front of audience it tells you where they're listening, where they're not, where the information needs to be.

KING: Michele?

PAWK: And I think that's specifically why Hal wanted a lengthy preview process, because you really do learn a tremendous amount from the audience every night.

LAVIN: We're very grateful for this.


WOOD: A lot. I'm more attached to rehearsals than Linda might be, but I learn -- yes, I'm willing to learn on my feet.


(LAUGHTER) KING: You say that it's a drama comedy. Isn't that a thin line?

BURNETT: Yes, it is, but that's life, you know. That's the truth of what we're all going through.

LAVIN: It's a family who went through as much as any family does and who survived it through being able to sing together, through being able to laugh at the things that happened. That's where comedy comes in and helps the drama, so that it's not joke, joke, joke and sorry, sorry, sorry, but it's a sadness of a young life in poverty and how they survived it through their humor. It's thrilling to see and to do.

KING: As Carol said earlier, comedy is a serious business. So you don't play it funny, right?

LAVIN: With the awareness that the character knows it sometimes that she's being funny. When you asked me if I liked playing her, that's one of the things I like about Nanny, is that she knew she was helping things along by being outrageous.

KING: I didn't ask Michele and Frank: Do you like Louise?

PAWK: Oh, I absolutely just love here, beginning to end, never ever gives up hope. And always just sees herself as a winner.

KING: You like Jody?

WOOD: Yes. (inaudible) I love him, I think. And I also like him. I think he's tremendously likable. And Carol has made that clear in the course of the -- through the play and through her book and what she talked about that her father was always cheerful and kind.

KING: There is so much as we -- you know, in the remaining moments -- other emotion hovering over this. Does the cast feel it?

LAVIN: From the beginning.

KING: I mean, the presence of Carrie, the whole theme.

LAVIN: Huge emotional room that was at the very beginning of rehearsal. The generosity of this woman to go on to do the play, to share her life with us, it is so profound.

KING: Well, you didn't have to do this, by the way.

LAVIN: That's right.

BURNETT: I did. I really did have to.

LAVIN: Well, that was...

BURNETT: Because of Carrie. It was her idea. It was her love of family, wanting to know about it so that if I had just done this and pulled the covers up it would had been disrespectful to her. And actually this has helped me tremendously to keep going to have this project that she and I are still working on.

KING: Still working on.

Do you feel it, Michele?

PAWK: That's such a beautiful lesson for all of us every day, just to keep going on, and to do it with joy and love and -- what a gift. It's been a great gift.

KING: But this has been unlike anything you've done, right, Frank?

WOOD: Right. It is.

KING: I mean, this didn't happen in "Sideman."

WOOD: Well, in "Sideman" there was some -- there was an autobiographical relationship between the author and the text, but never quite the circumstances that are here.

PAWK: Well, it's also Carol Burnett, and she's so loved by the world. And you know that once you are with her.

LAVIN: And once you begin to...

KING: We love her too. Thank you all very much.

OK, I would say break a leg, but I saw "The Producers."


Linda Lavin, Michele Pawk, Frank Wood and Carol Burnett. And we wish them nothing but the best of success for "Hollywood Arms." The co-author is the late and present Carrie Hamilton. Thank you very much for joining us.

"NEWSNIGHT" is next with Aaron Brown. Good night.


© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.