Carol Burnett ‘Went With the Wind’ and Rolled Down the Stairs 9 Times for Hilarious Sketch
Emmy-winning comedian and actor Carol Burnett is known to fans of classic television for her long-running comedy variety show, The Carol Burnett Show. And there’s little doubt Burnett was a master who went above and beyond for her comedic craft.
For example, one memorable sketch titled “Went With the Wind” called for Burnett to tumble down a set of stairs. But to get the scene right at taping, she rolled herself down the staircase nine different times in one day.
Carol Burnett performed her own stunts for ‘Went With the Wind’
According to Burnett, the idea for a Gone With the Wind parody came when the film was set to air on TV. The Carol Burnett Show’s 1976 version of the story was for people who couldn’t “sit through” the relatively long movie (per Associated Press.)
In “Went With the Wind,” the beloved comedian perfectly plays an ever-exasperated, quintessential belle named Starlet O’Hara. She’s in love with the young Brashley, who has married another — not that the union means anything to Starlet. At the same time she’s pursuing Brashley, she’s thwarting the unwanted advances of a charmer named Ratt Butler.
Starlet lives on the Terra Plantation somewhere in Georgia, and the home features a grand staircase, of course. And by means of a few physical mishaps, she ends up toppling down those stairs a few times in the story.
As it turns out, Burnett practiced and performed her own stunts to get those comical scenes just right. Between rehearsals and the actual performance, she ended up tumbling down the staircase more than what the audience saw.
“I really fell down the stairs nine times that day,” Burnett explained. Lucky for her, the sketch wasn’t a literal side-splitter and she seemingly didn’t get hurt.
The audience laughed for more than 30 minutes when Carol Burnett debuted the curtain dress for ‘Went With the Wind’
According to interviews with the Archive of American Television, one scene was an instant hit with the studio audience. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara uses curtains as material for a dress in a pinch. In a stroke of comedic genius, costume designer Bob Mackie left the rod in and rested it on Burnett’s shoulders for the “Went With the Wind” sketch.
According to Burnett, she knew the costume was perfect when she saw it on the mannequin. As she recalled, she fell on the floor and declared, “This is the most brilliant sight gag, I think, ever.”
For its debut in the sketch, the legendary curtain dress was paired with the line, “I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it.”
The moment caused uproarious laughter that eventually became too much to air. In fact, 30 minutes had to be edited out of the tape after Burnett descended the staircase in front of an audience. Editor Tucker Wiard said, “[It was] one of the rare times in my career where we’ve actually had to make an edit to shorten a laugh.”
Carol Burnett and ‘Went With the Wind’ became an iconic moment in television history
The sketch ended up becoming one of the most memorable in classic television. In 1999, TV Guide ranked ‘Went With the Wind’ as the second funniest TV moment of all time, per MeTV.
Now, the dress is on display at the Smithsonian Institute. And while the costume has become an emblem of the brilliance of the sketch, it also represents Burnett’s dedication to the show and her talent for the hilariously absurd.