‘Mama’s Family’: Why Did Carol Burnett Stop Playing Eunice?

In 1983, the NBC network introduced viewers to the loud-mouth Harpers from Mama’s Family. The sitcom is based on the famous skit “The Family” from The Carol Burnett Show. Many of the variety show’s original cast members reprised their roles for the spinoff. However, one actor would eventually leave the series.

Carol Burnett wearing a green and orange floral dress, and Vicki Lawrence in a blue floral dress and purple apron film a scene for 'Mama's Family.'
Vicki Lawrence and actor Carol Burnett I CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Reason for Carol Burnett’s departure from ‘Mama’s Family’

Burnett’s character Eunice Higgins is a central part of Mama’s Family. She’s married to the lovable but goofy Ed Higgins (Harvey Korman), whom she refers to as a “clot.” Eunice’s relationship with her mother, Thelma Harper (Vicki Lawrence), is the main storyline throughout the show’s early season. Quick-tempered Eunice often argues with her Thelma. Whenever Thelma upsets Eunice, she replies with the famous catchphrase, “Old lady, this time you’ve gone too far!”

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Burnett’s last appearance came in the Season 2 episode “Mama’s Birthday.” Although she’s not shown on-screen, Burnett’s voice is heard on the phone singing “Happy Birthday” to Thelma. When the show returned for a third season, Burnett didn’t return. According to IMDB.com, Burnett’s departure was because of her bitter divorce from Mama’s Family producer Joe Hamilton.

Eunice Higgins was later played by different actors

Although Eunice was no longer on Mama’s Family, she’s constantly mentioned during the show’s run. The character made brief appearances during Season 4, but Burnett wasn’t in the role. In the episode “The Sins of the Mother,” Heather Kerr plays teenage Eunice, who embarrasses Thelma by showing up drunk to a church function.

Later in the season, Eunice makes another appearance in the episode “Pomp and Circumstance.” Phyllis Franklin provides the voice of Eunice, who calls to inform Thelma she won’t be attending Bubba Higgins’ (Allan Kayser) graduation.

‘Mama’s Family’ went through many casting changes

Burnett’s departure sin’ the only casting change to occur. During Mama’s Family‘s first two seasons, it included Ken Berry, Dorothy Lyman, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Eric Brown, and Karin Argoud. In the 1986, revival Lawrence, Berry, and Lyman were the only actors to return.

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The show added Kayser as Thelma’s grandson Bubba, who moves in after his juvenile hall release. It also introduced Thelma’s best friend and neighbor Iola Boylen (Beverly Archer), a spinster with a love of crafts. The new changes proved to be a hit, and Mama’s Family enjoyed a successful four-year run before ending in 1990.