Carol Burnett and her co-stars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and later Tim Conway, spoofed numerous classic films on The Carol Burnett Show. Gone With the Wind, Love Story, and Pillow Talk were just a few of the hit movies Burnett and the cast parodied.
While the sketches were often met with rave reviews from the original stars in the films, one Hollywood icon wasn’t thrilled with Burnett’s take on her 1953 musical.
Carol Burnett is a movie buff
Before launching her variety show in 1967, Burnett was a regular at the local cinema. She described her love of film in her 2016 memoir.
“I was practically raised in a movie theater,” the comedy legend wrote in her book In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox. “I fell in love with the likes of James Stewart, Betty Grable, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Rita Hayworth, to name some favorites.”
Once Burnett landed her own series, she jumped at the chance to incorporate some classics.
“It was a given that I’d want to send up the films I grew up on, plus others that impressed me as I got older,” she explained. “I have to stress here that we never intended to satirize the actors personally, even though we would be dressed and made up to look like them, wigs and all. We only wanted to kid the movie itself, or the genre. However, there were a few actors who weren’t too happy with our takeoffs.”
Joan Crawford loved ‘Mildred Fierce’
In the tenth season of The Carol Burnett Show, Burnett performed a spoof on Joan Crawford’s Oscar-winning role in the 1945 film Mildred Pierce. Renaming the classic Mildred Fierce, Burnett portrayed Crawford in the title role, with Korman and Lawrence as the other key characters.
“As Mildred, I wore a brunette wig and heavy black eyebrows made of real hair,” Burnett recalled. “Harvey was a brilliantly smarmy Zachary Scott (Monte) and Vicki was equally brilliant as Mildred’s scheming money-hungry daughter, Veda, played by Ann Blyth in the film.”
Apparently, Burnett and her team nailed the skit and got accolades from Crawford.
“After the sketch aired, I got a call from Joan Crawford herself!” Burnett shared. “‘Carol, I absolutely loved it!’ … of course, I was thrilled with her response.”
Oscar winner wasn’t crazy about ‘Torch Song’ takeoff
With such a positive reception on Mildred Pierce, Burnett decided to parody another one of Crawford’s films.
“A year later, we spoofed another one of her movies, Torch Song,” the famous redhead wrote. “In it, Joan is a tough Broadway musical star… who then winds up falling for her blind rehearsal pianist (Michael Wilding). We called our version Torchy Song, and Harvey’s character, instead of being blind, was written as a myopic piano player saddled with Coke-bottle eyeglasses, who kept walking into walls.”
The spoof was warmly received by viewers, but not by Crawford. “Though the actual movie itself wasn’t a hit, our audience got a kick out of it,” Burnett revealed, adding, “Joan didn’t.”
The classic film star wasn’t seeing the sketch as Burnett had intended it to play out, and felt it missed the mark.
“I heard through the grapevine that she didn’t care for my interpretation, thinking it was mean,” Burnett wrote. “That wasn’t my intention at all. Again, I wasn’t doing Joan Crawford, I was doing her character in the movie. I always felt bad that she wasn’t happy with that sketch.”