‘The Carol Burnett Show’: Why Carol Burnett Rescinded Her Invitation to Bette Davis

Comedy icon Carol Burnett headed her own variety show from 1967 to 1978. Recruiting Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner as her co-stars, Burnett later brought on the legendary Tim Conway when Waggoner left the series in 1974.

The Carol Burnett Show featured a plethora of celebrity guest stars during its 11-season run. Yet when Hollywood icon Bette Davis was invited to appear, Burnett ended up taking back the offer.

Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett, and Tim Conway of 'The Carol Burnett Show'
Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett, and Tim Conway of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

Carol Burnett chronicled the show in a 2016 book

After fielding requests for interviews on her historical comedy program, Burnett decided to share the stories of The Carol Burnett Show in her 2016 book In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox

“I watched all the episodes – over 270 of them – in a period of several weeks,” Burnett told Boomer Magazine of prepping for her memoir. “I fast-forwarded through the sketches that I remembered, but really wanted to jog my memory about the ones I’d forgotten. Watching also helped me remember behind-the-scenes stories and the great variety of guests that appeared each week.”

In addition to the talents of Korman, Lawrence, Waggoner, and later, Conway, The Carol Burnett Show featured guest stars who were considered Hollywood royalty. Celebrities including Lucille Ball, Flip Wilson, Julie Andrews, Steve Martin, and Cher appeared on the comedy series.

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“We might have had more famous guest stars than any other TV show,” Burnett revealed. “My husband (the late Joe Hamilton) was producing the show and we would say, let’s call so-and-so and ask him or her on the show.”

Bette Davis wanted big bucks

With the show becoming a must-stop for A-listers, Burnett extended an invite to Oscar winner Bette Davis. Though the film icon wanted to accept, Davis expected a big payout for her guest appearance.

“We wanted Bette Davis and had a standard fee for all our guest stars,” Burnett recalled. “But she asked for too much money.”

While Burnett was tempted to give in to Davis’ demands, her husband advised her against it for fear of setting a precedent with other guest stars. The comedy star decided to withdraw the offer.

“I wanted to pay her more,” Burnett explained. “But we couldn’t because everyone would have wanted more.”

Carol Burnett isn’t a fan of today’s sitcoms

Burnett was a trailblazer for women who wanted to have a career in comedy, and commented on the current stars who are getting the notoriety they deserve.

“The ladies. I’m so happy there are so many: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Jane Lynch, Maya Rudolph,” Burnett told AARP in June 2020. “I could go on.  When I started out, it was Lucy and Imogene Coca, and that was about it. Women would write something and just use their initials because people wouldn’t want to read it if it was written by a woman.”

As for network sitcoms, Burnett prefers the classics that were headed by comedy legends.

“A lot of television today is more on the mean side than the fun side, so I don’t watch many sitcoms,” she admitted. “A lot of them get cheap laughs by talking about bodily functions. I’m not a prude, I like a good blue joke every once in a while, but it’s just too much. It’s just not classy like Mary Tyler Moore or Bob Newhart or Dick Van Dyke, who got great laughs without going low.”