Carol Burnett: Extraordinarily Human

I find Carol Burnett's work almost impossible to watch at times--not because it isn't wonderful; it's almost always of the highest standard--but because she has that rarest of abilities: she is universally human, extraordinarily vulnerable, even when she is engaging us in the art of comedy. When I watch Burnett in even the silliest of skits, I see my mother, or an aunt, or my sister, or someone I just bumped into--she is so extraordinarily human. It is a quality that Laurette Taylor had, and that Maureen [Stapleton] has: I would venture to say that it is a trait that all great artists have. She possesses a connection to her audience that is remarkable.

I was never happy with the production of Slapstick Tragedy, which I did not think was understood to be a black comedy. It was directed, and for the most part played, as the deepest of dramas, and everyone, myself included, leapt for the exits. Zoe [Caldwell] followed my script with an almost religious fervor, and she understood me, and she was brilliant, and while I adore Kate [Reid] and Maggie [Leighton], they were led astray by their director and by a series of confusions surrounding the production.

I still think that Slapstick can work--the two one-act plays within it are strong. I see it now as working with openly gifted comedic actresses. Carol Burnett would be marvelous. Add Ruth Buzzi or Joanne Worley or Joan Rivers, and the play would be as subversive and as moving as I intended it.

When Carol Burnett began the vignettes in which she played Eunice, she was really moving into my territory: That woman is so like the women I've known in my life and who have stepped from the fog and asked that I be their witness. Lost souls whose dreams got cast aside and who now fester in a prison of linoleum and oilcloth and detergents and regret. So many women who were told to get off their clouds of their dreams and settle down and have children and be productive members of whatever society they found themselves trapped in. This is a universal woman, and Burnett plays it with such a brilliance that I'm flabbergasted that I'm seeing it through a television, on a network, week after week.

That Altman film? [A Wedding]. She broke my heart. You can see her think; you can see her dream; you can almost feel and hear her heart breaking.

There is an artistic membrane I keep talking about, and I see your eyes clouding over, but it is there in a great actress, and it is very thin, and it is all that prevents the contents of her soul from falling at our feet. Burnett holds it all in very tightly, at great risk, and gives us everything.

I want to work with her. I think she can inspire me greatly. See that she knows this.



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