Author Q&A with Carol Burnett
BY CRAIG WILSON April 14, 2013 7:52PM
Carol Burnett’s best parental advice: “You have to love your kids enough to let them hate you.”
Comedy legend Carol Burnett, 79, is back on the road. If you ask nicely, she might even do her famed Tarzan call for you.
Burnett, winner of multiple Emmy and Golden Globe awards, is doing the media and talk-show circuit these days, promoting her book “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story” (Simon & Schuster, $24.99), a memoir about her eldest daughter, who died of cancer at 38.
Before Carrie died, she asked her mother to finish a screenplay she was working on. What Burnett ended up writing was the story of her special relationship with her high-spirited daughter.
After the book tour wraps up, Burnett will begin traveling nationwide, reviving her one-woman show, “Laughter and Reflection With Carol Burnett.”
“I just go to different theaters and do 90 minutes of questions and answers,” says Burnett, best known for “The Carol Burnett Show,” her hit variety series in the ’60s and ’70s.
“It’s fun because I never know what anyone is going to ask,” Burnett says of her one-woman road show. “There are some standard questions. They want to know if Tim Conway is as funny in real life, for instance. And I have my standard answers. But still, I’ll get the odd question. You never know! Makes it interesting!”
Q. How painful was this book to write?
A. It was therapeutic. I felt Carrie on my right shoulder as I was writing. It’s about our relationship, how much we were joined at the hip. I was hoping to bring Carrie’s essence to the page. I felt good about. it.
Q. As you say, your children aren’t supposed to die before you. How did you cope?
A. It’s minute by minute when it hits you. We knew it. We were expecting it. But when the ugly reality of it hits you, you don’t want to get out of bed. The fact I was writing a play myself and having a trial run in Chicago at the time, that helped. You think you’ve got to finish it for Carrie’s sake. That was my coping mechanism. That saved my life.
Q. She wasn’t the easiest daughter to raise, with her well-publicized drug addiction as a teenager. Any advice to parents dealing with a child with such problems? I like your line, “You have to love your kids enough to let them hate you.”
A. Yes, that’s my advice. I was so scared of upsetting her. If I did this or that, would she think less of me. We weren’t that well-versed in addiction, but yes, you do have to love them enough to let them hate you. It’s the disease that’s hating you, not them.
Q. Describe Carrie in just a few words.
A. Well, oh, man. She was such a free spirit. She experienced joy on a daily basis. She loved people and wanted to get to know them. She dressed with boas. Her wedding was outrageous.
Q. And Carrie’s unfinished screenplay, “Sunrise in Memphis,” which you included in the book, how would you describe that? It’s very Carrie, no?
A. Yes, I think she was, in a sense, using part of her own makeup in the character of Kate. Bohemian. Out there.
Q. What did you learn about Carrie that you didn’t know before you started writing this book?
A. Nothing really surprised me. It was all a reaffirmation of who she was.
Q. What do you hope people come away with after reading this book?
A. I hope they come away with hope.
Q. What do you think Carrie would think of what you’ve done here?
A. I think she’d be happy with it. I felt a sense of relief when I finished it. I’d like to think it was coming not from me but from Carrie, too. It’s much better than just writing about the screenplay.
Q. Are you pulling on your earlobe right about now to signal this conversation is over?
A. Yep! Left ear lobe. It was measured years ago by a reporter from Life and it’s a half a millimeter longer, just by my pulling on it all those years.
Gannett News Service