Dec 28, 2015

Looking for Muscles on the Carol Burnett Show

Variety shows are out of style now, but in the 1960s, they were all the rage.  At least among the adults.  In 1969, they could watch 9 hours of variety per week: Leslie Uggams, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Glen Campbell,  Jim Nabors, Tom Jones, Jimmy Durante, Jackie Gleason, and Andy Williams (programs all named after their star).

All of the kids I knew hated variety. Passionately.  Except for our own Smothers Brothers and Laugh-In, of course.  Slow songs from dinosaur times, lady dancers in skimpy costumes, jokes involving heterosexual desire, comedy sketches featuring characters popular on radio a thousand years ago, and bathetic closing numbers involving sad clowns or cleaning ladies.

I usually managed to get out of watching variety shows by claiming homework, or when my brother and I got our own tv set, watching something else -- anything else.  But for some reason I saw a lot of Carol Burnett, hatred or not.

There were only three reasons to watch:

1. Co-host Lyle Waggoner, a former male model who appeared nude in Playgirl.  He played the leading-men and hunks in comedy sketches.  Unfortunately, because they were comedy, he never appeared nude or even shirtless on the show.

2. Frequent guest star Ken Berry (previously of Mayberry RFD), who sang, danced, and appeared in comedy sketches.  He had some muscles, and often wore extra-tight pants that would give Frank Gorshin some competition in the bulge department. Unfortunately, his numbers usually involved heterosexual romance.  One, called "Love Stolen from the Cookie Jar," was about how much he enjoyed  grabbing the butts of strange girls.

3. Occasionally other hunky guest stars, like Steve Lawrence and John Davidson.

4. The "Mama's Family" sketches, about a dysfunctional Southern family, featuring Carol as the brash Eunice (left), Harvey Korman (not pictured) as her husband, and the much younger Vickie Lawrence as crotchety Mama (right).  Gay actor Roddy McDowell (center) appeared occasionally as Eunice's highly educated, sophisticated brother, who lived to regret his visits. Alan Alda and Tommy Smothers appeared as other brothers before it was established that Mama had only one son, Vinton (Ken Berry).

 Anything that skewered the myth of the deliriously happy nuclear family was fun.  And it spun off into the sitcom Mama's Family, which was a must-watch program of the 1980s due to the hunky Alan Kayser.

See also: Once Upon a Mattress.