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August 5, 2010

Book Notes: Burnett's book recalls 'Golden Age'


— It’s a shame that today’s young generation missed the golden age of television from the 1960s and 70s. The fact that Hollywood studios with their ``original’’ ideas of constantly remaking hit TV shows from that era into new movies and reunion specials is quite telling. Even Fox with its ``That 70’s Show’’ is a reminder of that whimsical time.

Today, as we are inundated with a relentless flood of talking heads and reality shows it’s refreshing to reflect on what was a simpler and perhaps better time at least in television terms.

A new book has just come out that is a perfect representation of television’s golden age.

Carol Burnett’s ``This Time Together: Laughter & Reflection’’ isn’t exactly an autobiography but close to it. Burnett tells little vignettes from her life that alternate between touching and hilarious.

To those of you too young to know or appreciate Burnett, she rose to stardom in 1959 starring in the hit Broadway play, ``Once upon a Mattress.’’ From there she became a regular on the ``Garry Moore’’ TV show (How many remember him from ``I’ve Got a Secret?’’).

Eventually that led to her hosting her own comedyvariety series, ``The Carol Burnett Show,’’ which ran on CBS from 1967-1978. Her program was highly successful because she was both funny and down-to-earth, and had two regulars, Tim Conway & Harvey Korman, who were comic geniuses that could adlib with the best of them.

Because of her success she got to know several Hollywood legends. Through her book she is able to relate some fascinating stories that depict what these mega-stars were truly like in real life.

Some of the best insights include Lucille Ball, Marlin Brando, Cary Grant, Julie Andrews, and Beverly Sills.

I have to digress for a moment to say that I hope someday Tim Conway pens his own life story. His natural comedic talent has shined through in such shows as ``McHale’s Navy’’ and ``Rango’’ (a shortlived western where he plays a bumbling Texas Ranger), as well as Carol Burnett.

The skit where Conway plays a ``dentist’’ who accidentally shoots his different body parts full of Novocain is an alltime classic. And his appearances on the Emmy awards as the ``loser’’ are priceless. The memories he could share would have us all die laughing. He’s one-of-a-kind.

Back to Burnett’s book, her many vignettes make her come across as someone you’d like to meet. In fact her latest act is a one-person play where she simply answers questions from the audience akin to the opening to all her shows.

Although Burnett’s life has been highly successful, she has suffered her share of tragedies. She had an alcoholic father, went through two divorces, and lost a daughter to lung cancer. Yet she speaks candidly of them all and constantly tries to look at the positive side of life.

For those of you who remember her variety show, her Tarzan yell, and her impressive movie roles, I can highly recommend this mostly joyful and fast-paced book. Even those of you who aren’t familiar with Carol Burnett but watch ``TV Land’’ will appreciate it. It was definitely fun watching television in those days.

DAVID KENT is the Cooperstown village Librarian.