Legendary comedian Carol Burnett has entertained Americans for more than 60 years, and at 85 years old, she's finally getting the Golden Globes honor she madly deserves: a TV special achievement trophy in her name. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced in December that Burnett, who made history as the first-ever woman to host a TV variety show in 1967, would receive the Carol Burnett Award during the Golden Globe ceremony on January 6, 2019. Each year following, the award will go to someone who, like Burnett, has devoted their lives to making television more enjoyable for all. The award, according to the Associated Press, is the TV equivalent to the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award, which powerhouse celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, and Audrey Hepburn have won in celebration of their accomplishments in film.
Burnett's illustrious career has inspired countless fans, including some of our favorite sketch variety show alums like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who famously (and hilariously) honored The Carol Burnett Show host at the 2016 SAG Awards. From paving the way for women in comedy to helping generations of kids and young adults through her philanthropic efforts, here are some of the amazing things Burnett has achieved throughout her storied lifetime.
She was the first woman to host a TV variety show.
Burnett hadn't initially intended on becoming a television star. The actress, who initially studied journalism at UCLA fell in love with stage performance after taking a theater course. When she decided to make the move from Los Angeles to New York City in the '50s, she had one thing on her mind: She wanted to be a Broadway superstar.
"My goal, when I went to New York, was to be on Broadway, but I got sidetracked by this little thing called television, and I realized I liked it even better than doing the same thing eight times a week. It was like summer stock," she told Variety in 2017 while reflecting on the 50th anniversary of The Carol Burnett Show. "I could do different characters every week, and that appealed to me. I had the best of times, and I'm so happy I was around then, at the age I was then, at the time when television was not as nitpicky as it is today."
Burnett joined the cast of The Garry Moore Show in 1959 as a series regular where she performed alongside comedy icons like Durnward Kirby, Steve Lawrence, and Marion Lorne. She impressed audiences and CBS executives so much that the network later offered her a primetime comedy-variety series of her own, which she launched as The Carol Burnett Show, in 1967. The groundbreaking program had it all: a 28-piece orchestra, huge musical numbers, celebrated guests, and a hilarious cast of actors, which included Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, and Harvey Korman.
Over its 11-season run, Burnett's namesake series aired some of the most memorable comedic sketches in TV history (yes, even more notable than Jason Momoa bringing back Khal Drogo or the dozens of bits lambasting the Trump administration), such as her Gone With the Wind parody, "Went With the Wind." The sketch was so well-beloved that the Smithsonian now displays Burnett's costume, a custom-made curtain-rod dress designed by Bob Mackie that is every bit as ridiculous and wonderful as it sounds. Even decades later, the sketch is still loved by some of today's greatest comedians, including Tiffany Haddish, who donned a replica curtain-rod dress at the MTV Movie & TV Awards in June.
She's an award-winning machine.
Burnett's passion for the arts is evident in all of her work, and it's helped her win a ton of statuettes throughout her career. Unsurprisingly, her work on The Carol Burnett Show was her most celebrated, and the series won an astonishing 25 Emmy Awards and received 70 Emmy Award nominations. Burnett, too, earned a collection of Emmys, and won six for her work on Mad About You, The Carol Burnett Show, The Garry Moore Show, and the television special Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall. (Oh, did we mention she was also super close with Julie Andrews? That's an award in and of itself!)
She created multiple scholarships to give back.
A cornerstone of Burnett's career has been helping young artists realize their potential, just as someone did for her. In a 2003 interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Burnett revealed that a stranger provided her with the funding to move from Los Angeles to New York City to kickstart her career as an actress. The unnamed man, whom she met after performing at one of her UCLA professor's parties in San Diego, was blown away by her talent and asked her what she had planned for her future. When she replied that she wanted to act on stage in NYC but didn't have the funding to get there, he agreed to give her a loan if she'd abide by three stipulations: She'd pay him back in five years, she'd never reveal his identity, and she'd help others in the future.
She kept her word on all three, and today she has multiple scholarships to help students advance their education and careers: the Carol Burnett Fund for Responsible Journalism at the University of Hawaii, the Carol Burnett Musical Theater Competition at UCLA, the Carol Burnett Award in the Performing Arts at Emerson College, and The Carrie Hamilton Foundation, which Burnett established to honor her late daughter.
She's a Broadway star and bestselling author.
Burnett may have landed on the silver screen, but she didn't completely abandon her love for the stage. In fact, she got her start on Broadway when she starred as Princess Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress. She also performed in Fade Out - Fade In, Moon Over Buffalo, Putting It Together, and Love Letters, among others.
But she wasn't just famous for reciting the written work of others. Burnett also penned four New York Times' bestselling books: Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story; This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection; In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox; and One More Time, an autobiography.
Her famous ear tug has a sweet backstory.
Everyone in Hollywood, from Tina Fey to Jennifer Aniston, loves Burnett's signature ear tug. The move, which Burnett commonly does at the end of an episode or on special television appearances, is much more than just a sign-off schtick. While speaking with the Television Academy Foundation, Burnett revealed the real reason she started pulling on her earlobe all the way back in 1955 was to say hi to her grandmother, who loved watching her perform from home.
"I had some friends who would pull their ear for their son, their little boy, whenever they were on television... And I said, 'Nanny, I'll pull my ear for you,'" Burnett explained in the interview. "So, that's when that started. I just sort of casually do that, and that was hello to her. And I did that ever since. Every time I was on TV, I'd find a place to do this when I was on camera so that she would know I was thinking of her."
She's a soap opera fanatic.
TV doesn't get much more dramatic than on classic soap operas like All My Children, which Burnett adored. The critically acclaimed actress loved the series so much that she even guest starred in five episodes as Verla Grubbs, the daughter of Langley Wallingford, between 1983 and 2011. She even hosted the series' 25th anniversary primetime special in 1995.
There simply aren't enough awards to justly honor this living icon.