Career Achievement Award: Carol Burnett, presented by Mercedes-Benz
Carol Burnett might be one of the most unassuming pioneers in the history of television. Known for her good humor while taking questions from fans before the start of each episode of “The Carol Burnett Show,” pulling on her ear every week as a signal to the grandmother who raised her, Burnett influenced generations of comics with her legendary, vaudeville-tinged variety show. Indeed, her success is a study in contrasts: A Broadway star clothed by celebrated designer Bob Mackie, Burnett found her biggest success in a weekly TV comedy show filled with pratfalls and broad parodies. A protégé of Lucille Ball’s who then turned around and mentored her talented castmate Vicki Lawrence, Burnett has blazed a unique trail as a comedic performer while tipping a hat to those who came before her—effortlessly disproving every canard about women lacking the skills to be funny.
Born Carol Creighton Burnett in San Antonio, Texas, she moved as a child to Hollywood, where an anonymous donor eventually gave her $50 for a year’s tuition at UCLA. After college, another benefactor loaned her $1,000 to move to New York and by 1959, she was starring on Broadway in “Once Upon a Mattress,” for which she earned a Tony award nomination. Early TV roles, including an Emmy-winning turn on “The Garry Moore Show,” earned Burnett a personal Peabody Award in 1962. Judges back then proved prescient when they noted, In a world that needs laughter today more than ever before, Carol Burnett has emerged in the past year as one of television’s funniest and most highly acclaimed comediennes. Five years later, she would launch one of TV’s most storied programs, “The Carol Burnett Show,” on CBS with castmates Lawrence, Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Lyle Waggoner. The series became appointment viewing on Saturday nights, drawing 30 million viewers a week and winning 23 Emmy awards over its 11 years on air (the “curtain rod” dress Burnett wore in the show’s classic “Gone with the Wind” parody is now housed at the Smithsonian). One year after the program ended, Burnett showed off her dramatic acting abilities in a 1979 TV movie playing a mother fighting to learn how her son died in the Vietnam War; the film, called “Friendly Fire,” earned a Peabody Award that year. Most recently, she starred in last year’s CBS tribute “The 50th Anniversary of the Carol Burnett Show,” and the family show, “A Little Help with Carol Burnett,” which debuted May 4 on Netflix.
For a career that includes nearly six decades of pioneering work on stage, television, and film, inspiring generations of comedians and fans while mentoring younger stars, Carol Burnett receives the first-ever Peabody Career Achievement Award presented by Mercedes-Benz.