I’m reading Carol Burnett’s In Such Good Company, her memoir about 11 years of her eponymous TV series. Last night I came to a short chapter, “The Famous Blooper.” Whether the November 5, 1977 skit qualifies as a blooper is debatable — it never aired simply because of a blurted-out epithet. But the scene is probably one of the show’s two most famous (along with “The Dentist”). And it IS hilarious — I re-watched it this morning. And legendary, of course. Dick Clark called it the most famous blooper on any show EVER.
Make sure you read Carol’s short set-up before watching. One more thing to know is that each week’s episode was filmed twice in front of an audience (to give producers two versions from which to choose). First was an afternoon dress rehearsal. Assuming they got it right, the performers were free to ad-lib in the evening. Tim Conway did.
Here’s how Carol set it up:
As I’ve said, I never wanted to stop and do a retake, because I like our show to be “live,” so when the “Family” sketches came along, I was adamant that we never break up in those scenes, because Eunice, Ed, and Mama were, in an odd way, sacred to me. They were real people in real situations, some of which were as sad and pitiful as they were funny, and I didn’t want any of us to break the fourth wall and be out of character.
Then one week, in the eleventh season, Tim was appearing as Mickey Hart, Ed’s hapless helper in the hardware store, and the family was playing Password, with Mickey as Eunice’s partner and Dick Van Dyke, playing a boarder named Dan, as Mama’s partner. Eunice wants Mickey to guess the password “ridiculous,” and gives him the clue “laughable.” Mickey responds with “elephant!” Eunice is obviously pissed as hell as this dumb answer, and is lacing into Mickey about his stupidity, when Mickey starts to explain why he thought the word was “elephant.”
Okay, now it’s the early show and Tim, as the dim-wicked Mickey, starts riffing about how he once saw a “laughable” elephant in the circus, whose trainer dressed him in a tutu, etc., etc., and there was a rumor that they were lovers, etc., etc. None of us had ever heard these lines until that dress rehearsal. The audience was hysterical, and much to my grief, so was I, after all my pontificating about not breaking up in the “Family” sketches!
I was determined not to break character on the 7:30 show. Between shows, our director, Dave Powers, gave us the note that “the elephant show will be different of the second show, and good luck.” Period.
Now that you’re ready:
Now here’s the clip. The dress-rehearsal portion — and even it breaks up the actors — runs for two minutes. The clip for the legendary second show runs the last three minutes.
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