In 1967 CBS reached out to star performer Carol Burnett with the offer of hosting her own variety program. Featuring the likes of Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence, The Carol Burnett Show became a huge hit. In fact, it would rack up 25 Emmys during its 11-season run.
And while characters like Eunice and Mrs. Wiggins remain entrenched in viewer memories, there are plenty of show secrets that flew over fans’ heads. Just take a look at these astonishing behind-the-scenes facts that show a different side to this beloved comedy.
20. There was a sweet story behind Burnett’s ear tug
One of Burnett’s most notable on-screen tics was her habit of tugging her ear at the end of each episode. Adorably, the gesture was actually a coded message to the comedienne’s grandmother Mabel, who raised Burnett after her parents divorced. The ear tug actually meant, “Hello, I love you.”
19. A wardrobe malfunction was responsible for Mrs. Wiggins’ wriggly walk
These days, wardrobe malfunctions give TV censors headaches, but back in the ’70s they resulted in comedy gold. While trying out ditzy secretary Mrs. Wiggins’ outfit, Burnett complained that her skirt was too big. So in order to keep the item attached, Burnett stuck out her butt, resulting in Mrs. Wiggins’ hilariously iconic walk.
18. Mrs. Wiggins could have been an entirely different character
Besides creating Wiggins’ seminal saunter, the costume department also helped to develop her personality. During a 2007 Q&A, Burnett recalled that Wiggins was written as an older woman until costume designer Bob Mackie interjected. “He said to me, ‘I think she should be this vapid thing,’” Burnett explained when discussing the airhead character’s creation.
17. One of the show’s iconic creations is in the Smithsonian
Another thing that Mackie made memorable was the now famous Gone With the Wind skit. Unimpressed with initial plans for the scene’s wardrobe, he designed his own version of Burnett’s dress featuring a curtain rod built into the shoulders. Indeed, the garment proved so iconic that it’s now displayed in the Smithsonian.
16. Tim Conway’s ad-libbing kept the cast on their toes
Though not an official cast member until 1975, Tim Conway nevertheless remains one of the show’s funniest stars. Indeed, part of his charm lay in his ad-libbing skills, which he reserved for each episode’s second taping. With his cast mates already familiar with the material, Conway would catch everybody off guard with his off-the-cuff comments.
15. Tim Conway once reduced Harvey Korman to more than just tears
Naturally, Conway’s improvisation left his co-stars in hysterics. And, according to Conway himself, Harvey Korman actually “wet his pants” with laughter during the pair’s famous “Dentist” sketch. “I’m very proud of that, too, because I owned a cleaners at the time,” Conway quipped to Conan O’Brien in 2013.
14. Harvey Korman’s composure became a running backstage gag
Conway’s ability to crack up his more serious co-star was not lost on the cast. In fact, as Burnett recalled during a 2013 episode of Pioneers of Television, they regularly placed wagers on how long Korman could keep a straight face.
13. Vicki Lawrence ad-libbed the show’s most scandalous line to get back at Conway…
However, not everyone was happy with Conway’s improvisations. After discovering that the comedian was planning to change their “Family” sketch, Vicki Lawrence was persuaded to get back at Conway by her husband. When her co-star finished a rambling elephant monologue, Lawrence snapped back with the now infamous ad-lib, “You sure that little a**hole’s through?”
12. …and she was cast on the show thanks to a fan letter
Many actors go through exhausting auditions to land a part, but not Vicki Lawrence. In fact, she actually gained her breakthrough part by sending Burnett a fan letter. Taken with the pair’s uncanny resemblance, Burnett attended a talent show where Lawrence was performing, casting her on the spot.
11. The show could have been the big break for Jim Carrey
While Lawrence gained her place on the show through a well-written letter, other budding stars weren’t so lucky. At the age of ten, future Ace Ventura actor Jim Carrey sent a copy of his resume to the show’s producers. Sadly, it seems that the young comedian didn’t quite fit the bill.
10. Burnett fought hard to give Lawrence the best lines
Although Burnett was convinced of Lawrence’s talent from the start, others needed a little more convincing. Indeed, the older actress fought tooth and nail to give her younger co-star the role of Mama, a part actually written for Burnett herself. However, her insistence led two of the writing staff to storm out in disapproval.
9. Burnett was worried about the competition
Warm-up acts were a standard practice for the era’s variety programs, but The Carol Burnett Show opened with its host fielding a Q&A with the audience. The idea was originally suggested by Burnett’s husband, Joe Hamilton. However, in 2006 she admitted that she chose the forum format because she didn’t want to be overshadowed by an opening comedian.
8. Burnett let her husband compose the theme song
In addition to inspiring the opening Q&A, Joe Hamilton also created another valuable part of the show. To wit, the producer, who was married to Burnett from 1963 to 1984, actually composed the program’s opening theme.
7. Lyle Waggoner made a racy appearance in print
Appearing on The Carol Burnett Show between 1967 and 1974, Lyle Waggoner certainly made an impression on female viewers. Indeed, he proved so popular that he actually graced the centerfold of erotic magazine Playgirl’s inaugural edition. However, fans wrote to the publication incensed that Waggoner didn’t take everything off!
6. Only one guest star turned down the show
During its production, The Carol Burnett Show was filled with cameos from Hollywood legends like Jimmy Stewart and Rock Hudson. In fact, the only star the show couldn’t get was Bette Davis, who demanded a higher salary. So, believing such a move would cause an unfair precedent, Burnett withdrew her offer.
5. Licensing issues took their toll during syndication
Like many classic TV series, The Carol Burnett Show found new audiences through reruns. But the program differed greatly in syndication from its original broadcast. In particular, licensing issues meant that many of the show’s musical numbers were cut out almost completely.
4. Tim Conway turned down a lucrative spin-off show
Following its 1978 finale, the series lived on through the Vicki Lawrence-helmed spin-off show, Mama’s Family. One show offshoot that didn’t make it to air, however, was a planned standalone program featuring Tim Conway’s character, Mr Tudball. Reportedly, Conway turned it down, reasoning that the show wouldn’t work without Burnett co-starring as Mrs. Wiggins.
3. Burnett was originally considered unsuitable for TV
While Carol Burnett would eventually turn into one of TV’s biggest stars, producers originally had little faith in her talent. As she revealed to CBS News in 2013, the actress was told that she was “too big” and “too loud” for television during one of her first auditions.
2. Burnett almost fired Harvey Korman
Though he was an hilarious on-screen personality, Harvey Korman could be rude backstage. Indeed, after witnessing an outburst at guest star Petula Clark, Burnett even went so far as to fire the grouchy actor. She only reneged after Korman promised to come into work the next day whistling happily, a vow the comedian kept.
1. One of the show’s biggest traditions happened by accident
At each season’s end, Burnett ended the show by kissing a sleeping man’s head in the audience. However, what many don’t know is that this tradition was originally unscripted. In fact, after the first season’s finale, Burnett saw a viewer asleep in the now-empty audience and, unprompted, kissed him as she left the theater.
And even today, the biggest TV shows on our screens still harbor some little-known secrets. Take the History channel’s Pawn Stars, for example, which – now approaching its 13th season – has carved out a reputation as one of the most popular reality programs on U.S. television. But for everything this landmark show reveals about the business, there’s still plenty more going on behind the counter of everyone’s favorite pawn store.
20. The crew enjoyed a private Lynyrd Skynyrd gig
It’s no secret that ’70s rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote and performed the show’s theme music for season four onwards. What you might not know, however, is that when the band went to Las Vegas to meet the guys, they also performed an impromptu gig in the store’s parking lot.
19. Olivia Black wasn’t actually fired
Olivia Black started working the night shift in season five, but afterwards it was revealed that she had done a nude photoshoot for the website Suicide Girls and so was hastily removed from the show. As it turns out, however, it was the network who had an issue with this and not Rick and company. In fact, even after leaving the show Black kept working at the store, before eventually leaving of her own accord.
18. The store was sued for melting down antique coins
Melting down coins for gold is far from uncommon and perfectly legal – provided the coins in question aren’t stolen. But in 2014 a woman traded in a coin collection at Gold & Silver, and the guys did the standard thing and melted them down. It transpired, however, that the seller had actually stolen the coins from her uncle, who later claimed they were worth $50,000 and sued the store.
17. Pawn Plaza isn’t doing so well
To capitalize on the sheer volume of tourists and fans who visit the store, Rick decided to expand, and so the Pawn Plaza was assembled nearby. The plaza offers a variety of shops and eateries and is primarily built from shipping containers. And while initial expectations for it were lofty, four of its stores had to close in 2016, and the future of the ambitious venture remains uncertain.
16. Rick Harrison is something of a bookworm
Some of Rick’s interests, such as his car collection, aren’t all that surprising. But did you know that the businessman is also an avid reader? As it turns out, Rick is extremely well read, and he has a more refined taste in literature than you might expect from a pawnbroker, too.
15. Somebody once pawned a sack of human skulls
Pawn shops take some fairly bizarre inventory at times, and Gold & Silver probably has the best line in weird wares of any pawn shop in America. At one point, for example, somebody brought in a sack of human skulls, which must have been pretty difficult to process. And another customer brought in some Japanese porn that had been doing the rounds for 250 years.
14. The store is full of merchandise
By far the biggest money maker in the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop nowadays is the merchandise, and Chumlee’s line is particularly popular. During filming, however, the cameras are deliberately angled away from all this to make the business seem more authentic. But since the store gets so many fans visiting on a daily basis, the outgoings on merchandise are far greater than from people actually pawning things.
13. Sometimes the trade you see on TV isn’t what it seems
We all know by now that reality TV doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, and even when things seem real, there’s usually a certain amount of massaging going on. For instance, some of the trades you see in the broadcast version of Pawn Stars have happened at least once already. Indeed, if someone brings in an unusual item, they might be asked to come in again at a different time so that the trade can be filmed in more detail.
12. Stolen items have been brought in on several occasions
The melting coin fiasco wasn’t the only time that Rick has taken in stolen goods. In 2009, for example, a man traded in a pair of diamond earrings for $40,000. Barely a day had passed, however, when it transpired that the earrings were actually stolen, and the seller was arrested. The pawn shop isn’t liable when this happens, but they don’t get the money back. Crime doesn’t pay, and it doesn’t hand out refunds, either.
11. The amount of Subway the guys eat is no accident
Clunky product placement is always jarring, but Pawn Stars takes it to another level. Subway is one of the show’s main sponsors, and as a result, you will often see the guys munching away on Subway sandwiches with the logo on the wrapping clearly on display. Even worse, if someone talks about a Subway sandwich on the show they will call it by its proper, branded name. Cringe.
10. Pimps buy jewelry from the store
Some customers are great for TV, others just don’t pop, while others still pop a little bit too much. From time to time, for example, local pimps come into the store to buy jewelry, since they can take it back in later and get half the price as a loan against it. It’s a loophole that allows them to pay bail, since their cash is confiscated when they’re arrested. Interesting, but not entirely suitable for family TV.
9. Deanna’s previous marriage wasn’t plain sailing
Rick got hitched to Deanna Burditt in 2013, but she had been married before, and it didn’t exactly end amicably. Her ex, Richard Burditt, was convicted of forced sexual abuse, but he hasn’t ever served any time for it. Rick cites “bureaucracy” as the reason for that, and the topic is clearly still a sore subject for both him and Deanna.
8. Corey is a keen biker but not always a safe one
Rick’s son Corey is often vocal about his love of motorbikes on the show. What he doesn’t often bring up on camera, however, is his history of bike accidents. One particularly nasty incident occurred in 2014, when Corey was thrown from his bike after a fender mount fell off it and sent it into a tailspin. Unbelievably, he walked away from the encounter with only a fractured hand.
7. Rick reached out to a young fan in the most adorable way
Pawn Stars has plenty of younger fans, and one in particular was given a very special surprise. The boy in question, an autistic child nicknamed Little J, posted a letter to the shop along with his Game Boy in the hope of trading it in for $30. Not only did Rick send the money, but he also returned the Game Boy to the child. Plus, he penned a letter back to Little J thanking him, encouraging him to keep playing and to listen to his mother, along with a signed photo of the cast. Class act.
6. You won’t find the guys behind the counter
When the show started, Gold & Silver was like any other pawn shop – most, if not all, of the business was done over the counter. But now, because of the filming schedule, if you actually go into the store you won’t see Harrison and Russell at work. They’re far more likely to be by the merch stand signing autographs.
5. The store was on TV before the show started
Although Pawn Stars kicked off in 2009, the store had actually already appeared on TV twice. The first time was in 2001 when PBS aired a full-length documentary about the business. And two years later, comedian Dave Attell also turned up at the store to film a segment for his show, Insomniac.
4. The store has a Greek artifact dating back to 325 B.C.
People bring plenty of antiques into Gold & Silver, some of them centuries old. But one coin in particular was on a whole different level. The antique coin proved to be a didrachm from around 325 B.C., which was the ancient Greek equivalent of about two dollars if you don’t adjust for inflation.
3. Between 3,000 and 5,000 visitors call at the shop each day
For most pawn shops, getting 5,000 visitors in a month would be pretty good going, but Gold & Silver get that in a day – sometimes more. The store is inundated with tourists on a daily basis, which is why the way the guys do business has changed so drastically since the show started. In fact, some fans will even go as far as to try and sneak around the back to get a peek at the cast.
2. Rick can’t browse garage sales anymore
Fame can impact on people’s lives in strange and unexpected ways. In Rick’s case, his now well-recognized reputation as a canny, keen-eyed negotiator has meant that at garage sales and swap meets, he’s regarded with suspicion. Some people even hide their wares away before he gets the chance to examine them.
1. The guys got a special invite from Bon Jovi
As if the private Lynyrd Skynyrd show wasn’t awesome enough, the cast were also personally invited to a show by Jon Bon Jovi. According to Chumlee, Bon Jovi’s son wanted to meet them, and so the free gig was bartered in exchange for the meeting. It was a haggling approach that the guys can certainly understand and probably appreciated.