• July 19, 2024

Vicki Lawrence was proud of her role as Burnett’s ”sidekick”

“The star has great power and great glory,” Vicki Lawrence told The Daily News in 1977. The then-27-year-old was decidedly not the star of the show she appeared on. With a program named The Carol Burnett Show, it’s not hard to guess who the real star was. Still, though, Lawrence was happy with her role on the program, happily deferring to her decade-older lookalike to lead the ship.

While Vicki Lawrence was a student at UCLA, she contacted Carol Burnett, sending the established comedian fan mail. The letter she wrote indicated that people frequently mistook Lawrence for Burnett, as they had similar hair and features. Because she was just a fan, Lawrence didn’t expect any response and opted to not include a return address. However, Burnett was charmed by the letter, which stood out due to how well it was written. She tracked Lawrence down using just the surname and postmark included in the message.

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“One day,” Lawrence recalled, “the telephone rang. It was Carol Burnett. I was too stunned to speak. At first, I thought it was a bad practical joke. But it really was Carol Burnett. And that was good. Very good!” A very-pregnant Burnett then attended the event in which Lawrence was crowned Miss Fireball after singing, dancing, and telling a joke at the Hollywood Park Fireman’s Ball. Three months later, CBS invited Lawrence to audition for a part in The Carol Burnett Show.

Lawrence, though, never had quite the same aspirations as her co-star. “I’m basically lazy,” she said. “I’m happy just eating and sleeping the day away. If I had my wish, I’d spend the rest of my life on a sunny beach.” When pressed about the possibility of a Vicki Lawrence special, the actress shrugged off the possibility, never too invested in the situation to feel strongly one way or the other. “If it comes, it comes.”

Lawrence said she’s ambitious but nowhere near as ambitious as Carol Burnett. “I’ve watched Carol take the blame when things go wrong. I’m very comfortable with the way things are.”

It seems that, although she loved her time on The Carol Burnett Show, Vicki Lawrence was more than happy to stand in the shadow of her more-famous co-star. With great power comes great responsibility, and that added pressure can be a little overwhelming. Instead, Lawrence could play second fiddle while also reaping the benefits of stardom. At the time of her 1977 interview with The Daily News, she was living in a sleek, Spanish-style hacienda in Beverly Hills.

Of course, Vicki Lawrence couldn’t stay in the background forever. Her “Mama” character proved so immensely popular in her recurring Burnett Show sketches that Lawrence was given her own spin-off, and Mama’s Family was born.

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