When the fifth Granada Theatre Legends Gala kicks off this Friday, September 13, it will do so with the help of one of the greatest performers in the history of American culture. Carol Burnett, a Santa Barbara resident for the past two decades and a longtime supporter of the arts in our community, will be among those honored as “legends,” along with Meg and Dan Burnham and the organization Opera Santa Barbara (OSB). The Legends Gala is the Granada’s most significant fundraising event and among the most lavish and glamorous benefits of the season in a community flush with such elaborately conceived and painstakingly executed events. Guests will join event chairs Merryl Snow Zegar and Anne Smith Towbes to honor Burnett, the Burnhams, and OSB in a theater transformed for the occasion into a festive cabaret with dinner and entertainment.
This year has been special for Burnett, as the Granada Legend designation is not the first or the most prestigious award she has received in 2019. In January, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) — the group responsible for the Golden Globes — created a new lifetime achievement category for television and named it the Carol Burnett Award. The award recognizes “outstanding contributions to television on or off the screen” and is seen as the counterpart to the Golden Globes’ Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in film. The first recipient of the Carol Burnett Award? Why, Carol Burnett, of course.
When I spoke with Burnett recently by phone, she said that she was “stunned” by the honor and especially grateful to the HFPA for recognizing her at a time when television has entered into what many consider its second golden age. Burnett told me that she loves to binge watch the great contemporary television cable series and is a fan of Breaking Bad. Burnett has been in Santa Barbara for 20 years now, having “found a house for the summer in Montecito” two decades ago, and quickly realized that she and her husband would be even happier if our town was their main residence.
For those who grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show on CBS on Saturday nights, this was truly the original instance of “appointment television.” Burnett has heard from countless fans over the years about what an important part of their family time the show became in its original time slot and adds that, thanks to reruns, and now to YouTube, she gets email messages from teens who are only now discovering the magic chemistry she shared with costars Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, and Harvey Korman.
One of the most distinctive features of The Carol Burnett Show fits nicely with the theme of the Granada Gala, and that’s the appeal of legends. Who can forget Burnett’s takes on Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard or Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind? She attributes the quality of these memorable send-ups to her childhood in Hollywood. “I was raised watching those classic films in the theater, sometimes as many as six films in a week,” she said. “When we got home, we would act out scenes from the movies in the kitchen for the family.” Little did she know at the time that this inspired satire would become so central to her success later on.
When asked about the reason her show was so durable in the competitive medium of broadcast TV, Burnett cites the way that the program worked with celebrity guests. “We didn’t just have Chita Rivera on so that she could dance — we’d put her in a sketch” to show how funny she could be, she said. No one was beyond the reach of the show’s warm, comic embrace, said Burnett, adding that “we did a sketch with Ray Charles, and he was hilarious.”
4•1•1 | For more information about the Fifth Annual Granada Legends Gala on Friday, September 13, call (805) 899-3000 or see granadasb.org.