Everything You Didn't Know About Comedy Icon Carol Burnett Ahead of Her Special Golden Globes Honor

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Carol Burnett is being immortalized at the Golden Globes this year as she'll become the first recipient of the show's aptly titled Carol Burnett Award, an accolade which celebrates stars who have reached a level of lifetime achievement in the medium of television.

The 85-year-old comedy icon is obviously a worthy recipient of the eponymous honor, what with her unparalleled career on screen and her indelible legacy, but the story of Burnett's life is richer than you may have ever realized.

From humble beginnings to fiercely carving out a place for herself in a difficult TV landscape, Burnett's career has been filled with and defined by heartfelt laughs and genuine emotional connections.

In recognition of her special award, ET is looking back and sharing some of the lesser-known aspects of the actress' life that helped shape her career and influence one of the most influential women in TV history.

1. Burnett's Close Connection to Her Grandmother

One of the comic genius' most iconic trademarks was when she'd give a slight tug on her ear at the end of every episode of her series, The Carol Burnett Show. The subtle gesture served as a tribute to her grandmother, Mabel Eudora White, to let her know she was healthy and happy.

However, Burnett's connection to her grandma went deeper than many people may realize. Burnett's parents both battled alcohol addictions when she was young, and she lived with her grandmother in Texas for most of her childhood. When her parents divorced in the late 1930s, a young Burnett moved with White to a small house in a low-income area near Hollywood. It was here that her grandmother took Burnett to watch movies at a local theater, which would go on to inspire her love of entertaining and influence her timeless variety show.

2. Burnett Became an Actress Because of College Requirements

While it's hard to imagine the TV icon not taking center stage, Burnett didn't originally plan on acting at all. When she went to UCLA, she originally planned to pursue a career in journalism, but changed direction and switched her focus to becoming a playwright.

However, one of the prerequisite requirements for the curriculum was to take an acting class, which Burnett had no interest in doing at first. "I wasn't really ready to do the acting thing, but I had no choice," she told The Star during a 2009 interview, explaining that she went on play a "hillbilly girl" in the first student-written show she appeared in, and her choice of characterization elicited a real laugh from the audience, which hooked her immediately.

"They laughed and it felt great. All of a sudden, after so much coldness and emptiness in my life, I knew the sensation of all that warmth wrapping around me," Burnett recalled. "I had always been a quiet, shy, sad sort of girl and then everything changed for me."

3. 'The Carol Burnett Show' Was Revolutionary

Tim Conway, Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence on 'The Carol Burnett Show'
CBS via Getty Images

There is a reason Burnett's primetime comedy variety show is still considered one of the greatest TV series to ever exist, and it's not just because it was start-to-finish madness and joy. Burnett broke ground as the first woman to ever host a show of its kind, which was only possible because a contract she'd signed with CBS that guaranteed her the opportunity to make at least one season of whatever kind of program she wanted.

So while the execs at the time had little faith in the possibility of a female variety host succeeding -- believing that it was "a man's genre" according to then-head of programming Michael Dann --  she blew everyone away with her beloved series.

Starring Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway, The Carol Burnett Show went on to air for 11 seasons, which encompassed 279 episodes, and spawned the successful spin-off series Mama's Family, based on one of the show's recurring sketches. The series went on to earn eight Golden Globes and 25 Emmy Awards out of an astounding 70 nominations, making it one of the most awarded TV shows ever.

4. Burnett Used Her Hollywood Star to Get a Little Payback

Carol Burnett
ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images

When she was a teenager, Burnett got a job at the old Warner Brothers Theater, which stood on the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Wilcox Ave. It was a job she was unceremoniously fired from in 1951, which was an affront Burnett held onto for decades, apparently. 

In 1975, Burnett was offered a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce asked where she wanted it, the actress gleefully declared that she'd like to see it placed on the sidewalk in front of the very theater that once had the audacity to let her go -- even though the Warner Brothers Theater itself didn't even exist anymore.

5. She Had the Best Comedy Mentor in the Business

Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball
Ron Galella/WireImage

In the mid-1960s, Burnett became close friends with Lucille Ball, whose iconic I Love Lucy set the mold for scripted TV comedy for decades to come. Ball appreciated Burnett's obvious comedic talent and related to her determined forthright attitude toward carving her own place out in the male-centric TV business.

In 1966, Ball reportedly offered Burnett a chance to star in her own sitcom. However, the actress had already declined another sitcom offer from CBS -- which was an effort to deter her from trying to do her variety series. In 1967, The Carol Burnett Show premiered and history was made. Ball and Burnett remained close friends until the I Love Lucy star's death in 1989 -- which happened to be on Burnett's 56th birthday.

6. Burnett Holds a Golden Globes Record

Aside from her multitude of incomparable contributions of American culture and the television landscape, there's another really good reason that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association is naming their new lifetime achievement award after the iconic comedian.

With five Golden Globe wins -- all for The Carol Burnett Show -- she is the most awarded TV actress in the history of the show. Burnett won Best TV Star in 1968 then Best TV Actress in a Comedy or Musical in 1970, 1972, 1977 and 1979. The five wins are out of a total of 13 nominations. When she takes home the Carol Burnett Award on Sunday, she will be taking home her sixth award, tying Alan Alda, who holds the top spot for male TV actors when it comes to Golden Globe wins. 

7. Burnett Really Has So Much Hardware on Her Mantel

Carol Burnett and Joe Hamilton at the 24th Primetime Emmys in May 1972
ABC via Getty Images

Aside from her slew of Golden Globes, Burnett has also earned six Emmy Awards out of 24 nominations -- her first win came in 1962 for her performance in The Garry Moore Show and her most recent came in 1997 when she guest starred in an episode of Mad About You.

However, she also earned a GRAMMY Award in 1997 for Best Spoken Word Album for her memoir, In Such Good Company. Additionally, she earned a special recognition Tony Award in 1969, meaning she's just one Oscar win away from joining the coveted EGOT club!

ET spoke with Burnett this past August about how she wants to be remembered. "She made me smile. She made me laugh when I was down," Burnett said, referring to how she hopes people will speak of her legacy in the future. Check out the video below to hear more from the television comedy titan.

The 76th annual Golden Globe Awards air Jan. 6 on NBC.


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