Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett were on the verge of becoming superstars when they came together for the first of their concert evenings in the spring of 1962. Not yet 30 but a veteran of performing since childhood, Andrews was already a Broadway legend, based on three shows (The Boy Friend, My Fair Lady, and Camelot), though she was not yet a household name. Burnett had yet to make the leap to her own acclaimed primetime show but was grabbing attention for her hilarious bits on CBS's The Garry Moore Show. She had also made a splash on Broadway, in 1959, in Once Upon a Mattress. Still, CBS was reluctant to commit to the idea of this deliciously odd couple in a special live performance on primetime TV. From Carnegie Hall, yet.
Legend has it that the programming people at CBS changed their minds one evening while two of the network's executives stood on a New York street corner with Burnett, trying to hail a cab after a promotional event. They offered to wait with the actress but she brushed them off by telling them a truck driver would pass by and offer her a ride. Which is exactly what happened. The executives were so impressed that they green-lighted the Carnegie Hall
performance with Andrews.
Julie and Carol at Carnegie Hall was taped on March 5, 1962, then edited and broadcast the following June 11 on the CBS network. Writing had begun some weeks before the taping, and the stars rehearsed for two weeks. The director was Joe Hamilton, whom Burnett would marry a year later. The witty script, wonderfully attuned to the performers' gifts, was by Mike Nichols, in the brief period between his collaboration as a comedy performer with Elaine May and the beginning of his career as a director. The music director for the special was Irwin Kostal, who the following year would conduct the score of Andrews's Oscar®-winning film debut in Mary Poppins and, a year after, win an Oscar himself for The Sound of Music. If the critics were mixed on the show – the Associated Press critic wrote that "after gay, funny starts the comedy plummeted to banana-peel level" – the audience loved it. Columbia Records released a live stereo recording that rose to #85 on the Billboard chart, and Burnett won her second successive Emmy Award for her performance on the special.
Andrews and Burnett would have two TV reunions in the spirit of the Carnegie Hall performance. The second, aptly staged in Lincoln Center's Philharmonic (now Avery Fisher) Hall, was broadcast live on CBS
in December of 1971. This time, the circumstances were very different. Andrews had become one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and Burnett was one of television's brightest stars with her dazzling, hour-long CBS comedy show on Saturday nights. Two of Burnett's favorite writers, Ken and Mitzie Welch, contributed to the script. The material again showcases the distinctive talents of both women, including Andrews's madcap comic side and Burnett's appealing way with a song. It also features one of the most remarkable medleys in history, in which Andrews and Burnett sprint through some forty-six notable songs that had been written since their previous onstage encounter.
Columbia Records released the recording of the 1971 CBS special using the monaural soundtrack of the television broadcast (this being well before television shows were broadcast in stereo). The LP was tricked out in fake stereo sound, which has been stripped away for this release,
the first in the digital era.
Today it may sound like an unlikely pairing, but Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett joined musical and comedic forces on the New York stage for a few glorious nights during the golden age of prime time television. Masterworks Broadway releases Julie Andrews & Carol Burnett: The CBS Television Specials in a new, specially priced 2-CD set, with the Lincoln Center recording available for the first time in the digital era. It will be available for purchase on CD and digital download exclusively via Masterworks Broadway. The double set will be available from all retailers and digital service providers on May 8, 2012.
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Crossover Media Projects with: Julie Andrews | Carol Burnett