Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: This Time Together, by Carol Burnett

I have been a huge Carol Burnett fan since I was seven or eight years old. I'd watch the old episodes of Carol Burnett and Friends at my grandparents' house, and later in life when cable finally came to my hometown. In college I was known to tape episodes of Carol Burnett and Friends on the Family Channel. It drove my roommate crazy. She didn't get it, but BFF, whom I met in college, did. We'd go to each others' dorm rooms and watch Carol Burnett together. That's one of the things that has bonded our friendship.

I have her first book, One More Time, which is a detailed memoir of her childhood, growing up with alcoholic parents, a hypochondriac grandmother, and living in poverty in a one-room apartment one block north of Hollywood Boulevard. You can find my review of it here, and you can read other posts I've written about Carol here.

I had pre-ordered this book last October, almost as soon as I heard that it was going to be published. When it finally arrived in my mailbox this past April, I put aside the book that I was reading at the time and dove right in. I finished in about two hours.

As Carol writes in the foreword, this book originally started out as a collection of show business anecdotes that she had wanted to write for her grandchildren. Many of these recollections came from questions that audience members would ask at her touring Q&A show (you can read about my experience here).

Lots of the anecdotes are humorous. For example, she writes about the time she first met Jimmy Stewart, her idol, and was so flustered when she talked to him that when she left the studio, she stepped in a bucket of whitewash and walked out with said bucket still on her foot. There are several stories about the cast of The Carol Burnett Show, particularly about Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. There is one story involving Tim Conway and a stuffed sheep that had me laughing out loud--something that doesn't happen often when I read.

Some of the tales remind us that even celebrities are human, and get starstruck. Carol describes living in the same New York apartment building as John Steinbeck, and how they first met in an elevator going to their respective floors. There is a very funny story about renting her beach house to Sir Laurence Olivier. And there are two particularly funny stories involving meeting Cary Grant for the first time, as well as an Iranian princess who had the same physician as Carol.

At times, some of the stories that Carol told were touching and heartbreaking. There are a couple of sections in the book about her late daughter, Carrie Hamilton, and the play that they wrote together, Hollywood Arms. Carol writes in a style that makes you feel as if she's sitting next to you, having a conversation with you, and you can really feel the mother's grief as you read through these chapters. Carol also writes about the time when she met a very young cancer patient, and how this patient came to the set of The Carol Burnett Show to meet her. Again, the sense of grief and sadness that you get when reading these sections is incredibly palpable.

This book is not a tell-all book in any sense. In spite of some sadness, Carol generally keeps the tone light and conversational. Not only does she recall some moments of her career, but she recalls some humorous life moments, too, such as the time she had to take her dog to the vet in the middle of a New York City blizzard. There are a few stories about her daughters when they were growing up. And there are some tales about living a normal life as a celebrity. Not only do you get a sense of Carol Burnett as a performer, but you get a sense of Carol Burnett as a person. Both personae make her that much more connected to the reader.

I am going to make an unusual recommendation here: By all means, read the book. But I also want to tell you to get the audio book, especially if you're a fan. Carol herself reads the book, and the conversational aspect of the text takes on a whole new different meaning. Yes, she is there in the same room with you, because she's reading her own stories, but she's reading it as if you're the only person who's listening to the text, as if she's giving a performance just for you. She sings, she does different character voices, and at times, becomes emotional. I don't know how I stumbled upon it while I was in iTunes, but I'm a big enough fan that I purchased it, even though I had a hard copy. And I don't regret it at all.

While I finished This Time Together in one sitting, I found myself going back at random occasions and re-reading some of the anecdotes. You may find yourself doing the same thing. Because while you appreciate the time you had together with Carol, there are times when you just want to have a little more.


septembermom said...

Great review! I think I'll get the audio book and listen to it when I'm driving around town. That's a nice way to hear Carol's voice.

Jenners said...

I could see that this would totally work on audio. I'm so happy to see you roaring back in the reviews!!!

Lizzie said...

I too adore Carol Burnett. Thanks for the heads up on the audio edition, it sounds wonderful. Stopped by from New England Bloggers to say hi. have a happy 4th.