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American comedian, actress and author Carol Burnett (b. 1933) was in kinship care as a child.

Carol Burnett was born in San Antonio, Texas. Because both of her parents aspired to work in the movie industry, the family moved to Los Angeles. But Burnett’s parents struggled with alcoholism and divorced when she was very young.  

For most of her childhood, Burnett lived with her grandmother, Mae White, whom she called Nanny. As Burnett explains, her mother lived in the same apartment building.  

“They were both young and good looking and they left me with my grandmother, who was my mother’s mother…And so we moved into the building that my mom lived in down the hall,” (Burnett, 2007).

Burnett reflects positively on her time with her grandmother:

Nanny was my rock. In her eyes, I was the number-one person in her world, so I felt safe with her” (Pak, 2019). 

Burnett and Nanny lived in a small studio in a poor neighbourhood within Hollywood. Because of the Great Depression they did not have much money but Burnett had a happy childhood and Nanny would take Carol to the movies every week. This inspired Burnett’s love of acting. 

And I do think that I was influenced a great deal by going to the movies and seeing happy people up there and seeing dancing and singing, comedy and singing and the movies then weren’t cynical,” (Burnett, 2007).

After finishing high school, Burnett was able to study at The University of California Los Angeles with financial support from an anonymous donor. Her love of movies led Burnett to study theater arts. She dropped out of university after her sophomore year when a businessman offered her an interest-free loan to pursue a Broadway career in New York, the epicentre of live television at the time.  

Burnett started her new life in New York living in a boarding house for single women and acting in theater productions. When Burnett first left home she often felt homesick and doubted her decision to leave California.  

When I was just getting started and wanted to be on the stage in New York, I got very lonesome and scared because I missed my grandmother, my mother, and my kid sister in California,” (Freeman, 2022). 

One of Burnett’s first regular TV gigs was on a variety show called The Garry Moore Show. Burnett won her first Emmy Award for her appearances. She describes how this experience led to the development of her own TV programme:  

“I just loved doing it because every week we would do different characters, as opposed to being the same one, night after night, on Broadway. I learned to do different accents. I’d wear different wigs and different kinds of costumes. That really appealed to me, which is how my show came about,” (Freeman, 2022).   

The Carol Burnett Show was a huge success, running for 11 seasons between 1967 and 1979. The show featured parody sketches with recurring characters and was watched by an average of 30 million people each week. It received 25 Emmy Awards. 

Burnett went on to star in many more film and television roles. In 2018, at the age of eighty-five, she hosted a Netflix series called A Little Help with Carol Burnett, featuring a panel of children who give life advice to adults. She has also written several popular memoirs. 

Burnett has received countless accolades for her work. In 2005, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. Burnett won the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for Humor in 2013. Also in 2013, an intersection near her alma mater, Hollywood High School, was renamed Carol Burnett Square. 2019 marked the inaugural Carol Burnett Award for lifetime achievement in television at the Golden Globes. 

Burnett encourages young people to work hard and follow their dreams: 

“If you work hard enough, if you have the fire in your belly and you’re ready when that door opens up for the opportunity, you’ll get it. You’ll have your turn… Have faith in yourself, but be prepared” (Freeman, 2022).


“All Achievers Carol Burnett.” American Academy of Achievement, 15 Feb 2022. 

“Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character (interview).” PBS American Masters, 25 June 2007. 

Brennan, John. “Carol Burnett.” Britannica. 

Freeman, Olivia. “A High School Student Called Carol Burnett. Carol Burnett Called Back.” Vanity Fair, 27 June, 2022. 

Pak, Eudie. “The Secret Message Behind Carol Burnett’s Famous Ear Tug.” Biography, 26 April 2019. 

Image available here.