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UCLA

Carol Burnett to Receive Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

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By Mary Daily

Published May 23, 2013 2:28 PM


The comedian, who discovered her love for acting at UCLA, is being recognized for seven decades of memorable performances.

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Carol Burnett's impact on our society is right up there with Mark Twain's, according to The John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., which has named her this year's winner of the annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. The actress and comedian was chosen for her versatile body of work on stage and screen spanning seven decades. She is the first woman to win both the Twain prize and the Kennedy Center Honors, which she received in 2003.

"We are delighted to pay tribute to this unique and beloved entertainer," Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said in a statement. "From her television program and appearances, as well as her performances on Broadway and in film, Carol Burnett has entertained generations of fans with her vibrant wit and hilarious characters."

Burnett is best known as the star of her own CBS variety show for 11 years, which garnered 25 Emmy awards and averaged 30 million viewers each week. She also has appeared in such films as Annie, Noises Off and Pete 'N' Tillie and on television dramas, including Glee and All My Children. She was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1985, the same year she received the UCLA Medal.

"She is iconic, really funny and has been her entire life," Cappy McGarr, an executive producer of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor program, told the Washington Post. "She makes us laugh at ourselves and laugh together. That's the great thing about Carol Burnett."

When the native Texan came to UCLA in 1951, an anonymous donor covered her $43 tuition. Having been the editor of the Hollywood High newspaper, she aspired to a career in journalism and joined the Daily Bruin. But when she learned there was no journalism major here, she chose theater arts-English, which included playwriting and first-year courses in scenery, lighting and acting. It was there that she realized she loved to perform.

At a party for the head of UCLA's music department, she wowed the audience with a scene from Annie Get Your Gun, and a couple in attendance offered to lend her $1,000 to go to New York and launch her career. (Read more about her UCLA experiences at Classy Clown.) She left before graduating and made her Broadway debut in 1959 in the musical Once Upon a Mattress. She repaid the loan five years to the day after receiving it.

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Previous winners of the Twain prize include Ellen DeGeneres, Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Bill Cosby. Burnett will receive hers at the Kennedy Center on October 20, and the ceremony will air on PBS on October 30.

In signature Burnett style, she said in a statement, "I can't believe I'm getting a humor prize from the Kennedy Center. It's almost impossible to be funnier than the people in Washington."

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