tv Tavis Smiley PBS August 22, 2013 12:00am-12:31am PDT
tavis: good evening, from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with carol burnett and she is one of the countries most beloved entertainers, making us life gave her life has had more than its share of challenges and tragedies. most profoundly, the death of her daughter carrie can she has written about that in a new book called "carrie and me." enjoy conversation with carol burnett coming up right now. >> there's a saying that dr. king had, and he said, "there's always a right time to do the right thing." i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we're only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. and walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can
stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> it is a well-worn cliché to say that someone doesn't need an introduction. but look at this face. [laughter] does she really need an introduction? i am delighted to have children and on this program. she is a brilliant comedian whose comic antics more than 50 years have entertained us. she has also had, like the rest of us, significant hearted, most
particularly with her daughter carrie who, after overcoming addiction lost her battle with cancer. carol has written about that in a courageous new book. carol burnett, as you well know -- and if you don't come and let to you once again -- how delighted i am to have you on this program. >> i am so thrilled to be asked back. -- i hopeddn't think of course the last time you were here that you would come back again. i didn't think you would come back to this book. i went to the day to look at our last precision when you're here for your second memoir. and there is a chapter in that book where you start the chapter oviate forising the carrie. looking at that tape come i can still see the pain on your face.
so i sit here every night and i'm really to really -- i'm relatively good at that. but that was still is causing some discomfort and some pain with you. that is a long way of saying i didn't expect that you would come back on our program with this particular book. but i'm so glad you did. it is a long way of saying, why? , before she was diagnosed with cancer, she had been working on a -- she was a writer come a, a singer -- she did all kinds of things. so this particular time, she was writing a story called "sunrise in memphis" about a young girl not unlike kerry, kind of tripian, who takes a road to graceland with a mysterious cowboy. so she was writing that and then she actually decided she would take a road trip herself to soak
up -- for research purposes and so forth. to she got in her jeep and all by yourself, she left hollywood and took the same. -- the same trip that the character and her story would. at that time, she would e-mail me scenes from her story and also e-mail me just things about whom she met on the road and her own little private ventures when she was on the road herself. i was e-mailing her back and forth. that is what we did. when she was in the hospital, she was diagnosed right after that road trip that she took. so when she was in the hospital for the last time, she said, mom, can you finish "sunrise in memphis" for may, my story? she had the beginning and the end and most of the middle. she wanted me to fill it out for
her. i said, honey, i don't think i they are really your characters to write. i'm not sure where you would want me to go with them. she said that's ok. her request had been living with me for 10 years. and i thought what can i do too -- i tried to finish her story for her and it wasn't happening. and then it was suggested by the publisher that she was such a force and interesting young that i write about our relationship because we had quite a relationship as mother- daughter. ups and downs. tavis: like most mothers and daughters. [laughter] >> and i thought, that's interesting. i wanted to bring the essence of her personality and her optimism and the way she looked at life and how she loved people. so i just decided to write about us.
and even from before she was born, through her little young years and when she was into drugs racially as a teenager and what we went through with that and then how she came out and and she went on to have quite a career. she did movies. she did television. she wrote. she wrote music and she sang. she did all kinds of things. she did a movie when she was 24 called "tokyo pop." it was filmed in japan. it was a lovely little movie. it's kind of like a cult film now in japan. and she got fabulous reviews for. i thought, great, i'll have a budding actress and marlon brando called her after he saw her in this movie. he wanted to talk to her about a project he was working on. she turned him down. [laughter]
tavis: marlon brando? >> i became a stage mother. [laughter] are you nuts? it's marlon brando. to come't going knocking at your door all the time like this. and she said something very interesting. she said, mom, don't care about being a star. i don't care about being famous. i want to do it all. i did the movie. i have done all of that. now i want to get up on stage and work with my music. which she did. laughter that she said, i now will pick up my writing again. she said, i just want to do it all. so she was marching to her own drummer. tavis: there's nothing like engaging your right to self determination. >> that's right. tavis: and that's a beautiful thing, even if marlon brando is calling. >> i thought, she is right.
she's doing what she wants. not because i might want her to do it or she wanted that fleeting thing called fame. tavis: there is so much in this book. i can't do justice to this. let me just pick out a few things that jumped out of me in reading the text and some of the few things that you mentioned. in no particular order. you talked about her drug use when she was a teenager. one of the more fascinating entries in this book is when you acknowledge the revelation that you had, when it finally occurred to you that, for all the access and the exposure and the lifestyle that your children were exposed to, in many ways, they had it harder than you. you know the part of talking about? >> oh, yes. tavis: in some ways, that opens up the door for kids to have access and exposure to stuff that you don't want them to have that you didn't have.
tell me more about that entry. >> well, we're going going to fly back for family week. she was in the second rehab that i got her into. so i was with the other two -- my other two daughters. they were little. and we were flying back from hawaii to go to family week at this rehab that kerry was in. but i woke up at 4:00 the morning. i kept a diary. how iwas thinking about had it very -- a difficult childhood. by that come i knew that i was loved and i was never really abuse or anything like that. but we were very, very poor. goa way, i had nowhere to but up. people talk about rags to riches and all that. it is very nice and commendable that people make something out of themselves. and then i get to thinking, you
know, what if -- what of the people who are born with a silver spoon in her mouth? yet they still do something with their lives that is positive rather than sitting back and just letting everything, you know, come to them or whatever. but those who go out when they are wealthy come on they have all the advantages, and still want to make something of themselves. i find that even more difficult for somebody like that to have ambition. by that, i mean, a really honorable goal and let me put it that way. so no wait, i came to the the conclusion that she had it harder than i did, you know? find myself in these conversations -- i am not a parent as yet -- but i find myself in these conversations with my friends. i'm talking now specifically african-american friends who
come from a tradition, obviously, where we have struggled. we can all trade for stories. but the numbers are clear. lack people have been disproportionately poor in this country. so when african-americans tend to make it and they can send their kids to have at school and a for the ipad in the fashionable clothes and these kids are driving to school in rolls-royce and mercedes and jaguar. when they are fine, oftentimes they don't know what a commercial airliner is because they are flying on private planes with their famous parents. there is always this downer that parents have about what what is too much and how do i draw the line? so i take your point about kids of the elite in that regard having it even more difficult to your kid has to live with you. and you are not want to live in a shack. >> i did already. [laughter] tavis: but there is always this interesting balance that parents, i feel for them, trying to strike and how to figure it what is too much.
i say all that to get another entry in this book, which is now carrie writing to you. by the empathy that she had as she was jutting through the south. and she e-mails back to her mom, mom, i can't believe the conditions and the racism and the prejudice that even still today african-americans and others are subject to. this is her writing back to you about the experience and exposure that she experienced. >> there was never any kind -- thank god -- with any one of my daughters, but there was any kind of prejudice or anything like it because i didn't have that so they certainly weren't privy to that awful kind of upbringing. i love what she said, two.
hut -- thees the southern hospitality is so fabulous and she loved the mountains and that kind of down- home stuff, and the music and all. lived,hink, had she eventually she may have settled someplace like that. tavis: she loved the blues, the music. >> she loved the blues. and footstomping. you know, the religious -- tavis: oh, yeah, the church. >> she fell in love with that. tavis: to have that kind of empathy comes from somewhere. number one. a number two, to appreciate that kind of soulfulness, to connect and to revel in the humanity of people, you know, you did your job in that regard. it came from somewhere. background, my parents -- my dad wasn't, but my mother was a little prejudice.
you know, arkansas and texas. i never spentand -- i mean, we never picked up on that. so i don't know. when you say you did your own job about that, she knew how i felt. but she could have gone the other way. who knows? but she had that love of humanity. i love when she said "i don't know why people, when they enter a room, don't smile enough. because when you do that, the whole world opens up to you. i can honestly say i feel joy on a daily basis." that was who she was. tavis: how does a mother process having a daughter asked her to finish her work? that is an admission that i won't make it. >>) yet. -- right. yep.
i wanted to be able to say to her i would do it. but i had to be honest. as i say, her request had been a burden until they figured out, you know, we can do even more , by letting showing the reader in on who carrie was rather than just finishing her story, which is in this -- interesting in its own. so once i got the key of how to do this, i just started on my computer. i write on the computer. i swear, i felt her on my right shoulder. i just felt -- i know she was in here. i felt her on my right shoulder and it was like now you know what you are going to do and it's ok, mom. it had beenbecause this cloud over me for 10 years. i have to do something about
that. tavis: you fell freed and liberated to do the project. but was the doing, the completing of the project, in any way -- my word, not yours -- therapeutic? you don't close on the death of a loved one like you close on a house. i'm not going to say closure. but what did completing the project due? >> and made me happy. i was happy writing it. as i said, i was thrilled when i found all those e-mails because it just open itself up to what i could do with her. good.felt tavis: is there anything in your life -- i have heard it said a thousand times -- i know you would never wish this on any parent. the word is that there's nothing more difficult that a parent would ever do them bury his or her child. how do you contextualize that?
with everything you have been through in your own life from his or anything that even comes close to having to walk that walk? >> that is the worst. i think is the worst pain that a parent can go through because it's not supposed to be that way. i have been asked how do you cope or how -- carrie and i were also writing a play together. it make it to to broadway, but she never lived to see it. when she died, didn't want to get out of bed. finally -- and we were riding in the middle -- we were in the middle of writing the play. it would be in chicago before it went to broadway. said, you haven to finish display for carr ie and for harold prince was going to produce and develop and direct it. me -- that gave me the reason to get out of bed.
i had to finish this for carrie. so that was how i could cope. -- you know, is i thinkay, of course, about her. but when i tried to do is try to do- but what i is dedicate every day to her memory. i am doing this for her. that she had that i love so much was, when the last time she was in the hospital, a nurse came to me in the hallway and she said, "i have to tell you something about your daughter. when we go into her room, she cheers us up." and i asked her, this is the nurse talking, "why are you always so up and cheerful?"
said, "every day i wake up and decide -- that is the key world -- today, i'm going to love my life." so that is the kind of girl she was here tavis: -- she was. your: how did and does impact andh carrie affect your relationship with your other two daughters? >> they were like the three musketeers. rie, when she was in the hospital, jodi and karen were in the hospital there with her when she died. they adored her and she adored them. they have this great relationship. when i told the girls i was going to write this, they were all ford and they contributed to a couple of things in the book. about their feelings about their sister. tavis: tell me a bit more. you have gone back and forth and
its we the inherent various points. i like the way the book is laid out. the second half of this book is really her story. >> yes. tavis: talk more about the story for me. [laughter] >> well, it opens with an .irplane crash and this kind of bohemian girl is in the plane and she's kind of sleep. then she wakes up and she is in a car headed for who knows where and she looks over and there is this cowboy driving the car. so she feels that she got round in hollywood that night and got picked up and now she's in the car with this guy. doesn'tpens is that she like candy in she wants him to take her back to hollywood where she was the night before. it turns out that nobody wants to talk to her anymore, the girl, kate.
she has burned her bridges behind her. he said, we are going to go to graceland. so she goes. but she didn't like him that much at all. differentave these adventures on the road together and she starts to take to him and like him. then it goes back and forth where she is in a reverie and you see what she was before she started this trip and the kind of gal she was and so forth and how she changes over the course of the road trip. and it turns out that she was indeed in that airplane. -- this whole trip with him he is her angel. they get to graceland and the gates open and he says, are you ready? and they walked through and disappear. then you realize that she was in the crash, unique plane crash.
.- in the plane crash tavis tavis: no parent wants to see their child suffer. yet i suspect it is the case for all of us, that people learn things about you that they might not have known when they see you go through a crisis. is there something are some things you learn about your daughter that you didn't know or came to appreciate in a different way when you saw her go through crisis? over how,couldn't get up until the very end, how positive she was. even when she was in pain sometimes and she would come out of it, she would be there with a smile. it was amazing. everybody in the hospital, the nurses on the floor, they just adored her. i expected her to be that way. tavis: that's good.
that, inbirdie told me august of this year, we will she you -- we will see you and mr. conway -- [laughter] reunited. is there truth to the story? [laughter] cleveland."hot in seenjust a short little with mr. conway me. you know betty is an old friend. it was fun to get in the sandbox with that group. they are all very sweet. tavis: on any given night, you can flip channels and see the box set or the best of carol burnett, the outtakes. i have seen it like a dizzily in times -- a gazillion. i watch those clips. [laughter] >> our dvds are in the stores now.
which is great. some people are buying them in watching the full shows that nobody has seen since they were first aired. so that is a neat thing. tavis: yeah. i assume that you are very comfortable with this. but if that were the only thing you were judged by, that show, the high-quality comedy, if your career word defined by that -- >> that was one of the best times in my life, those 11 years. we just laughed for 11 years. [laughter] tavis: tammany people getting chance to say that? get theany people chance to say that? "carrie andcalled me, a mother-daughter love story. " it came out and he medially jumped on the new york times best seller list. so if you can find a copy somewhere, you may want to pick it up. it is a wonderful read, particularly around this time of year as we celebrate mothers and daughters. burnett, always
great to have you here. >> thank you for having me. time, goodl next night from l.a.. has always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley join me next time for a conversation with johnny galecki. that is next time. we will see you then. >> there's a saying that dr. king had, and he said, "there's always a right time to do the right thing." i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we're only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. and walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
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