Celebrity Memoir: Carol Burnett’s “This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection”

April 3, 2010

Photo: Kevin Scanlon for The New York Times

Although memoir is the genre I read most often, I hardly ever read memoirs by celebrities. Since I’m home for the holiday weekend, I’ve been searching my room for all the memoirs I’ve read, but not a single one was a celebrity memoir.

So I was surprised when I read Dave Itzkoff’s article, “A Touch for Funny Bones and Earlobes,” from Wednesday’s New York Times from beginning to end. Itzkoff interviewed legendary television actress, Carol Burnett, about her second memoir, “This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection,” which goes on sale this Tuesday.

The quote that kept me reading came right at the jump (yes, I did read a print edition):

But you’d have to be as clueless as Mrs. Wiggins, the self-absorbed secretary she played on her proudly anti-cynical show, to expect a scandalous showbiz memoir from Ms. Burnett. “There’s no reason for me to do any kind of—what, tell-all?” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t think so.”

I often think of most celebrity memoirs as tell-alls, so I was a bit surprised when Burnett admitted that wasn’t what she was going for. Even when celebrities don’t include shocking secrets in their books, they often try and pretend they did before the book is released in order to create hype and sell more copies.

I’m not sure if it’s because Burnett, 76, is from a generation that still understands the meaning of privacy—a concept destroyed by Facebook, Twitter and even blogs—but it seems she’s not interested in over-sharing for the sake of making a larger profit; however, Burnett does include personal anecdotes in the book:

Not all the memories in “This Time Together” are pleasant. In writing about the production of “Hollywood Arms,” a short-lived Broadway play that she wrote with her daughter Carrie Hamilton, Ms. Burnett also addresses Ms. Hamilton’s death from lung and brain cancer in 2002, before the play was staged.

“Once I started talking about some of the personal things, I knew I couldn’t leave out my story about Carrie,” Ms. Burnett said. “It was kind of a catharsis.

The idea of a memoir being cathartic has been on my mind a lot lately. As of now this is a complete assumption, but I believe many people who write memoirs, specifically non-celebrities, do so as part of a therapeutic process. Later this week I hope to interview students in memoir classes, people with published memoirs and a psychologist to discover if there’s any support behind my theory.

And as for Burnett’s memoir, I love that she admitted that writing the book “was kind of a catharsis,” but it’s probably not one I’ll read; however, I think I found my grandma’s birthday present.


One Response to “Celebrity Memoir: Carol Burnett’s “This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection””

  1. Susan Olson Smelser Says:

    Cuz Mary Lou passed away on December 13, 2010. Thought you should know. S

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