By Liz Sonneborn
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Extra resources for A to Z of American Women in the Performing Arts (Facts On File Library of American History: A to Z of Women)
While still in grade school, Carol moved with her grandmother to Los Angeles, where they lived in a one-room apartment with Carol’s mother, relying on welfare payments to make ends meet. Carol often escaped from her desperate home life by going to the movies, often five or six times a week. After graduating from Hollywood High School, Burnett received a scholarship to the University of Southern California. She intended to study journalism but was soon drawn to the theater department. At a school-sponsored workshop, she and fellow student Don Saroyan performed a musical number from Annie Get Your Gun.
De Hidalgo proved an especially strong influence. Herself a celebrated soprano, she helped shape the awkward teenager into a skilled stage performer. She also taught Callas to sing in the bel canto style, which emphasized tonal purity and precise vocal technique. 31 CALLAS, MARIA Wagner’s Die Walküre and Bellini’s I Puritani— operas that required very different styles—in the course of two weeks. Critics hailed her as the first soprano in almost 100 years with the capacity to sing the bel canto works of the romantic period, some of which had not been performed in decades.
While her career was thriving, her marriage was suffering. She divorced Saroyan and in 1963 married Joe Hamilton, the producer of Garry Moore. Burnett and Hamilton would have three daughters. With Hamilton as the producer, Burnett began starring in her own television variety series, The Carol Burnett Show, in 1967. The format proved a perfect venue for showcasing her comic and musical talents. Building a warm rapport with viewers, Burnett began each show by answering questions from the audience.