The Bootleg Files: Julie & Carol at Carnegie Hall

BOOTLEG FILES 801: “Julie & Carol at Carnegie Hall” (1962 TV special starring Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Mostly likely due to music rights issues.


In 1962, Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett were on the cusp of superstardom. Andrews had back-to-back Broadway triumphs with “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot” while Burnett had gained fame from her standout comedy performances in the Broadway musical “Once Upon a Mattress” and on Garry Moore’s television variety show. Surprisingly, there was initial reluctance from CBS to move forward with a proposed TV special starring the two women – the network felt that Andrews was not that well known to the wider American public while simultaneously arguing that Burnett was too familiar from Moore’s weekly show.

Long story short, the network agreed to move forward with a one-shot TV special and arranged to have it staged at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in order to give the production a prestigious framing – after all, if Andrews and Burnett were good enough to play at Carnegie Hall, they were good enough to arrive in the living rooms of America via CBS.

“Julie & Carol at Carnegie Hall” was broadcast on June 11, 1962, and won Emmy Awards for Burnett and the production (in the now-defunct category of Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Music). In retrospect, the special seemed like a stepping stone for the two stars – Andrews would star in “Mary Poppins” two years later while Burnett gained further visibility via additional television appearances before the 1967 launch of classic variety series.

But viewed today, “Julie & Carol at Carnegie Hall” is not a particularly memorable experience. The production’s emphasis on broad comedy played better to Burnett’s talents – no surprise, as her husband Joe Hamilton was the director. Mike Nichols co-wrote the show, but there is little of his wit and style evident on display. The result feels like a primitive version of “The Carol Burnett Show,” with Andrews gamely trying to maintain her star status in a vehicle not worthy of her talents.

Initially, the show starts in a clever manner that suggests something original is coming – a montage of still photographs from an alleged rehearsal with a soundtrack of the stars vocalizing, with Andrews reacting in varying degrees of anxiety at Burnett’s less-than-stellar musical skills.

When the stars come out before the audience, Burnett steamrolls through a faux-torch song while Andrews feigns embarrassment. The duo then performs a new song called “You’re So London” where each compliments the other’s geographically-rooted personalities (in this case, Andrews’ prim and proper English upbringing and Burnett’s down-home Texas foundation). Andrews is funnier trying to be a good-ol’-American than Burnett is trying to be a posh Brit.

But from that point, things start to go awry. Andrews performs a fussy updated version of the old English ballad “Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?” – why that, of all possible songs? She joins Burnett and a battalion of male dancers in a spoof of Russia’s celebrated Moiseyev Ballet (called the “Nausiev Ballet” here). The dancing is good but not particularly funny, although both women are able to keep up with the professional dancers supporting them.

This is followed by Burnett attempting a serious torch song called “Meantime,” but she is unable to shed her comic vibes – she is such a larger-than-life clown that her attempt to detour into Billie Holiday territory is a misguided bore. The male dancers come back for an extended spoof of “The Sound of Music,” which is funny only when Andrews remarks about her earlier life as a Swiss nun – back in 1962, no one would have imagined Andrews taking on Mary Martin’s Broadway triumph.

The two stars shed the dance shtick to sit on stools and perform a melody of popular tunes in a segment framed as a history of American musical comedy. But unfortunately, they veer back into shtick, with Andrews doing a dismal spoof of torch singing on “Why Was I Born?” and Burnett cutting the ham too thick with “Stick With Your Own Kind” from “West Side Story.” The show ends with the male dancers (again?) in cowboy gear while the women wear oversized cowboy hats and chaps in a number wrapped around Frank Loesser’s “Big D” tune.

Andrews and Burnett would reteam later for the TV specials “Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center” in 1971 and “Julie & Carol: Together Again” in 1989. While they clearly enjoyed each other’s company, their pairings came across in what the English would refer to a chalk-and-cheese union – two items that are wonderful as separate entities but just don’t belong together. Perhaps the women realized they were not a satisfactory pair – Andrews was never a guest on Burnett’s variety show while Burnett was absent when Andrews had her own variety show in the early 1970s.

“Julie & Carol at Carnegie Hall” was never released in any home entertainment video format – clearing the music rights to the songs in the special would be expensive, and the commercial value of bringing this one-shot effort to DVD and Blu-ray might not seem viable. A so-so video copy can be found on YouTube, for those curious to see that this production was all about.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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