Starting Out

A Short Biography
By Daniel J. Selby

Famed actress, comedian and singer Vicki Lawrence has appeared in television shows, on Broadway and in nightclubs. Her career has also included movies and of course records.

Born in Inglewood, California, Vicki Lawrence's interest in singing and dancing began at an early age. Starting at age 8 Vicki won a writing contest. Her high school years were filled with achievement as well, they included narrating a school film, cheer leading, being a song leader, and school vocalist, playing in the school orchestra, winning swimming and table tennis championships, as well as collecting the titles as her school's best dancer, best choreographer, most talented girl and most likely to succeed. Vicki's first professional experience came in 1964 when she auditioned for and won a place in the Young Americans. From 1965 to 1967, Vicki sang with the Young Americans musical group and appeared in The Young Americans, a film that won an Academy Award for Best Documentary. It seemed Vicki had prepared herself for show business, more so than a lot of the actors today. Before her big break, Vicki had studied ballet, tap, and modern dancing, which would work well in the Carol Burnett show, since they had the lavish dance numbers often. Instrumental wise Vicki learned to play the piano, six and twelve string guitar, ethnic kazoo, tambourine, ukulele, slap bass, drums and trumpet. And we all know that she has one of the best voices in music. It was also in 1967 that Vicki enrolled in UCLA to study theater arts!

Vicki sealed her own fate as an actress and comedian by sending Carol Burnett a newspaper clipping that mentioned their resemblance to each other and asking Burnett to attend the "Miss Fireball Contest" in Inglewood, California. Vicki was surprised a few days later by a phone call from Carol saying she would like to attend the event, but she was very pregnant and wanted to remain in the background. Burnett attended the event hoping to find an entertainer who could play her kid sister on her variety show. Vicki won the contest and the rest is show biz history! Vicki was hired as a regular performer on the CBS Television Show and her career blossomed from there. In the fall of 1967, she made her debut on the first episode of The Carol Burnett Show. She spent 11 years with the show and earned one Emmy Award and five more nominations.

To further her singing career Vicki went to Vietnam to perform for U.S. troops with Johnny Grant. Her music career peaked in 1973, when she was awarded a gold record for her international hit "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." In 1974, Lawrence married CBS makeup artist Al Schultz, and they have two children.

When The Carol Burnett Show ended in 1978, Vicki did many guest appearances on TV and in films. Then in the later 1980s starred in her own comedy show, Mama's Family based on the Family sketches made popular on the Carol Burnett show. "Mama's Family" was a result of a TV Special called Eunice with Carol Burnett in the lead role. Shot in 1981 the program has only been aired once as far as I know, on March 15, 1982. Mama's Family first aired in 1982 and ran on NBC for 35 episodes ending in early 1985. The show was picked up for syndication and ran from 1985 to 1990. A few of the original characters were dropped from the show. The new show featured Dorothy Lyman, Ken Berry, Beverly Archer, Allan Keyser and a return by Betty White as Ellen. In January 1990, after the final taping of her sitcom, Vicki started hosting television shows. She became the first successful female game show host when she hosted Win, Lose or Draw. She also hosted her own talk show, appropriately titled Vicki! which ran from 1992-1994.

Vicki Lawrence's credits cannot be limited to television alone. Her stage credits include Carousel, Hello Dolly, Annie Get Your Gun, No, No, Nanette and My Fat Friend. In the 1990s, she performed in I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road and Nunsense. Her 1995 autobiography, Vicki! The True Life Adventures of Miss Fireball, talks about her personal life, as well as her musical, stage and television career. Vicki also had her own line of make-up products. She is a much sought after motivational speaker for women's groups and charities and she dedicates time to animal rights. Currently, the last few years, she has toured with Vicki & Mama- A Two Woman Show.

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