Intimate Portrait

Season 10 Episode 5

Vicki Lawrence

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Aired Monday 7:00 PM Jul 14, 2003 on Lifetime
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Vicki Lawrence
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Vicki Lawrence: Mama's Got a Brand-new Bag Vicki Lawrence was born on March 26, 1949, in Inglewood, California. Although Lawrence was an extremely introverted girl, her mother, who had once dreamed of becoming a professional singer, encouraged her daughter to pursue the limelight. So a teenage Lawrence entered a Miss Fireball talent contest. A reporter covering the event compared her to Carol Burnett. Lawrence later sent Burnett a fan letter with the article, and, to her surprise, the legendary performer looked her up. At age 18, Lawrence was plucked out of high school in order to join "The Carol Burnett Show." For years, she had only a minimal role on the show because she was too intimidated to talk. But otherwise, Lawrence's life was blossoming; in 1972, she married singer-songwriter Bobby Russell. A year later she recorded his song "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." The tune went on to become a number one hit on the Billboard charts. In 1974, Lawrence, then 25, finally found the confidence to break out of her shell on "The Carol Burnett Show" and created the character Thelma Harper, aka Mama, an outrageous Southern curmudgeon with a sour face and a sharp tongue. The character was an automatic hit with audiences. That same year, Lawrence found unexpected love with old friend and makeup artist Al Schwartz, and she eventually divorced Russell. She and Schwartz married and had daughter Courtney in 1975 and son Garret in 1977. Between the two arrivals, Lawrence also took home another treasure — an Emmy Award — in 1976. But after 11 years, "The Carol Burnett Show" ended. One year later, Lawrence reprised her Thelma Harper persona for a TV movie, which led to the creation of her own sitcom, "Mama's Family," in 1983. The show had a successful seven-year run. In 1990, Lawrence switched gears to become a talk show host. But a public feud with the producers over the program's vision led to Lawrence's ouster. It would take several years for the star to bounce back from her depression over this debacle and return to work. In 2001, she took a recurring role on the hit sitcom "Yes, Dear," co-starring old friend Tim Conway. She also brought Thelma Harper out of retirement for a national tour of a one-woman stage production aptly titled "Vicki and Mama — A Two-Woman Show."moreless

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