Nobody ever heard of her in Washington, D.C.—or anywhere else, for that matter—until 1957, when she sang the spoof/Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles. But Carol Burnett last week wrapped up a record-breaking Kennedy Center run in the two-character musical, I Do! I Do! The other character was Rock Hudson, and whatever the White House thinks about media impact, there is no more dynamite draw in summer theater than TV headliners, especially these two. Carol presides over the network’s longest surviving variety show, and Rock is the suave police commissioner in the high-rated McMillan and Wife. As Washington Star-News critic David Richards wrote: “If they had chosen the Yellow Pages or the Amana Home Freezer manual as a vehicle, I doubt it would have made one iota of difference.”
Before Washington, Carol and Rock broke a 32-year-old record gross at the Dallas Music Hall, and next week they move into the mammoth St. Louis Municipal Opera. Hudson, who had never acted, much less sung, on stage before I Do! I Do!, and raucous comic Burnett have affectingly brought off a chronicle of 50 years of marriage, originally created on Broadway by such formidable presences as Mary Martin and Robert Preston.
The biggest surprise was neophyte Hudson. When Carol, an old friend, asked him to join her in the show for a limited engagement in Los Angeles last year, he was easily persuaded. “I’ve always taken singing lessons and I still do. The reason I never did a musical is Universal,” Rock explains. “I was under contract so long there. They kept asking me what I wanted to do and I’d say a musical, but they never did put me in one.”
Carol, of course, came to I Do! I Do! from two personal stage successes in the past—Once Upon a Mattress and Fade Out, Fade In (which lasted on Broadway only as long as she starred in it). Then, too, her TV show is played live. When she sings the play’s wistful ballad, “What Is a Woman?”, as the wife enters middle age, eyes mist up throughout the audience.
Carol can only cope defensively with great notices and compliments. When told that she has great legs, she quips, “Gee, I’m glad I shaved them today.” The tour is pulverizing work. Besides the traveling, neither performer is offstage for more than a few minutes, and furthermore both must suffer local social and publicity functions. Burnett particularly seems to enjoy the grind.
At a riotous luncheon with the National Press Club in Washington, the two stars fielded questions like heads of state. After being introduced by Liz Carpenter, Mrs. Lyndon Johnson’s former press secretary, who said that Rock and Carol would be performing next door to Watergate, known as Nixon’s Center for the Performing Acts, Carol told the journalists she’d welcome the chance to play Martha Mitchell in the movies: “After all, I’ve always wanted a phone in the can.” Although much stiffer in such unrehearsed appearances, Hudson made a game try. His father wanted him to be a ballplayer, his mother a doctor, Rock admitted, so he compromised and became an actor. His mother, after seeing his first film, told Rock, “Save your money.”
Carol’s energy, enthusiasm and warmth come in large part, she claims, from yoga, which she discovered last fall after an enervating trip to Australia. “If you come to interview me when I’m 94,” she jokes, “you’ll have to visit me in Tibet.”
Although Rock is more aloof, he is also easily recognizable and quite gracious about signing autographs. Carol’s problem is easier. With her husband Joe Hamilton, who produced I Do! I Do! and is the mastermind behind her TV career, she and their three young daughters can unobtrusively visit the tourist sights. Says Carol: “This is a real vacation. If I put a scarf on my head and keep my mouth shut, nobody recognizes me.”
Though the movie rights to I Do! I Do! are no longer available, Carol and Rock hope to spring the property for a TV special. Both say they don’t want to tour with this show again next summer. Anything else then? Carol announces grandly, “Well, there is always Hamlet.”