The Best of Everything

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from Carol Burnett's "This Time Together" (2010)

In the summer of 1962, I had my first contact with Joan Crawford. I was touring with my own live variety show...When I got back to New York, there was a letter waiting for me.  It had been forwarded from my agent's office. The envelope was handwritten, and when I turned it over to look at the back, there was a return address and a signature: "Joan Crawford." Joan Crawford?

I tore it open. The letter was also handwritten.

Darling Carol,

            I've read with great interest of your highly successful tour this summer. Congratulations! Ive been a fan of yours for a long time. It's always wonderful when good things happen to people you love.

Sincerely,

Joan

I was dumbfounded. Joan Crawford. Wow. I remembered all the times my grandmother Nanny and I had sat weeping through a Joan Crawford drama. She was a queen. 

I thought about answering her. I didn't want to seem forward, but I really wanted to express my gratitude for such a lovely letter. 

Dear Miss Crawford,

Thank you so much for your kind words. I was thrilled to hear from you. I'll save your letter forever!

Your fan,

Carol Burnett

A week went by. Another letter arrived.

Darling Carol,

I received your sweet letter. And I'm planning on saving it the way you're saving mine. Hope all is well and I send you much love, and please, no more of this "Miss Crawford" crap!

Yours,

Joan

Should I write back? I wasn't sure what to do. Okay. I decided, one last time.

Dear Joan,

Thank you for asking me to call you Joan. I'm most honored. I hope to meet you in person someday.

With love,

Carol. 

The following week:

Darling Carol,

I'm so glad you feel comfortable calling me Joan. I too hope we can meet in person someday! Life can be so short...but also wonderful. Don't you think so?

Love,

Joan 

I was at a loss. I didn't want to be rude, but I felt somewhat awkward having Joan Crawford as a pen pal. I relayed this to a few other people in the business, and heard back that Joan Crawford wrote lots of letters to lots of people. I just couldn't figure out where she found the time. 

A couple of years later, Joe and I (now married) went to the Four Seasons restaurant in New York for dinner. It was a beautiful room, at the center of which was (and still is) a large lighted shallow pool, with tables surrounding it. While the maitre d' was checking our reservation I looked around, and there at the nearest table, in a seat next to the pool, with three other folks, was...JOAN.

"Joe!" I whispered urgently. "There's Joan Crawford! What do we do?"

"What do you mean?"

"I never answered her last letter! Oh God, maybe she won't see us." Looking straight ahead, we made it past her table. Then we heard her voice.

"Carol?" We turned around. She stood up and reached across the table for my hand. I gave it to her.

"Hi, Miss Crawford."

"No, no, no! It's Joan!"

Introductions were made all around. She gave Joe and me a big hug. I felt better. She wasn't holding a grudge. We made our way across the room, where Joe and I were seated at a table for two next to the pool. The waiter handed out the menus. I glanced across the pool and saw Joan Crawford staring at me. I smiled and she blew a kiss to me.

"Joe, she just blew me a kiss."

"Well, blow one back."

I did, and she blew another one.

"Joe, it's like  the letters. We'll be blowing kisses all night."

Joe, ever the voice of reason, said, "Then don't look across the pool."

Right. Dinner came and went, and I hadn't once glanced across the pool. I finally sneaked a peek and saw that her table was being cleared by the busboy. Whew. I turned back to Joe and saw his eyes looking straight past my right shoulder and down at the floor. I turned around, and there was Joan Crawford next to my chair, on her knees.

"Carol darling, it's so wonderful to meet you in person after all these years."

"Thank you, Miss Crawford."

I looked around. Nobody seemed to notice.

"Please, get up."

She didn't. She just stayed there on the floor, on her knees.

"No, no, no! It's Joan!"

"Joan...please, please, get up..."

I'm fine right here."

She wasn't budging. She took my hand and put it to her cheek. "I'm so happy for this evening!" We told her that we were, too. Joe took her hand and helped her up. She gave him a dazzling smile.

Years later, on my variety show, we did a takeoff on Mildred Pierce (called Mildred Fierce) after Joan Crawford had won an Oscar for the role. Bob Mackie had outfitted me in a pinstriped suit with enormous shoulder pads, which was a brilliant recreation of her look in that movie. After our sketch aired, I got a letter from her: "I LOVED it! You gave it more production than that f--ing Jack Warner!" Thus began another round of correspondence...


Thanks to James Paul Amato for sending in this excerpt.