A Girl Named Kathy
Over the years I have kept in touch with Carol Burnett. I would periodically send her letters letting her know how my family and I were doing. As I got older my letters to Carol Burnett became more personal as my interest in coincidences and crop circles began to unfold. One of the many reasons I have procrastinated and avoided finishing my book for so long, was how to convey Carol Burnett and what she meant to my family and in particularly me. Carol Burnett is as genuine and down to earth as you can get. After all that she has done for my family and myself, I did not want to embarrass or disrespect her. As my story continues you will learn all about the coincidences and crop circles as many other deeply personal and treasured moments and experiences. At this time currently in my life I have not corresponded with Carol Burnett in over ten years. I would still send her letters now and then but she no longer wrote back. Once you find out my entire story you and I both will understand that this distance between Carol and I was probably for the best. My life went off in a totally different direction than anyone would have imagined and it’s hard enough for me to grasp what has influenced me and led me to some of the bizarre and unusual conclusions I have come to in my life and in this book.
The latest most recent unusual thing to happen in my life was in 2010 when I became aware that Carol Burnett had just written a new book. Carol Burnett has become a well respected and prolific author over the years and for one reason or another I had never read any of her books. Many of her books are very personal and for some weird reason I didn’t have the nerve to learn more about her personal life. I felt that because I had been so close to Carol Burnett in my heart, I wanted to keep my distance. When I heard about Carol Burnett’s new book called, This Time Together/Laughter and Reflection it felt like an invitation. The title is a reference to the closing song she sang at the end of every episode of her Television show, The Carol Burnett Show.
I immediately went to the library and checked this book out. Since my book follows a timeline I will explain everything about this book and what it meant to me later on. In the meantime I want to share with you a chapter from This Time Together/Laughter and Reflection. The name was changed but the story is the same.
A Girl Named Kathy
We were just about ready to wrap up out eighth season in March 1975. It was our next-to-last week. I remember that Phil Silvers of Sgt. Bilko fame) and Jean Stapleton (Edith on All in the Family were our guest stars. It was Monday. We had just finished rehearsing and I was in my office getting ready to go home. Joe was working in his office with the writers and would join me later. I picked up my script, said goodnight to my secretary, Rae Whitney, and headed down the hall for the elevator. I pressed the down button and waited. Just as the doors started to open, Rae came running down the hall.
“Wait!” “What is it?” “You just got a call from a woman who would like you to phone her twelve –year-old daughter who’s in the hospital, dying of cancer. I wanted to give you the number, in case you’d want to call.”
She gave me the phone number of the hospital room and I entered the elevator.
I got home and went upstairs to the small room off the bedroom where I kept a writing desk , stationary, pens and a telephone. Reading the number Rae gave me, I found myself on the fence as to whether call or not. How should I sound? Upbeat? Sympathetic? I wasn’t sure what to do. I had always avoided requests like this because I never knew how to handle them. Sometimes I sent balloons or flowers but I never got close.
And yet…this was different. I didn’t know why, but suddenly I knew I had to make the call.
The phone rang on the other end of the line. A woman picked it up. “Hello?” “Hi. This is Carol Burnett, and I got a message to call Kathy.” “Omigod! Thank you so much. This is Kathy’s mom, Paula.”
“I can’t begin to tell you how much this will mean to her. She has been watching your show ever since she was a baby. “
“Is Kathy available to talk?”
“Oh my yes! She’s right here.”
I heard her whispering something. There was a bit of a pause, and then: “Hello?” The voice was faint and thin.
“Hi dear. This is Carol. I got your message to call you. I hope this is a good time for you.”
“Your mom tells me you watch our show all the time.”
“Do you have any favorite parts?
“I like it when Tim makes Harvey laugh, and when you’re the dumb secretary.”
“Yes.” She sounded breathy at this point, like talking was becoming too much of an effort. I had an idea.
“Kathy, can I talk to your mom?”
Paula came to the phone. “Thank you so much. Kathy’s thrilled.”
I asked her if Kathy was up to any kind of travel. “You see, we have a run-through of the show at three o’clock every Wednesday afternoon in a rehearsal hall at CBS – for the writers and the crew – and I was wondering if you could find out from Kathy’s doctor if it would be okay for her to attend. I could send a car to bring you and take you back. Do you think it would be possible?”
The doctor made it possible.
It was time for our Wednesday run-through. We were all gathered in the rehearsal hall getting ready to go through the week’s sketches and musical numbers. I kept looking at the door. It finally opened and there she was, along with her mother, Paula. Kathy was in a wheelchair. She was so very thin. She was bald. I ran over to them , hugged Paula, and bent down to give Kathy a kiss, but I could tell something was wrong. She was blind. Paula explained that it had happened just the day before.
I had only known Kathy for two days, but I felt my heart breaking. I couldn’t take my eyes off her beautiful little face. I kissed her and put her hands to my cheeks. Her fingers traced my features. I did my best to keep from crying. I didn’t want her to feel the tears that were welling up. Yet here was this extraordinary child, actually smiling. I put her hands in mine and felt a strange sensation, not unlike a small jolt of electricity: I know this child. I have been with her before, somewhere, somehow.
Joe came over, and I introduced him to Paula and Kathy. He was visibly shaken.
Then it was time for the run-through.
After a typical Wednesday rehearsal I would go upstairs to meet with Joe and the writers and talk about changes we needed to make. This time I told Joe I was going to stay in the rehearsal hall and visit with Kathy and her mom before it was time to get them back to the hospital. Joe wasn’t pleased, but he understood how I felt, and left me with them.
Paula told me that ever since Kathy was four and our show was on, she would walk over to the TV, point to me, and say, “That lady’s my friend…my friend!”
All I could think was, I know, I know.
She also said that Kathy was resigned to her fate. She told me that after she went bald as a result of chemotherapy, they were at the beach one day and some kids had teased her because of her lack of hair. Paula had chased them away , clearly upset. Kathy told her mother it was okay. “I’m not supposed to be here long. I’ve always known it. It’s okay.”
I walked them down to the waiting car and asked Paula to call me when they got back to the hospital to let me know how Kathy had held up.
She called around dinner time. “Kathy’s temperature went up slightly, but she’s been smiling and telling all the nurses what an exciting time she had. The doctor said it was good medicine.”
Thursday was camera blocking and music day. I couldn’t get Kathy out of my head (heart?). That night I went into my little office and put pen to paper.
I feel that I’ve known you before. Your mom told me that you’ve always felt a connection between us. I can believe it, because I felt the same way in the deepest part of my very soul the minute we met. Remember this: If you need me to be with you whenever the time comes, let me know and I’ll be there for you. Don’t forget. I’ll be there, Kathy. All my love, Your friend, Carol.
I folded the paper and tucked it away in a small drawer in my desk, knowing I would never mail it. I simply wanted to write my thoughts down and put them out there in the universe. It felt good.
On Friday we taped the show, and at the beginning, when I did the question-and-answer segment, I said hello to Kathy, which was my way of dedicating the show to her.
On the drive home that night Joe expressed his feelings about Kathy. He was worried that I was getting too close and might get hurt. I told him I couldn’t help it, that there was much, much more to this experience than met the eye. I said I didn’t know when it would be over but I was in it for the long haul- that much I knew. I also knew I wouldn’t get hurt. I felt that, somehow, this was one of the most important events of my life, and I should meet it head-on.
I talked to Paula on Sunday, and she said Kathy had been sleeping a lot but seemed to be comfortable.
We were all back at work on Monday for our final week of the season. Had it only been one week since Rae had given me Paula’s phone message?
Ken and MitzieWelch had put together a lovely medley of lullabies for Vicki and me to sing that week, ending with the familiar song, “Lullaby and Goodnight.” I said I wanted us to sing it into a tape recorder so I could send it to Kathy in the hospital. After we taped it, I called Paula to tell her I sending, via a limo service, the tape and the recorder down to the hospital for Kathy to listen to. That night she called me at home and said she put the recorder on Kathy’s pillow and that she had been listening to the medley all day.
We rehearsed the show all day on Tuesday. I was having trouble concentrating. That night at home I couldn’t eat anything. The weirdest feelings started to come over me. I actually felt my insides vibrating. Joe and I put our girls to bed, and I decided to turn in early.
I was still awake when Joe came to bed later, but I pretended to be asleep. I didn’t want him to know how revved up I was. All night my mind kept racing with the words, Hang on, Kathy…hang on Kathy…hang on, hang on, hang on, hang on, please hang on. I must have drifted off at some point, but I was still begging Kathy to hang on and when I looked at the clock at five in the morning.
Joe got up at eight and went to the office. Today was Wednesday, run-through day, one week to the day since I had met Kathy. My usual Wednesday began with costume fittings with Bob Mackie at ten, but I knew what I had to do. I had to drive down to the hospital to be with Kathy.
I called our associate producer, Bob Wright, and told him I wouldn’t be going to Mackie’s or rehearsing that day, but I assured him I’d be back in time for the three o’clock run-through, and we could fit costumes after that. Bob was concerned, and I asked him to please tell Joe and everyone else not to worry.
I left the house at ten. It would be a two-hour drive to the hospital. All the way down in the car, I kept talking to Kathy. Suddenly I felt an enormous presence in the car with me. I was not alone. And again my insides started to vibrate. ..
I got to the hospital at noon, ran into the waiting room area, and saw Paula there with her parents. Paula hugged me. “I knew you’d be here.” She introduced me to Kathy’s grandparents. I told Paula I could only stay until 1:00 because I had to be back for the run-through by 3:00. She took me down the hall to Kathy. I learned that she had slipped into a coma the night before. Kathy was in the ICU, hooked up to all kinds of tubes. I sat down beside the bed and held her hand. The tape recorder was lying on the pillow next to her ear. Paula pushed the play button and I could hear Vicki and me signing the medley.
“She’s been listening to it ever since it arrived. I know she can hear it now.” We sat there quietly for awhile. I looked at the clock on the wall: twelve-thirty. Since the ICU would let only two people in the room at the same time, when Paula brought her parents in, she and I went into the hall. I told her that I had written a letter to Kathy and that even though I hadn’t actually sent it, I felt she must have known what I had written, because of the overwhelming feelings that had engulfed me all night and in the car driving down.
I have always believed there is something more to this world than just us. I remember being four years old and lying on the grass in the backyard in San Antonio looking up at the clouds. I don’t know how much time passed before I felt my body merging with the sky and the ground. I was everything, and everything was me.
Things had come my way over the years that I didn’t exactly pray for but which had come to me in a sort of vision. I’d seen myself on campus at UCLA, and it happened. I’d seen myself living in New York, and it happened. I’d seen myself performing on Broadway for director George Abbott, and it happened. I always felt that I was somehow being looked after, that there was a Higher Power in and around all of us.
I saw myself being needed by Kathy and I wanted to embrace the connection between us.
I said to Paula, “I had to come.”
Kathy’s grandparents joined us in the hall for a couple of minutes before Paula and I went back into the room. I would have to leave very soon, even though I didn’t want to.
Paula and I sat on each side of the bed and held her daughter’s hands. The tape recorder was playing softly. It got to the end, Lullaby and Goodnight,” and Kathy breathed a long sigh. She was gone. I looked at the clock.
It was 1:00.
Higher Power filled the room.
What a touching and heartfelt memorial for Becky/Kathy. I have not been given permission to repost this chapter from Carol Burnett but I hope we can work something out. How special and unusual it is to have two accounts about Becky and Carol Burnett in print. I recently contacted Carol through email, to let her know how much this chapter meant to my family and myself but unfortunately I have not heard back from her.