At 65, comedienne and veteran actress Carol Burnett can still belt out a lusty Tarzan call and get a lunchtime crowd laughing without a working script.
Even when she's "just answering questions from the audience. No plants!" she entertains.Tuesday at the Sundance Resort Tree Room, Burnett reaffirmed her ability to create chuckles effortlessly as she told stories about biting her lip so she wouldn't crack up working with Tim Conway, recruiting Vicki Lawrence from the Miss Fireball contest and creating a real-life success out of her childhood fantasies.
"I could visualize it, being in New York on a Broadway stage, being directed by George Abbot. I saw it and I'll be damned if that didn't happen," Burnett said. "I do believe there is a force, a God, however you wish to understand it. If you believe, things open up."
Burnett said she learned to love the fantasy world of show business as a child when her grandmother would even take her out of school to see eight movies a week.
She said she got into show business because she wanted to get out of her real self.
"I was really shy. I was really quiet and got good grades. I had no personality," she said. "I would come home from the movies with my grandmother and go into my room and pretend to be Betty Grable or Tarzan.
"We were on welfare. The fantasy saved me."
Burnett said it was easier in the '40s era because movies were pipe dreams and had less to do with reality than they do now.
"Nowadays, it's really tough. People are more cynical."
Her grandmother's love was unquestioned, said Burnett, and probably played a large part in her success.
But mostly, she learned and believed she could do anything.
"I never thought that I couldn't do what I set my mind to. We're not supposed to be frightened," she said. "Be open. Pray to yourself. Work through the barriers."
Burnett said wannabe performers need to have the "burning in the gut" that demands fulfillment. They need to practice the craft, find ways to get up in front of people and be unafraid to "go for it" in a big way.
However, when years have gone by without success in a particular direction, perhaps one ought to rethink the goal, she advised. "If it ain't happening after a few years, well . . . ?" she said.
Burnett said her secret to aging gracefully, "besides having a good doctor," is to keep vitally interested in what's going on in the present and in doing different kinds of things.
She's currently finishing up a two-week workshop at Sundance that included working on the screenplay of her memoirs, "One More Time," with her writer/daughter Carrie Hamilton and the performance of "Love Letters" in Salt Lake City and on the Sundance Eccles stage. She is doing a musical in Los Angeles in the fall and directing a student production of "Once Upon a Mattress" at UCLA this winter.
"The main thing is, I make sure that it's fun," she said. "I make the best of it. In some way, in my mind, I find a way to make whatever I'm doing be fun. That helps me tremendously."