On November 7, 1976, Gone with the Wind was shown on television for the first time, attracting a record 65 percent of the nation’s total TV audience to NBC. One week later, the classic film inspired another monumental TV event, this time on CBS: The Carol Burnett Show’s parody, “Went with the Wind.” On December 3, the network aired a tribute to the show’s 50th anniversary, reuniting Burnett with cast members Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner, and costume designer Bob Mackie. High on the list of reminiscences: the show’s hilarious GWTW spoof.
Burnett wanted to present a condensed version of the four-hour film. Incidentally, one of the show’s writers, Rick Hawkins, had completed his thesis on Gone with the Wind. “He knew every scene,” Burnett told the Associated Press earlier this year. In the sketch Hawkins and fellow writer Liz Sage wrote, Burnett portrays Starlet O’Hara, a tempestuous Southern belle in love with Brashly (cast member Tim Conway), who is—to Starlet’s dismay—married to his cousin, Melody (guest star Dinah Shore).
“Went with the Wind” instantly made comedy history. The studio audience’s laughter when Starlet appears at the top of “Terra” plantation’s curved staircase wearing Bob Mackie’s iconic curtain-rod dress was the longest-sustained in the show’s eleven-year run; and, according to some sources, one of the biggest laughs ever on TV. In 1999, TV Guide named “Went with the Wind” the second-funniest TV moment of all time. (Its number-one pick? Johnny Carson pretending to eat a guest’s collectible potato chip on a 1987 episode of The Tonight Show.) Mackie’s ensemble is even on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian.
How did Burnett keep a straight face during the sketch—especially when delivering its most famous line? “Well I bite my lower lip a lot,” she told CNN’s Larry King in 2003. “If you really look, you see I’m about to go. I came down those stairs and a lot of the crew had not seen that outfit, and then the audience, of course, went crazy, ’cause that’s one of the greatest sight gags ever. I really had to steel myself to say, ‘Thank you. I saw it in the wind-uh and I just couldn’t resist it.’”
“It was very hard not to laugh,” Burnett told King, “but I made it.” Fortunately for us, trying not to laugh is not a problem. Enjoy a look back—and a giggle—with the clip below.