I had the pleasure of seeing Carol Burnett live this evening. It was an informal set-up where she stood on stage, shared some of her favorite clips from her show, took questions from the audience, told funny stories and touching stories and was, in a word, magnificent. She was genuinely engaged with the audience, endearing, and witty.
I was struck at several times during the show about the role letters had played in her life and the lives of her fans. Two people stood up during the night to tell Carol that they had written her letters years before and that she had written them in return. They could have asked her anything while they had that microphone, and they chose to express their gratitude for her letters, saying how much they had meant. One man said he’d passed her a note after a show in 1985, reaching out to her because she, like he, had alcoholic parents. He thought she might be able to relate some wisdom to help him get through a tough period. And apparently she did, through a letter. When she asked his name, and he said it, she remembered him! They had apparently exchanged Christmas cards for a couple of years after his initial note.
She also discovered Vicki Lawrence through a letter. Vicki, then a high school student, wrote Carol a letter inviting her to a “Miss Fireball Pageant” in which Vicki was competing. Carol said the letter had taken three weeks to get through the studio mail process, so she received the letter the day of the event and decided–what every star does when she gets a request from a random high-schooler–to go to the event! Vicki won the competition and apparently made an impression. A few years later when Carol got her own variety show and they wanted to cast a young woman, they sought Vicki out…all because Vicki reached out through a letter.
These little stories showed two things. One, Carol Burnett is a remarkable woman with great empathy and the abilty to meaningfully connect to random strangers. Two, the power of letters to share thoughts, build connections, and open doors is very real. Letters are sneaky–they can connect you, a mere mortal, to famous people, people with power, strangers on the other side of the world.
Have you ever sent mail to someone famous? Did you receive a reply?