There were countless memorable moments on Carol Burnett’s wildly popular 11-year variety show, The Carol Burnett Show. But few compare to Went With the Wind, a 1976 spoof of the 1939 film Gone With the Wind starring Vivien Leigh.
In particular, the dramatic appearance of Burnett’s green velvet drapery dress – complete with curtain rod and golden tassels intact – has gone down in TV history. In her 2016 memoir, In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox, Burnett revealed that costume designer Bob Mackie was actually the one who came up with the idea for the infamous dress all on his own.
‘Went With the Wind!’ was not originally going to feature the curtain-rod dress
In her memoir, Burnett described Mackie as a “brilliant and clever genius.” He designed up to 60-70 costumes per week for all 11 years of The Carol Burnett Show. He got the script for the following week each Friday, and he started working over the weekend to design the costumes.
Naturally, Mackie was also asked to design the outfits for Went With the Wind. In the Gone With the Wind parody, Burnett took on the role of Starlett O’Hara, a send-up of Scarlett O’Hara. Harvey Korman played Rat Butler, a spoof of Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler.
In one famous scene from the film, Scarlett visits Rhett in jail in a desperate attempt to seduce him to save her beloved Georgia plantation, Tara. With no money to buy her usual grand clothes, she wears a green dress made out of the lavish curtains from her crumbling estate.
At first, the sketch was simply going to feature Burnett draping the curtains over her shoulders in a satirical jab at the famous DIY dress.
“In our version I was to appear at the top of the stairs with the drapes hanging on me, while Rat waited below,” Burnett revealed. While she thought this was “funny enough,” Mackie had other, more elaborate plans.
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Bob Mackie came up with the idea for the legendary outfit
At Burnett’s fitting for the Went With the Wind sketch, Mackie announced, “I have an idea for the drapery bit.” The Carol Burnett Show star never forgot the first time she saw Starlett’s costume, which eventually became legendary – and which she still refers to simply as “the dress.”
“He brought out THE DRESS,” Burnett wrote. “It was a green velvet gown still attached to the curtain rod. It would fit across my shoulders, with golden curtain tassels at the waist. He had even made a hat out of the tassels.”
The comedian lost it. She “fell on the floor laughing” – and, predictably, so did the audience at that Friday’s taping, which immediately went down in TV history.
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Carol Burnett called the moment ‘one of the funniest in the history of television comedy’
The audience “went crazy” when Burnett, as Starlett, made her appearance at the top of the stairs in Mackie’s notorious dress on The Carol Burnett Show.
Indeed, Burnett admitted that she even had to bite her own cheek because she nearly fell out of character herself in response to the audience (a rarity for her). It immediately became iconic – and Burnett gave all the credit to Mackie.
“It has been called one of the funniest moments in the history of television comedy,” Burnett wrote in her memoir. “And it was all because of Bob.”
After The Carol Burnett Show ended, Mackie went on to enjoy plenty of ongoing success in the world of fashion and costume design. He designed dresses for Cher, Ann-Margret, Carol Channing, RuPaul, Judy Garland, Vanna White, Tina Turner, and many other legends. Mackie also won a Tony Award for Best Costume Design in 2019.
As for the Went With the Wind dress, it’s now housed in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.