If you’ve ever seen an episode of The Carol Burnett Show, you may remember the actress’ signature ear pull during her goodbye song. It’s easy to mistake this motion as Burnett simply resting her head on her palm, but it turns out there’s a sweet story behind her signature sign off.
The first time Burnett tugged her ear on screen was in 1955 when she made her television debut on The Paul Winchell Show. It was her way of saying “Hi” to her grandmother, Mabel, who was watching at home in a way that wouldn’t upset the producers at NBC. “My grandmother (Nanny) raised me out here in Hollywood. When I got my first job back in New York, I called her and I said ‘Nanny, I’m going to be on television Saturday morning.’ She said, ‘Well, you gotta say hello to me.’ We figured this out — to pull my ear — and that was my signal to her,” she explained during an acceptance speech in 2017 for the The Colleagues Champion of Children Award. “It always meant ‘Hi Nanny. I’m fine. I love you.’ Later it meant, ‘Hi Nanny. I’m fine. I love you. Your check’s on the way.'”
Burnett maintained the tradition of pulling at her left ear at the end of every episode even after her grandmother died in 1967 — a testament to the pair’s loving bond. You can still spot the actress sending messages to her grandmother at award shows and during interviews. In fact, Burnett’s trademark tug was even the subject of a joke at the 75th Golden Globe Awards. Jennifer Aniston and Burnett were announcing the nominees for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series, Musical or Comedy when Aniston cheekily asked to pull her co-host’s ear. The comedian, of course, obliged.
Hearing the heartwarming story behind Burnett’s ear pull only makes us adore the actress even more!