Vicki Ann Lawrence (born March 26, 1949, sometimes credited as Vicki Lawrence Schultz) is an American actress, comedienne and singer. She is known for the many characters she originated on CBS’s The Carol Burnett Show where she appeared from 1967 to 1978, for the entire series run. One such character, The Family matriarch Thelma Harper/Mama, would later be the central character of the television situation comedy series Mama’s Family on NBC and, later, in first-run syndication.
In 1973, she became a one-hit wonder on the U.S. chart with “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”. It reached on both the United States and Canada top charts.
She is credited with co-authoring two books.
She has multiple Emmy Award nominations, winning one in 1976. She is also a multiple Golden Globe nominee, all for The Carol Burnett Show.
She has made multiple appearances in Television shows such as Laverne and Shirley, The Love Boat, Murder She Wrote, Roseanne, Diagnosis Murder and with friend and co-star Tim Conway in Yes, Dear. She most recently played Mamaw in Hannah Montana.
Lawrence has made numerous post-Mama’s Family guest TV show appearances in her famed Thelma Harper/Mama role. On February 5, 2013, Lawrence appeared as the character in a special sketch for “Betty White’s 2nd Annual 90th Birthday.” In addition, Lawrence regularly hosts a non-televised stage show titled Vicki Lawrence & Mama: A Two-Woman Show.
Lawrence was born Victoria Ann Axelrad in Inglewood, California, United States, the daughter of Anne Alene (née Loyd) and Howard Axelrad, a certified public accountant for Max factor, The family surname was legally changed to “Lawrence” when Vicki was young. She is a graduate of Morningside High School in Inglewood, class of 1967. Lawrence had originally planned on being a dental hygienist. She attended UCLA while on The Carol Burnett Show, and even changed her major to theater arts, but dropped out after two years.
In high school, Lawrence auditioned and got in to the musical group The Young Americans. She stayed with the group almost until the end of high school. By being with the group, she gained experience from touring, performing at the Oscars, coming in contact with noteworthy performers such as Johnny Mathis and Louis Armstrong, and performing on the Andy Williams Show.
In November of Lawrence’s senior year, she entered the Miss Fireball of Inglewood contest for the local fireman’s ball. A reporter for a local newspaper wrote a story about the contest and stated that Lawrence bore a striking resemblance to a young Carol Burnett. Being an avid fan letter writer, Lawrence’s mother urged her to write a letter, to which Lawrence included the newspaper article. After receiving the letter, Burnett found Lawrence’s father’s name in the phone book, called her and said she would go to see the Miss Fireball contest. Lawrence won the contest and Burnett was called to the stage to crown her. Coincidentally, Burnett was looking for an actress to play her younger sister on her upcoming show. After a few months and auditions, Lawrence got the part, specifically for playing Chrissy in the Carol and Sis sketches.
After being given the job on The Carol Burnett Show, both Burnett and Harvey Korman took Lawrence under their wing. Korman taught her various sketch comedy skills such as listening not just for a cue line and also coached her in other areas such as speaking in different accents. Lawrence has noted Korman and Burnett as her mentors and has referred to her experience on the show as the “Harvard school of comedy”. She is considered to be Burnett’s protégée. Lawrence has stated that she learned show business from Burnett and looked up to her very much and the two share a very close friendship.
Lawrence was married to singer and songwriter Bobby Russell from 1972 to 1974. Lawrence’s second husband is Hollywood make-up artist, Al Schultz, to whom she has been married since November 16, 1974, and with whom she has two children, Courtney Allison Schultz (born May 5, 1975) and Garrett Lawrence Schultz (born July 3, 1977). Lawrence and her family appeared on Celebrity Family Feud in July 2015.
Lawrence was diagnosed with chronic idiopathic urticaria (CIU) around 2011. She teamed up with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and has become the spokesperson for the campaign CIU & You. She appeared on The Doctors in 2015 to relay her story and talk about CIU and promote the CIU & You campaign.