Picks and Pans Review: Vicki! the True-Life Adventures of Miss Fireball

updated 07/10/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/10/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Vicki Lawrence with Marc Eliot

There's a Cinderella veneer to this bittersweet memoir. In 1966, Lawrence, an 18-year-old UCLA freshman still living at home in Inglewood, Calif., was discovered by a gangly fairy godmother named Carol Burnett. Impressed by Lawrence's song-and-dance finesse (she had just won the Inglewood Fire Department's Miss Fireball talent contest)—and amazed by their physical resemblance—Burnett tapped Lawrence to play her kid sister on the then-fledgling Carol Burnett Show. "My life changed forever," writes Lawrence, who dropped out of college to major in comic mayhem for the next 11 years, with Burnett, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway her nutty professors.

Still, as recounted by Lawrence and Eliot (author of Kato Kaelin: The Whole Truth), this Cinderella rode in coaches that kept turning into pumpkins—or Love Boats (where Lawrence, at 29, found herself adrift in guest shots once Burnett burned out in 1979). Vicki!, a talk show that promised to jump-start her career, was canceled in 1994. following rancorous disputes between Lawrence and her producers.

The rancor in Lawrence's family, meanwhile, recalls Mama's Family, a 1983-85 spinoff of the Burnett Show sketches in which Lawrence played the snarly matriarch of a painfully funny, dysfunctional southern clan. There's little to smile about here as she describes her uncommunicative father, Howard, an accountant; her emotionally abusive mother, Nettie; and her still-resentful younger sister Joni. All of them snubbed Lawrence's 1971 nuptials to Nashville singer-songwriter Bobby Russell, whose violent behavior led to divorce less than a year later.

Lawrence's Prince Charming is her second husband, Al Schultz, a Hollywood makeup man with whom she has a daughter, Courtney, 20, and son, Garrett, 17. Lawrence remains doggedly upbeat. "You have to know what you're worth," she sums up, "know when to fight for it, and know when to move on." Tartly put, but the reader is left with a decidedly sour aftertaste. (Simon & Schuster, $23)

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