Eunice Harper Higgins
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|First appearance||Family sketch episode "Phillip's Visit"|
|Last appearance||Mama's Family episode "Rashomama" (last seen played by Carol Burnett)
Mama's Family episode "Sins of the Mother" (last seen in general)
Mama's Family episode "Pomp and Circumstance" (last heard, portrayed in voice only)
|Portrayed by||Carol Burnett
Tanya Fenmore as a child version of Eunice (Mama's Family episode "Mama's Birthday")
Heather Kerr as a teenage version of Eunice (Mama's Family episode "Sins of the Mother")
Phyllis Franklin in a voice-only portrayal (Mama's Family episode "Pomp and Circumstance")
|Nickname(s)||Eunie (by Ed)|
|Family||Carl Harper (father; deceased)
Thelma Harper (mother)
Ellen Jackson (sister)
Vinton Harper (brother)
|Children||Bubba Higgins (son)
Billy Joe Higgins (son; mentioned in The Family sketches)
|Relatives||Fran Crowley (aunt; deceased)
Buzz Harper (nephew)
Sonja Harper (niece)
Tiffany Thelma Harper (niece)
Mary Beth Jackson (niece)
Eunice Higgins (née Harper) is the main character in the comedy sketch The Family played by Carol Burnett (featured on The Carol Burnett Show). Eunice was also featured in a CBS made-for-TV movie titled after her, which aired in 1982. The film starred Carol Burnett as Eunice; Ken Berry as Eunice's well-to-do brother, Philip (later dumbed down as a locksmith and renamed Vinton for the spin-off TV series); Harvey Korman as Eunice's husband, Ed Higgins; Betty White as Eunice's sister, Ellen Harper-Jackson; Vicki Lawrence as Eunice's "Mama", Thelma Harper; and Dick Clair as the voice of Eunice's father, Carl Harper. The film takes the Harper family on a 23-year journey.
Eunice was also featured, though to a much lesser extent, in The Family skit's spin-off sitcom, Mama's Family. There, the character was again played by Carol Burnett. Burnett would only play Eunice in five episodes of Mama's Family, all of which were in the first life of Mama's Family (originally on NBC). Four of Burnett's appearances were in season 1 (1983) while only one appearance was in season 2 (1983-1984). The final time Burnett played the character is in the 5th episode of the season 2 (ep. "Rashomama"), aired on November 3, 1983. In this episode, Mama is sent to the hospital, having been hit in the head with a stew pot. While this marked the final time Burnett played the Eunice character, it wasn't the last time the character was newly seen. The character made two more appearances, though as a child and a teenager in flashback episodes. Actress Tanya Fenmore played a young, child version of Eunice during the 19th episode of season 2 (ep. "Mama's Birthday). This marked the character's final appearance in the first life of the sitcom.
The Eunice character only makes one appearance in the second life of Mama's Family (originally in first-run syndication), the character's final appearance. The episode was a part of season 4 (ep. "Sins of the Mother"). In this episode, Heather Kerr played a teenage version of Eunice. While this is the final actual appearance of the character, Eunice is presented once more, but in voice only. This voice-only presentation of the character is in the final episode of season 4 (ep. "Pomp and Circumstance"). In this episode, Eunice spoke to Mama over the phone, voiced by Phyllis Franklin; here, Eunice was given somewhat of a negative portrayal as a bad mother. She called Mama to inform her that she couldn't make her son Bubba's high school graduation with little excuse as to why. She wouldn't even bother to talk to Bubba over the phone to congratulate him, rather just hanging up the phone on Mama.
Always layered in tattered and raggedy green rags, with a very stormy, irrepressible, and browbeating persona, Eunice was a character that was usually seen melodramatically out of control and ranting and raving. The character was portrayed as a jealous antagonist in her appearances on Mama's Family, much more so than her appearances on The Family sketches. Carol Burnett has said that Eunice is her favorite character from her show. Burnett did not appear at all in the first-run syndication version of the show due to her acrimonious 1984 divorce from Carol Burnett Show and Mama's Family producer, Joe Hamilton, who owned all the Mama's Family characters. Also, as revealed in Vicki Lawrence's autobiography, Burnett resented Lawrence for accepting the "Mama" role in first-run syndication as this was during her divorce from Hamilton. She held a grudge against Lawrence up until Hamilton's death in 1991.
Creation and development
Writers Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon created the Eunice character as part of a sketch the two would perform on TV variety shows in the 1960s. McMahon played Eunice and Clair played her brother. They later adapted the sketch for The Carol Burnett Show in 1973, and added the mother character (initially thinking Burnett would play the mother). Burnett added the Texas accent, in contrast to the original Midwestern accents that Clair and McMahon had created. Burnett said Bob Mackie's costumes helped her with her feel for the character.
Eunice and her family are from Raytown, USA. Eunice's mother is Thelma Harper, whom she sometimes refers to as "Old Lady." Eunice eloped with a hardware store owner named Ed Higgins. She is the second child. Her older sister is Ellen Harper and her younger brother is Vinton Harper.
When she was younger, she tried to run away from home to the nearby community of Bump, which was across the river from Raytown. Her desire is to leave Raytown, which she thinks of as a hick town, and to become a star, but her talent (or lack thereof) keeps her squarely in Raytown.
She envies her older sister Ellen's ability to do anything with ease, an ability she does not possess. She resents Ellen being the favorite of her mother, Thelma Harper.
Her relationship with her family in general, and Thelma in particular, is dysfunctional. She mockingly refers to Thelma as "Old Lady" (this same epithet was what Thelma had called her own mother).
Eunice is unhappy with her marriage. She views her husband, Ed, as a dolt and has called him a dumb cluck or a goon numerous times.
Eunice, in fact, was somewhat responsible for destroying her sister's marriage by spilling the beans about his extramarital affair with his secretary, named Peggy. The rest of the family, including incoming fiancee Naomi Oates (who married Eunice's younger brother, Vint, tries to spare Ellen unwanted pain and lies to her, but Eunice gleefully tells her and rubs it in her face.
When she comes in to help set up for the wedding, and after overhearing a story about how she made an absolute fool of herself at a Christmas pageant, she announces her usually unwelcome presence, "Hello everybody! Eunice is here! Untalented Eunice, unwanted Eunice, caterwauling Eunice! Monster Eunice is HERE!!"
Some people would call Eunice a dissembler, because of her ability to practically ruin and even destroy every family get-together. She instigates things by saying something totally hurtful and then all hell breaks loose and she enjoys the carnage. She also has the tendency to hold grudges, especially over slights, real or perceived. In essence, she never forgives or forgets.
At her brother Vinton "Vint" Harper's wedding to Naomi (at which she also serves her chili dogs, to Thelma's disgust), she keeps pestering both of them to sing "Oh, Promise Me". Finally, Naomi relents, albeit reluctantly, which overjoys Eunice, who gets what she wants, but then proceeds to turn the wedding into a shambles once she discovers that a certain sapphire ring her late father, Carl, owned, and that she had coveted for some time, was given to Vinton over her by Thelma. This infuriates the very short-tempered Eunice who vowed "Old Lady, this time you've gone too far!"
Seething, and having consumed several beers on the front porch, in a failed attempt to help cool herself off, Eunice proceeds to ruin the wedding by beginning her song, and then systematically savaging every single member of her family one by one, but aiming her harshest remarks at her mother and, of course, her sister, Ellen. She even told her nephew and niece, Vinton "Buzz" Harper, Jr. and Sonja Harper, "Why don't you go soak your heads in Clearasil!"
Vinton and Naomi aren't spared her harsh tongue either, because Eunice calls Vint "Tinker Bell" and Naomi a "recycled bride", which angers both of them and almost provokes a fistfight between the sisters-in-law.
Finally having had enough of her insolence and nastiness, Thelma orders Ed to carry her out of her house, which he does leaving with "Many happy returns!" while Eunice screams and rants and raves at them all, "I'll never forgive you for this! Never!" She always wants the spotlight on herself, and usually throws a temper tantrum whenever she fails to get her own way, which was often.
Another incident in which she tries to get her way—and fails spectacularly—is with a young man named Duke Reeves. Eunice harbors a serious crush on him, despite the fact that he is with another girl named Penny Perkins. The oblivious Eunice, who doesn't believe that her Duke is with someone else, feels that he is the true love of her life, and that he had come to listen to her singing at a mother-daughter banquet, in which her mother had lied to the head of the banquet to get Eunice on the program at all, because she had whined and begged to have her way. Not to mention that Thelma also lied in saying that Eunice had a beautiful voice, when her singing voice was terrible.
While at a picnic with some rich friends, Eunice got drunk on a few beers. She arrived at the Mother-daughter banquet, and was ordered to sit at a table to drink a lot of coffee and sober up. Then Thelma angrily ordered Duke to never see her daughter again. Eunice had discovered this, and was extremely angry. During their song, "Mother", she and Thelma got into a violent argument while on stage, and embarrassed themselves quite thoroughly.
Even though she has been married to Ed most of her adult life, Eunice always bemoans the fact that she should have married Duke Reeves. She still says that he is the true love of her life, a statement which usually angers Ed.
A fine example was during a birthday party for Eunice at the Bigger Jigger bar (the "Cellmates" episode of "Mama's Family"), in which she bemoans that she should have been married to Duke Reeves, who, by this time, was a Congressman, and discovered that Thelma had driven him away for her own good. Eunice never forgave her mother for this, and the two began to argue again. This time, Eunice decked a cop, and then Thelma decked another cop. They were thrown into jail for this. While in jail, Eunice and Thelma were still squabbling over Duke Reeves, as a prostitute named Scarlett told both of them to bury that issue.
Meanwhile, Ed, despite Eunice's rants that she should have married Duke Reeves, still loved her and her mother enough to bail them out of jail.
- McLean, Robert A. (March 14, 1982). "A New Special from Carol Burnett: Reprise of her popular 'Eunice' role strikes a universal chord", The Boston Globe.
- Shales, Tom (March 15, 1982). "Too much 'Eunice'", The Washington Post, p. C11.
- Findlay, Prentiss (February 8, 1998). "Live show keeps edge on comedy", The Post and Courier.
- "Humor Helps Carol Burnett Cope - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
- "Vicki!: the true-life adventures of Miss Fireball - Vicki Lawrence, Marc Eliot - Google Boeken". Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-03-01.
- Horowitz, Susan (1997). Queens of comedy: Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers, and the new generation of funny women. Routledge. pp. 77–78. ISBN 2-88449-243-7
- Burnett, Carol (2011). This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection. Random House. p. 88. ISBN 0-307-46119-X
- Marc, David (1997). Comic visions: television comedy and American culture. John Wiley & Sons. p. 184. ISBN 1-57718-003-8