|First appearance||"Phillip's Visit" (Family sketch)|
|Last appearance||"Pomp and Circumstance" (voice only)|
|Portrayed by||Carol Burnett
Phyllis Franklin (in "Pomp and Circumstance")
|Nickname(s)||Eunie (by Ed)|
|Family||Carl Harper (father; deceased)|
|Children||Bubba Higgins(son)Billy Joe Higgins (son; mentioned inThe 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 a fictional character from the comedy sketch, The Family (featured on The Carol Burnett Show). Eunice was also featured in a film named after her in 1982, on CBS. This film starred Carol Burnett as Eunice, Ken Berry as Phillip, Eunice's well to do brother (later dumbed down as a locksmith renamed Vinton for the TV series), Harvey Korman as Ed Higgins, Betty White as Ellen Harper-Jackson, Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper (Mama), and Dick Clair as the voice of Carl Harper. The film takes the Harper family on a 23-year journey. Eunice was also featured, to a much lesser extent, in its spin-off television series, Mama's Family. Eunice was again played by Carol Burnett. Eunice made no appearances after Mama's Family left NBC, and moved to first-run syndication. However, she did once speak to Mama over the phone during the syndicated version of the show, but was voiced by Phyllis Franklin instead of Carol Burnett.
With a very stormy, irrepressible personality, Eunice is usually seen completely out of control and ranting on and on about something. The character is portrayed as a jealous antagonist in her appearances on Mama's Family, much more so than her appearances on The Family sketches. The final time the character is heard from was in the syndicated version of Mama's Family, in what was somewhat of a negative portrayal of the character as a bad mother: Eunice had called Mama and informed her that she couldn't make it for her son Bubba's high school graduation. She wouldn't even inform Bubba of this herself, hanging up the phone on Mama after she said she was going to give Bubba the phone.
Carol Burnett has said that Eunice is her favorite character from her show.
Writers Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon created the character Eunice 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.
Although she was featured most prominently on The Carol Burnett Show, and a subsequent television special called Eunice, the character wasn't always seen on Mama's Family. Eunice only appeared in seven episodes of the series. Carol Burnett played Eunice for only five of those episodes. The other two featured different actors playing Eunice as a child and a teenager.
The only connection to Eunice in the syndicated episodes was her son, Bubba Higgins, who had moved in with his grandmother after Ed and Eunice moved to Florida. Staying true to her rather selfish nature, Eunice failed to mention the potential move to Bubba, who was in juvenile hall, basically abandoning him.
This latest act of selfishness on her part earned her the wrath of her mother, who has vowed to kill Eunice on more than one occasion.
- ^ 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.
- ^ 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