10 things you might not know about Vicki Lawrence

Top images: The Everett Collection

Ya'll know her, of course, as Thelma Harper, but the multitalented Vicki Lawrence is far more than Mama. The comedian is also a chart-topping pop singer, game show host and talk show host. Born Victoria Ann Axelrad, Lawrence kicked off her career at a precocious age.

She joined a musical group in high school and would have perhaps become a dental hygienist had she not resembled a certain television icon.

We begin there…


She was discovered at the age of 17 thanks in part to her haircut.

While a senior in high school, Lawrence entered the Miss Fireball contest hosted by the local fire department in her hometown of Inglewood, California. A newspaper reporter covering the event noted that Lawrence, sporting a fresh haircut, bore a striking resemblance to Carol Burnett. Lawrence sent the newspaper clipping to Burnett along with a fan letter. Burnett phoned a speechless Lawrence and told her she wanted to come watch the Miss Fireball contest. Pregnant at the time, the celebrity did indeed sneak in to watch Lawrence and the rest is history.

Image: The Everett Collection


She was in the only movie that had to give back its Oscar.

Lawrence was a member of the Young Americans, a non-profit choral group based in California. A film about the group won the Academy Award for best Documentary Feature in 1969. However, after the Academy realized the film had been shown in October 1967, it was deemed ineligible after the fact. The director had to return the Oscar.  A teenage Lawrence appears in the movie.

Image: Columbia Pictures via topicstock


She was the youngest cast member of 'Mama's Family' aside from the grandkids.

Speaking of Lawrence's young age, you might not believe that the actress was younger than most of the principal Mama's Family cast. Despite playing the elderly matriarch, Lawrence was younger than Ken Berry, Dorothy Lyman, Beverly Archer, Rue McClanahan, Betty White, Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman. Only the actors who played grandkids Bubba, Buzz and Sonja were younger.

Image: The Everett Collection


She attended UCLA while on 'The Carol Burnett Show.'

In the early years of the variety show, Lawrence continued her education on the side. She eventually had to drop out of college due to time commitments, but she was later quoted as saying, "I went to UCLA, my dad's alma mater, and that was his dream."

Image: The Carol Burnett Show via YouTube


Cher was originally meant to sing her hit, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia."

The 1972 song, written by her then husband Bobby Russell, proved to be a massive smash for Lawrence, climbing to the top of Billboard's Hot 100. We can all thank Sonny Bono for that. The song was first sent to Cher to sing, but Bono vetoed the tune, believing it would offend and alienate Cher's Southern fan base.

Image: Bell Records


Her single "He Did With Me" went to No. 1 in Australia.

While Lawrence is considered a one-hit wonder of the music world here in America, she was quite the rock star Down Under. Her follow-up single after "Georgia" was "He Did With Me," which hit No. 1 in Australia, becoming her biggest success in the country.

Image: Stateside Records via Discogs


She released a disco album in 1979.

Sticking with her music career for a moment, let's call attention to Newborn Woman. This funky, forgotten platter sported an album cover that featured Lawrence's eyes hatching out of an egg in the clouds.

Image: Windmill Record Company via soundfinder


She was a drill sergeant on 'Laverne & Shirley.'

In season five of the sitcom, Laverne and Shirley join the Army, wherein they are drilled by Sgt. Alvinia T. Plout. With her cropped, darkened hair, Lawrence was somewhat unrecognizable in the riotous role. She would appear in a handful of episodes as the character.

Image: The Everett Collection


The set of her 'Win, Lose or Draw' was modeled after Burt Reynolds living room.

Lawrence was the first host for NBC's Pictionary-like game show, from 1987–89. So why was its set built to look like Burt Reynolds' living room? Burt & Bert Productions, his partnership with Bert Convy, produced the series.

Image: Buena Vista Television via laughingplace


She played Hannah Montana's grandma.

Here's your link between Mama and Miley. Lawrence showed up as Hannah Montana's grandmother, Mamaw Ruthie, in a few episodes of the Disney series. Perhaps they should have called it Mamaw's Family.

Image: Eric McCandless/Disney Channel via TV Guide