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WHY SHOULDN'T TV'S QUEEN OF COMEDY BECOME A MAJOR MOOOOVIE STAR?

When I interviewed Carol Burnett for The New York Times in 1977, she wasn't all that thrilled by her movie track record, but she had high hopes for "A Wedding," the Robert Altman film she was about to start shooting. That comedy-drama turned out to be a disappointment, even though Burnett's perfrormance was strong and memorable. I think the best is yet to come. --Guy Flatley

Picture Carol Burnett as the mother of the bride, a nouveau riche matron nervously straining to make an elegant impression on the equally wealthy mother of the groom. Picture her, at the peak of her frantic posturing, turning blush-cheeked, jelly-kneed and girlish when the magnetic stranger, who has been devouring her with his eyes all during the wedding reception, steals over to her and huskily whispers to her, "I want you to know I’ve fallen in love with you."

Picture that and you will know how Miss Burnett will be spending her summer vacation, beginning June 15. That’s the day she’ll scurry off to a classy Chicago suburb, and a brief encounter with a roly-poly Casanova – all part of the plot of Robert Altman’s new seriocomedy, "A Wedding."

"There’s no hanky-panky between us," Miss Burnett said, "but I do fantasize. It’s a very heavy flirtation that frees me and shocks me, because I’ve never done such a thing before. And, to top it off, the guy’s married to Dina Merrill, so he’s got to be cracked. As it turns out, he does this sort of thing all the time."

Acting in the movies is not the sort of thing Miss Burnett does all the time. When asked to glance back 14 years to the first of her three films – a droopy Dean Martin frolic called "Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?" – television’s foremost funny-woman gasped and then unleashed a howl of laughter.

"Say my comment on that movie was a howl of laughter."

What about her more recent foray into film, "The Front Page"?

"Say my comment on that was a howl of laughter," she repeated. "I didn’t even want to see it because I knew I was terrible in it, and what’s the point in opening a wound? But it turned out to be the movie showing on the plane when my husband and I were going on vacation. I was a captive audience, unless I wanted to jump out over Omaha. After the film, I borrowed the stewardess’s loudspeaker and said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is Carol Burnett. I didn’t know that movie was going to be shown on this flight, and I would like to apologize.’ I felt so cleansed! Then, some very nice people came up and told me they enjoyed me in the movie, but they enjoyed me after the movie more. Actually, I enjoyed the movie, too; I just didn’t enjoy that woman who kept running in and out of it, the one who never stopped yelling."

Any yelling Miss Burnett does next week is likely to be on the stage of the Huntington Hartford Theater in Los Angeles, where – starting Tuesday – she will be Dick Van Dyke’s longtime clandestine lover in "Same Time Next Year."

"I’m most comfortable when I’m playing to a live audience," she said. "We tape our television show that way, and I’m always so surprised when movie people come on the show and say they don’t think they can do it, because the audience scares them. With me, it’s just the opposite. I’m scared on a movie set, playing to that camera.

"I’d like to be loose and adventurous in front of the movie camera, and not to play it so close to the vest," said Miss Burnett, who plans to follow "A Wedding" with "Two Gals From Topeka," a musical in which she’ll play Glenda Jackson’s identical twin. "After all, I go into my television show without knowing what the heck I’m doing. That’s why I’m eager to do a movie with Robert Altman, even though I haven’t seen a script. From what I’ve heard, he likes to work the way I like to work. I like sticking my neck out, even if it gets chopped off. Working with Mr. Altman will be like going to summer school. I hope I get an A."