Vicki Lawrence is proof that you don't have to act your age to be successful
In real life Vicki Lawrence was only in her 30s when Mama's Family premiered, but her character on the show was in her 60s.
Vicki Lawrence and her character, Thelma Harper, better known as Mama, had a few things in common. Age was not one of them.
At the time Mama's Family premiered in 1983, Lawrence was only 33 years old. Mama was in her 60s.
With the power of makeup, a wig and some dated clothing, Lawrence was transformed into Mama... an older woman with a Southern drawl and a deep love for her zany family.
Mama's Family began as a sketch on The Carol Burnett Show, with Lawrence as Mama, Carol Burnett as Eunice, Harvey Korman as Ed and Betty White as Ellen.
Originally, Burnett was going to play the role of Mama in Mama's Family, and Lawrence would have played the role of Eunice. A Mama's Family timeline we couldn't imagine today.
"I played a lot of older ladies on Carol's show," Lawrence said in a 1987 interview with Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "That was my job. I played the old ladies and Carol played the ingenues."
When the sketch was pitched on The Carol Burnett Show in 1973, no one on the cast thought it would be a hit... except for Burnett. Spoiler alert: she was right.
"It was also Carol's idea to give her(Mama) a Southern accent," she said. "The first sketch we did, Roddy McDowall was my son. Here in the midst of all these Southern accents was Roddy with an English accent. The first time we rehearsed it, the writers were horrified at the accents. They said we'd end up offending half the country."
But, they did it anyway.
Even though Lawrence had the acting experience to play any woman in her early 60s to mid-70s, according to the interview, she would have rather played someone closer to her own age.
"I don't think the American public would oppose seeing me as something else," she said. "It's hard to get this town to see me as anything else."
According to Lawrence, so many of the casting directors were younger. She said many of them would see her as an actress in her 40s or 50s, but in reality Lawrence had been acting since she was 18.
Playing the role of Mama may have made Lawrence seem older than she actually was, but the actress would go on to have a successful, long career in her 30s and beyond.
"People love the characters and the show because it reminds them of someone they know," she said. "Everybody knows someone like Mama or Eunice. It's like Archie Bunker. Everyone knew an Archie Bunker."