Vicki Lawrence Schultz (born Victoria Ann Axelrad on March 26, 1949 in Inglewood, CA) is an American Actress, Comedienne, and Singer. She is best known to TV audiences for her portrayal of Harper family matriarch Thelma Crowley Harper on the NBC/syndication sitcom Mama's Family from 1983-1990. She is also very well known to Game Show audiences for her appearances as a celebrity guest on multiple adaptations of the Pyramid Game Show as well as the host of the daytime version of Win, Lose or Draw from 1987-1989.
Born Victoria Ann Axelrad in Inglewood, California. The daughter of Anne Alene (née Loyd) and Howard Axelrad, a certified public accountant for Max Factor. The family surname was legally changed to "Lawrence" when Vicki was young. In high school, she auditioned and got in to the musical group The Young Americans. She stayed with the group almost until the end of high school. By being with the group, she gained experience from touring, performing at the Oscars, coming in contact with noteworthy performers such as Johnny Mathis and Louis Armstrong, and performing on The Andy Williams Show.
Vicki graduated from Morningside High School in Inglewood in 1967. She had originally planned on being a dental hygienist. In November of her senior year, she entered the Miss Fireball of Inglewood contest for the local fireman's ball. A reporter for a local newspaper wrote a story about the contest and stated that Lawrence bared a striking resemblance to a young Carol Burnett. Being an avid fan letter writer, Vicky's mother urged her to write a letter, to which Lawrence included the newspaper article. After receiving the letter, Burnett found Lawrence's father's name in the phone book, called her and said she would go to see the Miss Fireball contest. Vicky won the contest and Burnett was called to the stage to crown her. Coincidentally, Burnett was looking for an actress to play her younger sister on her upcoming show. After a few months and auditions, Lawrence got the part, specifically for playing Chrissy in the Carol and Sis sketches.
After being given the job on The Carol Burnett Show, both Burnett and co-star Harvey Korman took Lawrence under their wings. Harvey Korman taught her various sketch comedy skills such as listening not just for a cue line and also coached her in other areas such as speaking in different accents. Vicky has noted both Korman and Burnett as her mentors and has referred to her experience on the show as the "Harvard school of comedy". She is considered to be Burnett's protégée. Lawrence has stated that she learned show business from Burnett and looked up to her very much and the two share a very close friendship.
She attended UCLA while appearing on The Carol Burnett Show and even changed her major to theater arts, but dropped out after two years. Lawrence was a part of the series from it's premiere in 1967 to it's end in 1978. She was the only cast member, except for Burnett herself, who stayed on the show for the entire eleven seasons. After The Carol Burnett Show ended in 1978, Lawrence and her husband Al Schultz uprooted their family to Maui, Hawaii, but returned to Los Angeles a couple years later.
Vicki is also an accomplished singer and got her start as one of the scores of hopefuls on the syndicated Johnny Mann's Stand Up And Cheer program. However, she is most known for her #1 hit, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, a song written by her first husband Bobby Russell, which was released on Bell Records in November 1972. Selling two million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in April 1973. During the season six finale episode of The Carol Burnett Show (airing on March 24, 1973), Lawrence received her gold record by surprise from Carol Burnett. Her first LP, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia was issued soon after the single went gold in April, 1973.
Following The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, Lawrence did a follow-up titled He Did With Me in November 1973, it reached #75 in the United States but reached #1 in Australia. She followed it up there with Ships in the Night in 1974 and a year later, in the fall of 1975, Lawrence managed one last minor U.S. chart entry on the Private Stock label with The Other Woman reaching #81. She released a disco album entitled Newborn Woman late in 1979. The album produced the minor disco hit Don't Stop the Music.
One of the characters Lawerence has portrayed on The Carol Burnett Show (in sketches titled The Family) was Thelma Crowley Harper, nicknamed "Mama". The character was a hit with TV audiences and was so popular that NBC subsequently created the sitcom titled Mama's Family, elaborating on the Mama character, debuting on January 22, 1983. Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman both reprised their Carol Burnett Show characters on Mama's Family from time to time during the first season. After several timeslot changes and subsequent drop in ratings, NBC cancelled the series with the final episode airing on April 7, 1984 and reruns airing until September 1985. Mama's Family was able to breathe new life in syndication beginning on September 27, 1986 to even higher ratings. The show continued on until it's end on February 24, 1990.
Vicki is also very well known to TV Game Show audiences, she has appeared as a celebrity guest on multiple versions of Pyramid, as well as Password and its revivals Password Plus & Super Password, Match Game, Body Language, and Hollywood Squares both as herself and her character Thelma "Mama" Harper.
From 1987 to 1989, she hosted the daytime version of Win, Lose or Draw which earned her two Daytime Emmy Award Nominations for Outstanding Game Show Host in 1988 (lost to Bob Barker) and 1989 (lost to Alex Trebek).
Vicki also hosted her own self-titled daytime talk show Vicki! which ran for two seasons (from 1992 to 1994) and earned three Daytime Emmy nominations for Outstanding Talk Show Host in 1993, 1994, and 1995 (she lost all three times to Oprah Winfrey).
Some of Vicki's other TV appearances include guest starring roles on shows such as The Love Boat, Murder She Wrote, Roseanne, and five memorable appearances on Laverne & Shirley as the girls' drill sergeant, Alvinia T. Plout.
Lawrence has also made numerous post-Mama's Family guest TV show appearances in her famed Thelma Harper/Mama role. On February 5, 2013, she was part of Betty White's then-90th birthday celebration appearing as the character in a special sketch for Betty White's 2nd Annual 90th Birthday In addition, she tours the country with her "two-woman" shows with the first half as herself and the second half as Thelma "Mama" Harper. She can also be currently seen on TV in an infomercial for the "Big Boss Grill". She is also known for her voice-over work as "Flo" on the animation series Hermie and Friends.
Vicki has married twice. First to singer and songwriter Bobby Russell from 1972 to 1974. She in now married Hollywood make-up artist, Al Schultz, since November 16, 1974 and together they have two children, Courtney Allison Schultz (born May 5, 1975) and Garrett Lawrence Schultz (born July 3, 1977). Lawrence and her family appeared on Celebrity Family Feud in July 2015.
In 2011, she was diagnosed with chronic idiopathic urticarial. She later teamed up with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and has become the spokesperson for the campaign CIU & You. Recently, she has made an appearance on The Doctors to relay her story and talk about CIU and promote the CIU & You campaign.