"For God's sake don't say I'm giving up comedy," said Carol Burnett "I'm not. I'm adding layers to my experience."
Before last night's dinner party in the Kennedy Center atrium, a lot of the conversation dealt with the changing image of the popular comedienne, who plays Peg Mullen in "Friendly Fire," which will have its television debut Sunday night. "She looks like a Grant Wood painting," said one admirer, catching precisely the stark visual effect in her portaryal of an lowa farm wife who lost her son in Vietnam.
After the film preview, nobody had much of anything to say; it's not an experience to inspire chitchat. But before, Burnett and others who had seen it before were wery cocal about what the picture means.
On thing it means is that Burnett is no longer a specialist, although she intends to continue playing comic roles. "There's art in taking a pie in your face as much as in crying over a cat that has died," she said. She resisted the suggestion that the social protest element in her role means that she is moving into Jane Fonda's territory. "There's only one Jane Fonda," she said, "just as there's only one" (pausing a long time to pick a name) "Steve Martin. We'r all unique."
She added that she had played the role "from a maternal point of view," smiling at her daughter Carrie and her husband, Joe Hamilton, who accompanied her to the dinner.
A short conversation was interrupted repeatedly by admierers coming up to greet her-Roger Mudd, for example, giving her a hug and saying "I've wanted to meet you for a long time." Finally, she retreated behind a potted plant near the entrance to the atrium fora few minutes out of the spotlight, but she was spotted there, someone asked her what she was doing, andthe familiar Carol Burnett emerged.
"I'm talking into this," she said, pointing at the plant. "We think it's bugged."
The next major surprise for her fans will be coming out next fall, she said. "It's a love story '10th Month,' by Laura Z. Hobson. It's about an unmarried woman in her 40s who becomes pregnant and decides to have the baby."
Among the distinguished fans was Sargent Shriver, his hair longer and considerably more silvery than when he was running for vice president with George McGovern. "People who fought in Vietnam have been forgotten," said Shriver, "They'e been treated much more shabbily than other verterans." Asked whether he is doing anything for Vietnam veterans, he said, "No, there are 900,000 otherthings to do."
"If h did, I'd never see him," added Eunice Shriver. "You can't do everything."
Some of the Vietnam veterans who were att eh preview though that "Friendly Fire," together with such Vietnam-related films as "The Deer Hunger" and "Coming Home," mayasignal a changing attitude toward Vietnam in American public opinion.
Joseph Zengerle, counsel for the Council of Vietnam Veterans, noted that his organization had won approval for the proclamation of Vietnam Veterans' Week beginning May 28. "The American people are being awakened to the Vietnam experience as it was witnessed through the eyes of the veterans," he said.
Bob Muller, executive director of the organization, said that the country "is finally oming to terms with the Vietnam experience as tit affected families and others, beyond the immediate participants."
He added that the film "brought up a lot of emotions I've been working hard to move beyond-feelings that were dominant in my life years ago."
Martin starger, producer of the film, said that when he read the material originally in the New Yorkers, "I thought this could be a good television event-so much of the Vietnam war was perceived through television." CAPTION: Picture 1, Carol Burnett greets Eunice and Sargent Shriver; By Joe Heiberger-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Carol Burnett and her daughter, Carrie; by Joe Heiberger-The Washington Post