The joke now seems as cruel — and as difficult to explain to millennials — as it seemed hilarious in the 1960s: A young, lithe woman, often in a miniskirt or less, stands onstage. She announces that it’s “sock-it-to-me time.” Then, she is hit with a bucket of water, or dropped through the floor, or otherwise clobbered in some form or fashion. Sure, Richard Nixon famously said the words — but he didn’t have his clothes ripped off.
“Sock it to me”: Television runs on catchphrases — consider the instant memories sparked by “De plane!” or “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” — but none seem as strange four decades later as the four words routinely uttered by actress Judy Carne on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” And now that Carne, who died at 76 last week reportedly of pneumonia, is gone, her derailed career and tragic life can have no other epitaph.
Born Joyce Audrey Botterill to a grocery-store owner in England in 1939, Carne’s training at the Bush Davies Theatrical School for Girls led to a spate of appearances on British television, as Variety reported. Her resume stateside was bolstered by appearances on such ’60s staples such as “Gidget,” “I Dream of Jeannie” and “The Patty Duke Show,” culminating in a starring role on the little-remembered “Love on a Rooftop,” (1966) which was canceled after one season.
Then, it was sock-it-to-me time: “Laugh-In” hit the airwaves in 1968. A representative exchange with the smirking Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.
Carne: All right, fellas. It’s about that time. Let me have it. I’m ready.
Martin: C’mon, Judy, open your eyes. There’s no sock it to me anymore!
Carne: There isn’t? You wouldn’t lead me on, would you?
Rowan: Why, of course not. Just once, fellas, let’s spare our blameless moppet from these unending indignities to which, Judy, I must say you have displayed amazing fortitude and endurance. You have held in there no matter what they’ve done to you. You’ve taken it all, never a whimper.
Carne: Dan, that’s really sweet of you. But the audience is getting bored.
(Carne is hit by a board.)
Carne: Well, at least it wasn’t water.
(Carne is hit with a bucket of water.)
Carne: I get it all now. It was all just a trap, wasn’t it?
(Carne is dropped through the floor.)
After a few decades, this didn’t seem funny anymore.
“And Laugh-In’s treatment of women?” Noel Murray of the Onion’s A.V. Club wrote in 2012. “Not exactly sterling, especially in the early seasons. Laugh-In featured a diverse cast of gifted female comedians: Carne, giggly ingénue Goldie Hawn, brash giantess Jo Anne Worley, fearless character actress Ruth Buzzi, Lily Tomlin, and more. But many of the show’s jokes involved the women being stripped, dropped through trapdoors, and depicted as boy-crazy. … Not until Tomlin arrived halfway through season three did Laugh-In have a woman in the cast who broke the show’s mold.”
In 1969, Carne offered a more concise assessment of the show that had her dancing in a bikini when it wasn’t pummeling her.
“Frankly, it has become a big bloody bore,” she said before leaving the show the next year.
Had Carne gone on to a storied career, like Hawn or Tomlin, her time as the “sock-it-to-me” girl might not seem worth mentioning. However, she quite spectacularly flamed out. A starring role on Broadway devolved into appearances on game shows and talk shows.
“Everyone wanted me to sock it to them everywhere I went,” she told People in 1978 — the same year she broke her neck in a car accident. “The role that made me nearly destroyed me.” (The People article’s headline: “Busted Three Times, Judy Carne Says Life Is Still Socking It to Her.”)
Busts for drug possession didn’t help her cause — nor did a reported drug-fueled affair with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. Between 1977 and 1978, Carne was arrested three times on charges that included drug possession and auto theft.
“We expect all charges to be dropped,” Carne — just 38 — said at the time. “But it’s painful that this has happened at a time when I’ve been trying to reestablish myself. Until I’m cleared, there is no chance of getting a job.”
As Burt Reynolds became a star, Carne arguably became best known as his first wife — the pair were married from 1963 to 1966. When she faced legal trouble in the late 1970s, however, her calls to Reynolds, then on top of the world after his appearance in “Smokey and the Bandit,” were not returned.
“At least he could have helped with the legal fees,” Carne said. “After all, I supported him when he was out of work, and I never asked for alimony.”
“She broke my heart, she really did,” Reynolds later said. “I’ve never said a bad word about Judy, but she’s made a great deal of money talking about me.”
In 1985, Carne wrote a biography detailing her short marriage to Reynolds, her bisexuality, and her drug addiction. Even the title was a downer: “Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside: The Bittersweet Saga of the Sock-It-To-Me Girl.”
“And, finally, after those celebrities have sold every used-up comedy line, or discount-shoe, or 15-minute stint on a cable talk show, or two-minute cameo appearance,” one Los Angeles Times reviewer wrote, “they go into their Emotional Ready Reserve, and — drawing on resources they never even legitimately had — sell the very last things in their lives: their memories and fabrications.”
The next year, she was sentenced to three months in jail for “for returning from the United States with cocaine and cannabis in her pocket,” as UPI put it at the time.
Carne’s last credit, according to IMDB, dates back to 1993.
“She was a bit of a recluse toward the end,” Jon Barrett, who confirmed her death to the New York Times, said.
“I’m a 1960s flowerchild who has refused to grow up,” she once said, as the Telegraph reported. “‘Mature’ and ‘responsible’ are words I don’t understand.”
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