IF YOU GO
What: Life: Boomers & Seniors Expo.
When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 27; Vicki Lawrence stage show at 1 p.m.
Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza.
Tickets: $5 senior adults, $10 all others.
For tickets: Click here or visit the Times Free Press cashiers' counter, 400 E. 11th St.
Thelma Harper's got something to say about FEMA, illegal immigration and even Tom Cruise, and TV's opinionated old lady won't hesitate to share it.
Harper -- aka "Mama" to decades of television fans -- is the blue-haired, sharp-tongued, senior citizen created by actress Vicki Lawrence in the late 1960s while on "The Carol Burnett Show."
Lawrence will share the stage with her alter ego when the actress brings "Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show" to town on Aug. 27. The 90-minute comedy act will highlight the senior-adult Life expo at the Chattanooga Convention Center. The expo is sponsored by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
"Mama stays topical," Lawrence said in a telephone interview.
"She's a crazy old lady, so she can say whatever she wants. It's fun for me to be able to speak about all the things I'd never talk about, but she can. I think of her as my chance to be Chris Rock," the actress said.
"She talks about the government, how to fix the borders, BP oil spill and Tiger Woods. She talks about things in life that bother her, like women putting their makeup on in the car and toilets that flush automatically.
"And Arnold Schwarzenegger is driving her crazy!" Lawrence added with a chuckle.
Angela Doggett, Times Free Press events manager, said the expo will showcase more than 100 vendors offering visitors free health screenings as well as information on beauty and fitness, assisted living, financial planning, travel, insurance and home remodeling.
"Most all the vendors will have giveaways at their booths or the chance to sign up for raffles," Doggett said.
Lawrence will take the stage at 1 p.m. The actress said she will share her life's experiences with the audience during the first half of the show. Then she leaves the stage to return in character as Mama.
Lawrence said that Mama's appearance is the handiwork of Hollywood designer Bob Mackie.
"But if you were to put a picture of Mama next to my grandmother, it would be frightening. You'd see the family resemblance," Lawrence said, laughing. "My mom called me at one point and said, 'I think you take that woman way too seriously,' so I figured she must be hitting pretty close to home."
Lawrence has successfully re-invented herself and career as often as Madonna.
From 1965-67, she sang with the Young Americans musical group.
At age 24, Lawrence was introduced to America on Carol Burnett's variety show, where her flair for comedy led to five Emmy Award nominations and one win. During that time, she continued her singing career, notching a gold record in 1973 with "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia."
When Burnett's variety show ended, Lawrence and Mama got their own sitcom, which ran until 1985, then went into syndication.
Lawrence was one of the first women to break into the male-dominated genre of game-show emcees when she hosted "Win, Lose or Draw." She also hosted her own talk show, which was nominated for an Emmy in 1993.
Throughout three decades she has continued to act in sitcom guest roles ranging from "Laverne & Shirley" to playing Miley Cyrus' grandmother on Disney's "Hannah Montana."
Onstage, she has performed in a dozen musicals. She volunteers for the Humane Society, fundraises for widows and families of slain police officers in the Long Beach, Calif., Police Officers Association, and hosts Walk for the Cure in her hometown.
When not traveling with Mama's show, Lawrence crisscrosses the country speaking on women's rights. In 1988, she was the first female to be named Person of the Year by the Coalition of Labor Union Women.
With such a diverse career, what's left for the actress to accomplish?
"Learn how to work my iPad efficiently," she said.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...