Carol Elaine Channing (born January 31, 1921) is an Americansinger, actress, and comedienne. She is the recipient of three Tony Awards (including one for lifetime achievement), a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. Channing is best remembered for originating, on Broadway, the musical-comedy roles of bombshell Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and matchmaking widow Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly!
Channing was born in Seattle, Washington, the only child of George and Adelaide (née Glaser) Channing. Her father was a city editor at the Seattle Star; his newspaper career took the family to San Francisco when Carol was only two weeks old. Her father later became a successful Christian Science practitioner, editor, and teacher. Carol attended Aptos Middle School and Lowell High School in San Francisco. At Lowell, Channing was a member of its famed Lowell Forensic Society, the nation’s oldest high-school debate team.
According to Channing’s memoirs, when she left home to attend Bennington College in Vermont, her mother informed her that her father, a journalist who Carol had believed was born in Rhode Island, had in fact been born in Augusta, Georgia, to a German-American father and an African-American mother. According to Channing’s account, her mother reportedly didn’t want [Channing] to be surprised “if she had a black baby”. Channing kept this a secret to avoid any problems on Broadway and in Hollywood, ultimately revealing it only in her autobiography, Just Lucky I Guess, published in 2002 when she was 81 years old. Channing’s autobiography, containing a photograph of her mother, does not have any photos of her father or son. Her book also states that her father’s birth certificate was destroyed in a fire. (The November 4, 2002 issue of Jet magazine reported, based on her autobiography, that Carol Channing’s father was African-American.)
Channing was introduced to the stage while working for her mother. In a 2005 interview with the Austin Chronicle, Channing recounted this experience:
“My mother said, ‘Carol, would you like to help me distribute Christian Science Monitors backstage at the live theatres in San Francisco?’ And I said, ‘All right, I’ll help you.’ I don’t know how old I was. I must have been little. We went through the stage door alley (for the Curran Theatre), and I couldn’t get the stage door open. My mother came and opened it very well. Anyway, my mother went to put the Monitors where they were supposed to go for the actors and the crew and the musicians, and she left me alone. And I stood there and realized – I’ll never forget it because it came over me so strongly – that this is a temple. This is a cathedral. It’s a mosque. It’s a mother church. This is for people who have gotten a glimpse of creation and all they do is recreate it. I stood there and wanted to kiss the floorboards.”
Channing’s first job on stage in New York was in Marc Blitzstein‘s No For an Answer, which was given two special Sunday performances starting January 5, 1941 at the Mecca Temple (later New York’s City Center). She was 19 years old. Channing then moved to Broadway for Let’s Face It!, in which she was an understudy for Eve Arden. Decades later, Arden would play “Dolly” in a road company after Channing finally relinquished the role. Five years later, Channing had a featured role in a revue, Lend an Ear. She was spotted by author Anita Loos and cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as Lorelei Lee, the role that brought her to prominence. (Her signature song from the production was Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.) In 1961, Channing became one of a very few Tony Award nominees to gain a nomination for work in a revue (rather than a traditional book musical), when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical, for the short-lived revue Show Girl.
Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing Together
Channing came to national prominence as the star of Jerry Herman‘s Hello, Dolly! She never missed a performance during her run, attributing her good health to her Christian Science faith. Her performance won her the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, in a year when her chief competition was Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl. She was deeply disappointed when Streisand, who many believed to be far too young for the role, was signed to play Dolly Levi in the film, which also starred Walter Matthau and Michael Crawford.
Channing reprised the role of Lorelei Lee in the musical Lorelei. She also appeared in two New York revivals of Hello, Dolly!, and toured with it extensively throughout the United States. She also appeared in a number of movies, The First Traveling Sales Lady (1956) with Ginger Rogers, the cult film Skidoo and Thoroughly Modern Millie, opposite Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore. For Millie she received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and was awarded a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture.
In 1966, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre. During her film career she also made some guest appearances on television sitcoms and talk shows, including CBS‘s “What’s My Line?,” on which she appeared in eleven episodes from 1962 to 1966. Channing also did a fair amount of voice over work in cartoons, most notably as Grandmama Addams in an animated version of The Addams Family which ran from 1992 to 1995.
“Razzle Dazzle” at the Hollywood Bowl
Channing was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981. She was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 1995, and an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts by California State University, Stanislaus in 2004. That same year, she received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement in Musical Theatre. She and husband Harry Kullijian are active in promoting arts education in California schools with the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation. The couple resides in Modesto, California.
She has been married four times. Her first husband, Theodore Naidish, was a writer. Her second husband, Alexander Carson, played center for the Ottawa Rough Riders Canadian football team. They had one son, Channing, who took his stepfather’s surname and is now a Pulitzer-prize-nominated cartoonist publishing under the name Chan Lowe. In 1956, she married her manager and publicist, Charles Lowe. They remained married for 42 years, but she abruptly filed for divorce in 1998. He died before the divorce was finalized. After Lowe’s death and until shortly before her fourth marriage, the actress’s companion was Roger Denny, an interior decorator.
On May 10, 2003, she married Harry Kullijian, her fourth husband and junior high school sweetheart, who reunited with her after she mentioned him fondly in her memoir. The two performed at their old junior high school, which had become Aptos Middle School, in a benefit for the school.
On “Whats My Line?”
At Lowell High School, they renamed the school’s auditorium “The Carol Channing Theatre” in her honor. The city of San Francisco, California, proclaimed February 25, 2002, to be Carol Channing Day, for her advocacy of gay rights and her appearance as the celebrity host of the Gay Pride Day festivities in Hollywood.
Sources: wikipedia.com, youtube.com, imdb.com, nndb.com, carolchanning.com
- No For an Answer (January 5 and January 11, 1941)
- Let’s Face It! (October 29, 1941 – March 20, 1943) (understudy for Eve Arden)
- Proof Through the Night (December 25, 1942 – January 2, 1943)
- Lend an Ear (December 16, 1948 – January 21, 1950)
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (December 8, 1949 – September 15, 1951)
- Wonderful Town (February 25, 1953 – July 3, 1954) (replacement for Rosalind Russell)
- The Vamp (November 10 – December 31, 1955) (Best Actress in a Musical nominee)
- Show Girl (January 12 – April 8, 1961) (Best Actress in a Musical nominee)
- Hello, Dolly! (January 16, 1964 – December 27, 1970) (left show in 1967)
- Four on a Garden (January 30 – March 20, 1971)
- Lorelei (January 27 – November 3, 1974) (Best Actress in a Musical nominee)
- Julie’s Friends at the Palace (May 19, 1974) (benefit performance)
- Hello, Dolly! (March 15 – July 19, 1978) (revival)
- Legends (January 7, 1986 – January 18, 1987) (national tour)
- Hello, Dolly! (October 19, 1995 – January 28, 1996) (revival; farewell tour)
- Paid In Full (1950)
- The First Traveling Saleslady (1956)
- The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford (NBC, December 4, 1958)
- All About People (1967) (short subject) (narrator)
- Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)
- Skidoo (1968)
- Shinbone Alley (1971) (voice)
- Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) (Cameo)
- The Love Boat (1981)
- Parade of Stars (1983)
- Magnum, P.I. (1983)
- Alice in Wonderland (1985)
- Sesame Street (1988)
- Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers (1989) (voice)
- Where’s Waldo? (1991) (voice)
- The Addams Family (1992) (voice)
- 2 Stupid Dogs (1993) (voice)
- Happily Ever After (1993) (voice)
- The Nanny (1993)
- Thumbelina (1994) (voice)
- Burke’s Law (1994)
- The Magic School Bus (1994 – Episode “In the Haunted House”) (voice)
- Space Ghost Coast to Coast: ‘Girlie Show’ (1995)
- Homo Heights (1998)
- The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (1998) (voice) (direct-to-video)
- Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There (2003) (documentary)
- Family Guy: ‘Patriot Games‘ (2006)