So Long, Dearie! CAROL CHANNING, 1921 – 2019

by MK Scott &
B. Harlan Boll

This past week we lost an Broadway icon and Gay ally, Carol Channing, who died this past Tuesday, at home in Rancho Mirage, CA of natural causes at age 97.

Upon reading her tribute that was sent to me from her publicist, B. Harlan Boll, I had not known that Ms. Channing was, in fact, born in Seattle on January 31, 1921, and later moved to San Francisco and attended one of the best schools in that area, Lowell High School.

(When I was in high school, my school’s choir from Beaverton, OR, which I was a part of, performed at Lowell High School every two years.)

According to Boll, Carol was raised, schooled and eventually found work as a model. Through determination, hard work, and her family’s support (not to mention a mandatory IQ test for which she scored one of the highest recorded results), Carol was able to attend Bennington College in Vermont that had one of the few existing arts programs in the country, majoring in drama and dance.

A recipient of the 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, Ms. Channing has been a star of international acclaim since a Time magazine cover story [January 9, 1950] hailed her performance as Lorelei Lee in Gentleman Prefer Blondes writing: ‘Perhaps once in a decade a nova explodes above the Great White Way with enough brilliance to re-illumine the whole gaudy legend of show business.’ Since her 1948 Broadway debut in Blitzstein’s No For An Answer, her Broadway appearances have included So Proudly We Hail, Let’s Face It, Lend An Ear, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Show Girl, Pygmalion, The Millionairess, The Vamp, Four On A Garden, and Wonderful Town. In addition to receiving a special Tony Award in 1968, she won the Tony Award in 1964 for her legendary portrayal of Dolly Levi in Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!

Jacqueline Kennedy and her two children made their first public appearance after JFK’s death by seeing her perform in Hello, Dolly! and later visited her backstage. She has since played the role in over 5,000 performances, without missing a single performance. She then toured with her own revue, ‘Carol Channing and Her Ten Stout Hearted Men’ and the critically acclaimed tours of ‘Jerry’s Girls’ and ‘Legends,’ in which she co-starred with Mary Martin.

Ms. Channing’s happiest film project was in the role of Muzzy in Thoroughly Modern Millie, which earned her an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe Award. Other films include Paid In Full, The First Traveling Saleslady (giving new comer Clint Eastwood his first on screen kiss), Skidoo, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Archie and Mehitabel and Thumbelina.

Ms. Channing’s TV specials included ‘Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl,’ ‘Carol Channing’s Los Angeles,’ ‘Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey on Broadway,’ ‘George Burns – His Wit and Wisdom’ and to millions of children worldwide Carol is best known as the White Queen in ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass.’ Other television credits include popular game shows as ‘What’s My Line,’ ‘I’ve Got a Secret,’ ‘Password,’ and ‘Hollywood Squares,’ variety shows such as ‘The Dean Martin Show,’ ‘The Red Skelton Show,’ ‘The Milton Berle Show,’ ‘Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,’ ‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ ‘The Muppet Show,’ as well as many Tony and Grammy broadcasts. A partial list of Carol’s episodic work consist of Playhouse 90’s ‘Three Men on a Horse,’ ‘The Love Boat,’ ‘Magnum, P.I.,’ ‘The Nanny,’ ‘Touched by an Angel,’ ‘The Drew Carey Show’ and ‘Family Guy.’

As one of the most easily recognized and highly imitated voices in the world, Carol’s unique sound has been established as characters and narrative in both TV series and documentaries like ‘JFK: The Day the Nation Cried,’ ‘The Addam’s Family’ (voice of Granny), ‘Thumbelina,’ ‘Free To Be You and Me,’ ‘Space Ghost,’ ‘Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers’ and ‘The Brave Little Toaster Goes To Mars.’ Miss Channing also cut twenty children’s albums of classic stories including ‘Winnie The Pooh’ and ‘Madeline.’

Ms. Channing recorded ten gold albums including the original cast album of Hello, Dolly! released in 1964. Miss Channing appeared in most every grand ballroom and concert hall in the country. Among her other acknowledgments is a Best Nightclub Act of the Year Award, Harvard University’s Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year Award, the Oscar Hammerstein Award for lifetime achievement and the Julie Harris Lifetime Achievement Award from the Actors’ Fund of America, but was most proud in the role of mother of Chan Lowe, who is a nationally syndicated editorial cartoonist, who has the distinction of being a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

In 1998, Carol moved to Palm Springs/Rancho Mirage to be close to her dear cousin Richard ‘Dicky’ Long and loved the community so much, that she called it home for the remainder of her life.

In 2003, the octogenarian released her best selling memoirs, Just Lucky I Guess and started touring world wide with her one-woman show entitled ‘The First Eighty Years are the Hardest,’ after the very successful preview given to New York audiences that prompted the New York Times to say ‘Back Where She Belongs: Carol Channing Reminisces’& ‘The audience jumped to its feet more than once. We were watching a master performer.’ and Associated Press declared ‘The audience clearly was there to worship, and Channing did not disappoint.’ In 2004, Broadway’s ‘first lady of musical comedy,’ received an honorary doctoral degree becoming Doctor Carol Channing from the California State University, Stanislaus Commencement (only the third Honorary Doctoral Degree given in CSU Stanislaus 45-year history).

In 2009, items representing Miss Channing’s career were inducted into the Smithsonian Institute in D.C., along with eight other legendary ladies of stage and screen. Her original diamonds dress from the Broadway production of Lorelei, worn while singing ‘Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend’ and her Hello Dolly! gown (from the ’95 tour), as well as her TONY Award for her portrayal of Dolly Gallagher Levy, are currently part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institutions American History Museum. In addition, her 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony Award can be seen on exhibit at The Hollywood Museum and her star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame is located in front of the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd.

In 2010, Carol returned to the Great White Way, performing at the New Amsterdam theatre on 42nd Street, with many returning ‘Dolly boys’ from previous Hello Dolly! tours and received the ‘Gypsy Award’ from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.’ In January 2012, multi-TONY winning director and producer, Dori Berinstein, released the critically acclaimed and award winning documentary entitled Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, highlighting Carol’s 70 plus year career. Her last public appearance was on her 95th birthday at the McCallum Theater to a record breaking crowd of fans from all around the world, that sold out in only a couple hours and featured an all-star extravaganza to honor her. In late 2018, artist Khoi Nguyen, used his PhD in mathematics to create a prolific painting of the actress, comedienne and activist, that allowed more than 43,000 friends and fans (as well as herself) to participate by affixing their fingerprint onto the work, each linked to a personal video interview about Miss Channing and her efforts to raise awareness with regard to the need for arts in education.

Carol is survived by her son, Channing Lowe and close family member, Sylvia Long. Services have not yet been determined.

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