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A Film by Michael Kantor



Carol Channing

An actress and singer with a style and appearance that are difficult to define, she has been described as “a blonde, wide-eyed, long-legged, husky voiced, scatty personality” — among other things. The daughter of a Christian Science teacher, Channing moved with her family to San Francisco at an early age, and later attended Bennington College in Vermont, where she majored in drama and dance. In 1941 she appeared in Marc Blitzstein’s labor opera “No for an Answer,” but only for three Sunday nights. In the same year she served as an understudy in “Let’s Face It!” on Broadway, and had a small part in “Proof Through the Night” (1942). After playing nightclubs around New York, she returned to San Francisco in 1946 and won a part in the Hollywood revue “Lend an Ear.”

Florence Henderson, David Merrick, and Carol Channing at a party to celebrate his 10th anniversary as a Broadway producer.

Her performance in the Broadway version of the show led to her triumph as Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” in which she introduced several memorable numbers, including “A Little Girl from Little Rock” and “‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” In 1954, she replaced Rosalind Russell in “Wonderful Town,” and in the next year, had her first big flop with “The Vamp.” In the late ’50s her nightclub act was so successful that it was turned into a one-woman revue entitled “Show Girl,” which played on Broadway in 1961. Three years later, she had her biggest success in “Hello, Dolly!”, as the matchmaker Dolly Levi, with a Jerry Herman score that included “So Long, Dearie,” “Before the Parade Passes By,” and the insinuating title song. She won a Tony Award for outstanding performance, but Barbra Streisand was preferred for the movie version. Channing’s larger-than-life personality is perhaps more suited to the stage than film, although she was hilarious inTHOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (1967). Other film credits include PAID IN FULL, THE FIRST TRAVELING SALESLADY, SKIDOO, and SHINBONE ALLEY (voice only).

She had her biggest success in “Hello, Dolly!”

Carol Channing

Born: January 31, 1921
Key Shows
  • "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
  • "Hello, Dolly!"
  • "Lend an Ear"
  • "Show Girl"
  • "The Vamp"
  • "Wonderful Town"
Related Artists
  • Gower Champion
  • Agnes de Mille
  • Jerry Herman
  • David Merrick
  • Jule Styne
In 1974 she was back on Broadway in “Lorelei,” which, as the title suggests, was a compilation of the best scenes from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” It lasted for 320 performances and had a reasonable life on the road. At that stage of her career, with suitable musical comedy roles hard to come by, Channing continued to work mostly on U.S. television and in nightclubs, but in 1987 she co-starred with Mary Martin in James Kirkwood’s aptly named show “Legends!”. A year later she embarked on a concert tour of locations such as Kansas City and San Diego, accompanied at each stop by the local symphony orchestra. In 1990 she appeared at the Desert Inn, Las Vegas, and two years later toured with Rita Moreno in “Two Ladies of Broadway.” In 1995, Carol Channing received a special Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, and was back where she belongs, on Broadway starring in a major revival of her greatest success, “Hello, Dolly!”

Source: Biographical information provided by MUZE. Excerpted from the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF POPULAR MUSIC, edited by Colin Larkin. © 2004 MUZE UK Ltd.

Photo credits: Photofest