Carol will never go away again
January 15, 2019 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Legendary Broadway actress Carol Channing passes away at 97 Carol Channing died of natural causes at 12:31 a.m. Tuesday in Rancho Mirage, California. She had twice suffered strokes in the last year. Broadway will dim its lights for Channing tomorrow night at 7:45 pm ET, The Broadway League announced today.

Carol Channing was born January 31, 1921, at Seattle, Washington, the daughter of a prominent newspaper editor, who was very active in the Christian Science movement. She attended high school in San Francisco and later worked as a model in Los Angeles. She attended prestigious Bennington College in Vermont and majored in drama and dance and supplemented her work by taking parts in nearby Pocono Resort area.

Carol initially made her mark on Broadway in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" playing Lorelei Lee. In Hello Dolly, she played Dolly Gallagher Levi, the witty, manipulative widow intent upon finding a wealthy husband. The musical won ten Tony awards in 1964, including Channing's for best actress in a comedy.

Channing’s outsized personality seemed too much for the screen, and she made only a few movies, notably “The First Traveling Saleslady” with Ginger Rogers and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” with Julie Andrews.

Over the years, Channing continued as Dolly in national tours, the last in 1996, when she was in her 70s. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called her “the ninth wonder of the world.”

Who's Line is it Anyway
posted by I_Love_Bananas (60 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Rash at 2:39 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by Pendragon at 2:41 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:49 PM on January 15, 2019

I just googled some images of her in her youth. She always had that special sparkle in her eye.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 2:52 PM on January 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

posted by Halloween Jack at 2:53 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by Alensin at 3:00 PM on January 15, 2019

Goodbye Dolly.

posted by riverlife at 3:01 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


No stage saw her and lived.
posted by East14thTaco at 3:08 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I got to see her play Dolly in the 90s, and she was looking swell, Dolly. I waited around at the stage door, and she rushed out to a waiting car with her hair wrapped in towels, and I've always admired the DGAF nature of that.

Wow, wow, wow, fellas
Look at the old girl now, fellas!

posted by zachlipton at 3:08 PM on January 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

posted by Splunge at 3:13 PM on January 15, 2019

She was too big for a dot.

posted by Faint of Butt at 3:18 PM on January 15, 2019 [23 favorites]


My dad was a fan of hers and named our cat Mehitabel after the cat that Carol Channing played in the musical adaptation of Don Marquis stories of Archy and Mehitabel.
posted by octothorpe at 3:25 PM on January 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:30 PM on January 15, 2019


Her narrations of the Madeline stories and other books kept me company through many nights as a child.
posted by monopas at 3:33 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by oneswellfoop at 3:46 PM on January 15, 2019


My now-wife and I got to meet her in 2008. She was visiting our college town for her one-woman show and someone in the tiny Theatre dept. managed to get her to stop by and meet some students and give a small talk. She was exactly the larger-than-life and warm person she appeared as onscreen and onstage.
posted by JauntyFedora at 3:50 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:51 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by evilDoug at 4:02 PM on January 15, 2019

She always made me smile.

posted by HuronBob at 4:19 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Carol Channing had a voice most likely to be thought easy to imitate, then failing completely upon the attempt.

posted by rhizome at 4:21 PM on January 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by bstreep at 4:25 PM on January 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've always loved Carol Channing. And Skidoo is one of my favorite films. I'll probably try to convince my partner to watch it with me tonight.

posted by The Great Big Mulp at 4:36 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Her narration of Peter & the Wolf (and Tubby Tuba on the b-side) was a constant companion as a kid.
posted by sleeping bear at 4:40 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by sammyo at 4:47 PM on January 15, 2019

Oh man, she's my jam.

posted by Catblack at 5:05 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I saw her in Vegas, singing "Diamondsh are a girlsh besht friend".

After the topless ballet dancers from the Bolshoi, she came out supported at both arms by tuxedoed hunks, sang her song, and that was it. Glad I caught that. The program that night for some reason included a tally of what each of the performers were being paid. I remember thinking, "good for her!"
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:11 PM on January 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

via GLAAD:
“The gay community is responsible for so much of my success, and I love them. It's a mutual love affair, really. They make the better audiences too, because they laugh often and loudly." Thank you Carol Channing for a brilliant career and for being a friend. ❤️
Rest in peace, friend.
posted by lazaruslong at 5:29 PM on January 15, 2019 [19 favorites]

We saw her at Pink Martini concert and she had the entire place wrapped around her finger, including the band. She will be missed.

posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 5:39 PM on January 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

Carol Channing was EXTRA
posted by fluttering hellfire at 6:03 PM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was a good generation behind carol in her prime, so I'd only known her from Sesame Street (Hi, Jim!) and the occasional award show. Recently, I did a full rewatch of Laugh In, and she was probably the best guest star. Shows like that are always best when a true professional allow themselves the trust to give themselves over to the show completely, and that always makes for the most fun. While I knew Carol was a legend, I'd never really experienced that for myself, until I saw her on Laugh In, rolling with the punches and showing the grace of a true star. (Here's her duet with Goldie on 'Blondes', which, well, they don't make 'em like *that* anymore.) I was blown away.

Thanks, Miss Carol. You were the best.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:03 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

I read this story years ago, of Carol's introduction to the theatre. I was able to find it and I reproduce it here.

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 easily. 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.

My father gave me 50 cents a week, and after that, I spent it all on the live theatre. The artists of the world were there. Sol Hurok booked everybody: Kreutzberg and Georgi; Mary Wigman from Berlin – she was the forerunner of Martha Graham; Uday Shankar from India; the Ballet Russes; the Abbey Theatre Players from Ireland. I saw Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in Amphitryon 38, There Shall Be No Night, The Pirate. I was thrilled with theatre.

Ethel Waters really hit me hard. She was in As Thousands Cheer. It was a revue, a great revue, written by Moss Hart and Irving Berlin. I saved up a month of 50-cent pieces. Anyway, Ethel Waters, she had a bandanna on her head, she started from the back brick wall of the theatre, and she moved forward, and there was behind her the silhouette of a lynching, a man hanging from a tree, his head hanging sideways. And she sang, "Supper time, I should set the table, 'cause it's supper time, somehow I ain't able, 'cause that man of mine ain't coming home no more." Well, I was on the second or third row of the theatre, and I sat there looking at this marvelous woman telling this story of lynching. I thought, "This is what Daddy talks about at the dinner table." Nobody up North knew about lynchings. My father said, "We weren't allowed to mention it [in the newspapers], we weren't allowed to say it." And this darn song broke through [the silence]. And oh, it wrung your heart.

I wish I'd known her personally. I say that about few celebrities, but she's one of them. What a fascinating life.

posted by droplet at 6:09 PM on January 15, 2019 [17 favorites]

Carol helped me (and later my kids) understand the importance of helping around the house.
posted by klausman at 6:21 PM on January 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

posted by tzikeh at 7:03 PM on January 15, 2019

I know it hardly matters in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly shows how old I'm getting that I'm sad there aren't more people in this thread, telling tales of seeing her live. Everything goes by so quickly nowadays, even as at the same time it feels as though time is standing still.


What a life.
posted by tzikeh at 7:06 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by wiskunde at 7:33 PM on January 15, 2019

Gosh, weird. Literally just this weekend I was thinking about how much I always adored her and I looked her up to see if she was still alive. She was.

posted by phunniemee at 8:09 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by bagel at 8:47 PM on January 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

To me Carol Channing will forever be the charming & bewildering White Queen in the 1985 version of Alice in Wonderland (which also featured Sammy Davis Jr as the Caterpillar).
posted by Secret Sparrow at 10:30 PM on January 15, 2019 [9 favorites]

From the SF Chronicle's Peter Hartlaub, the tweeted story of the time Carol Channing and Jesse Jackson met in the lobby of the Chron and hit it off instantly.

I adored her and am so glad I shared a planet with her for a brief period.
posted by sobell at 10:36 PM on January 15, 2019

For me she will always be the perfect lazy afternoon voice of the Winnie-the-Pooh books. It is very worth tracking down that audio.

I saw her as Dolly in the middle nineties, when I was maybe ten and played the movie with Barbra Streisand six jillion times a week, and she knocked Barbra Streisand right out of my head.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 10:39 PM on January 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:58 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by Joey Michaels at 11:27 PM on January 15, 2019

posted by get off of my cloud at 2:54 AM on January 16, 2019

One of my dearest friends performed with her in the 80s in Hello Dolly. Frequently, I make him tell the story of the time he came out to his parents right before the show and his (really quite awful) mother sat BAWLING in the front row the entire time. During intermission Carol asked who that HORRIBLE woman crying in the front row was. Larry fessed up that it was his mother and she had come from Arkansas to New York to see the show and Larry had come out to her prior. Carol asked Larry to bring her backstage after the show.

Well, after the show, Larry brought her backstage and Carol called Larry and his mother into her dressing room. Mother was completely star struck and was ready to gush all over Carol when Carol said, "SO! I hear your son is GAY!!!!" Well, Patsy did a 180 and ran out of the room crying and Larry adored Carol for the rest of her days.

Larry and I saw her in 2008 in her one woman show in Palm Springs. She fell off her stool backward into the drum set and then, once she was helped up, continued her show like nothing had happened.

posted by Sophie1 at 6:51 AM on January 16, 2019 [22 favorites]

posted by pjsky at 7:02 AM on January 16, 2019

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posted by ikahime at 8:02 AM on January 16, 2019

posted by kinnakeet at 8:22 AM on January 16, 2019

posted by Cash4Lead at 8:29 AM on January 16, 2019

posted by the sobsister at 9:36 AM on January 16, 2019

posted by camyram at 12:29 PM on January 16, 2019

posted by filtergik at 5:45 AM on January 17, 2019

Jam tomorrow jam yesterday, but never ever jam today.

posted by stripesandplaid at 8:18 AM on January 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wanted to say something about Ms. Channing being of mixed race. She revealed in her bio that she was 1/4 black, and a lot of people I knew didn't believe it at the time, but I did. Her eyes were the giveaway to me, and when I saw this photo by Carl Van Vechten, it sealed the deal; I was like, "Oh, yeah, boo, you're one of us." And she wasn't ashamed of it, but she knew what kind of career she'd have if she revealed it, so I don't fault her for being quiet, though I'm sure some black people do.

But the story of Fredi Washington's career would show what happened to women of color who could "pass" in those days. Ms. Washington's film career was odd. Outside of a few black films (including a standout performance in the original "Imitation of Life" as the adult Peola), Hollywood didn't want to cast a gorgeous mixed-race woman in their run of the mill films for the African-American market.

She was too pale, too blue-eyed, and too European-featured, which bothered them (I imagine because they saw her as white enough to make people uncomfortable with seeing a darker man hug or kiss her onscreen). But she was too pale and too good-looking by European standards to be cast as a maid in a white movie, so she didn't have much of a Hollywood career. I've read that there were those studio heads who told her that if she'd just go ahead and pass for white, she'd have her choice of roles, and she rejected this. Subsequently, she had a short stint in the black theater, and ended up doing more work in civil rights.

It should embarrass us as human beings that such talented women as Ms. Channing and Ms. Washington had to hide who they were to get quality, well-paid work, or could barely work at all. I'm so happy to see how many people loved Ms. Channing, but man, if only she could have been Lorelei or Dolly Levy and be publicly 1/4 black with no one giving a damn. Wouldn't that have been grand?
posted by droplet at 8:00 AM on January 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Although I knew it was inevitable, this one hit me hard. I could post so many things (the Conan interview where she insisted on telling the story of how she was made "an honorary lezhbian," her send-up of Judy Garland playing the Palace) but if I had to pick just one, it would be this video of her doing Marlene Dietrich.

posted by Thomas Tallis is my Homeboy at 6:55 PM on January 21, 2019

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