Carol Channing

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Carol Channing
Carol Channing 1960.png
Channing in 1960
Born Carol Elaine Channing
(1921-01-31) January 31, 1921 (age 98)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Ethnicity German-American
African American
Alma mater Bennington College
Occupation Stand-up comedienne, actress, singer, dancer, comedienne
Years active 1941–present
Height 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)[1]
Spouse(s) Theodore Naidish (m. 1941; div. 1944)
Alexander Carson (m. 1953; div. 1956)
Charles Lowe (m. 1956; d. 1999)
Harry Kullijian (m. 2003; d. 2011)
Children 1
Parent(s) George and Adelaide Channing

Carol Elaine Channing (born January 31, 1921) is an American actress, singer, dancer, comedian, and voice artist.

She won the Golden Globe Award and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Muzzy Van Hossmere in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Other film appearances include The First Traveling Saleslady (1956) and Skidoo (1968). On television she has made many appearances as an entertainer on variety shows, from the The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1950s to Hollywood Squares. She is also known for her performance as The White Queen in a 1985 production of Alice in Wonderland.

Channing was nominated for her first Tony Award in 1956 for The Vamp. Her second nomination came in 1961 for Show Girl. In 1964 she originated the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly!, winning the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She received her fourth Tony Award nomination for the musical Lorelei in 1974. Lorelei was a re-imagining of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a 1949 musical which starred Channing in the lead role of Lorelei Lee, which made her a star.

Channing was inducted to the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981, and received a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award in 1995. She continues to perform and make appearances, singing songs from her repertoire and sharing stories with fans, cabaret style. She released an autobiography titled Just Lucky I Guess in 2002. A documentary about her was released in 2012 titled Larger Than Life.

Early life

Channing was born Carol Elaine Channing in Seattle, Washington on January 31, 1921,[2] the only child of George and Adelaide Channing (née Glaser; 1886–1984). Her father was born George Christian Stucker, but changed his surname before his daughter's birth.[3]:50 A city editor at the Seattle Star, her father took a job in San Francisco and the family moved when Channing was two weeks old. Her father later became a Christian Science practitioner, editor, and teacher. She attended Aptos Junior High School and Lowell High School, San Francisco, graduating in 1938. She won the Crusaders' Oratorical Contest and a free trip to Hawaii with her mother in June 1937.[4]

According to Channing's 2002 memoir, when she left home to attend Bennington College in Vermont, her mother informed her that her father George, who Channing had believed was born in Rhode Island, had actually been born in Augusta, Georgia. Adelaide said her husband's father was German-American and his mother was African American.[5] Channing's paternal grandmother had moved with George to Providence, Rhode Island for his opportunities. Channing learned she "was part Negro" when she was sixteen.[3]:8 Her mother told her because now that her daughter was going off to college, she didn't want her to be surprised "if she had a black baby".[3]:8[6][7] Channing's mother's family was of German descent.[8]

As she was of majority European-American ancestry, Channing continued to identify as white as a performer on Broadway and in Hollywood. She made her claim to African-American ancestry in her autobiography, Just Lucky I Guess (2002), which contains a photograph of her mother, but no photos of her father or son.[3]:8 She writes in the book that her father's birth certificate was destroyed in a fire.[9]


Channing was introduced to the stage while helping 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.[10]

Channing with David Burns in Hello, Dolly!

Channing's first job on stage in New York was in Marc Blitzstein's No for an Answer, starting January 5, 1941, at the Mecca Temple (later New York's City Center). She was 19 years old. Channing 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 her signature role.

Five years later, Channing had a featured role in Lend an Ear, for which she received her Theatre World Award. She was spotted by author Anita Loos and cast in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as Lorelei Lee, the role that gained her recognition (her signature song from the production was "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"). In 1961, Channing became one of the few performers nominated for a Tony Award for work in a revue (rather than a traditional book musical); she was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for the short-lived revue Show Girl.[11]

Channing came to national prominence as the star of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly! (1964). Her performance as Dolly won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, in a year when her chief competition was Barbra Streisand for Funny Girl and Bea Lillie for High Spirits. Carol Channing reprised her role of Lorelei Lee when the musical Lorelei, directed by Robert Moore and choreographed by Ernest O. Flatt, premiered in 1973 at the Oklahoma City (6000 seat) Civic Center Music Hall and broke all box office records after six days worth of performances sold out within 24 hours.[12]

To commemorate this record event the street running in front of the Music Hall was renamed Channing Square Drive in honor of Miss Channing. Also in the cast were Tamara Long as Dorothy and Peter Palmer as Gus, with Brandon Maggart, Dody Goodman, and Lee Roy Reams in supporting roles. For nearly a year, the stage musical then toured 11 cities across the country. Lorelei had already earned a hefty profit by the time it opened on Broadway at the Palace Theatre on January 27, 1974 and ran for a total of 320 performances. Channing also appeared in two New York revivals of Hello, Dolly!, and toured with it extensively throughout the United States.[13]

She also appeared in a number of films, including The First Traveling Sales Lady (1956; with Ginger Rogers and Clint Eastwood), the cult film Skidoo, and Thoroughly Modern Millie (starring Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Beatrice Lillie). 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.[14][15][16]

Due to her phenomenal success on Broadway in Hello Dolly! and her co-starring role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Channing attracted the attentions of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who were interested in starring her in a sitcom. Directed and produced by Arnaz and written by Bob Carroll, Jr. and Madelyn Davis (who were responsible for the success of I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show), The Carol Channing Show starred Channing as Carol Hunnicut, a small-town girl trying and failing to make it in New York City show business. Character actors Richard Deacon and Jane Dulo were in the supporting cast. The pilot was filmed in front of a live audience (with a laugh track added for sweetening) at Desilu in 1966, but did not manage to sell as a series. For over 40 years, The Carol Channing Show was unavailable for viewing until a few years ago when the program was donated to the Paley Center for Media.[citation needed]

Channing performing with Pearl Bailey in 1973

In 1966, she won the Sarah Siddons Award for her work in Chicago theatre. During her film career, Channing also made some guest appearances on television sitcoms and talk shows, including What's My Line?, where she appeared in 11 episodes from 1962 to 1966. Channing did voice-over work in cartoons, most notably as Grandmama in an animated version of The Addams Family from 1992-95.[citation needed]

In 1986, Channing appeared on Sesame Street and sang a parody of the song "Hello, Dolly!" called "Hello, Sammy!". She performed it as a love song to Sammy the Snake (voiced by Jim Henson) as Sammy coiled himself around Channing's arms. This song includes lyrics, such as, "So... turn on your charm, Sammy/Coil yourself around my arm, Sammy/Sammy the Snake, I'll stake a claim on you."[17] In 1993, she poked a little fun at herself in an episode of The Nanny. The episode "Smoke Gets in Your Lies" shows the producer auditioning for a new musical and Channing, playing herself, is trying out. Just after the producer announces he wants a stage presence that is instantly recognizable to the entire country, Channing begins with her signature "Hello, Dolly!", but he stops her with a resounding "Next!".

In January 2003, Channing recorded the audiobook of her best-selling autobiography Just Lucky, I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts, directed and produced by Steve Garrin at VideoActive Productions in New York City. It was during the recording sessions that she received a phone call from her childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian that rekindled their romance and led to their marriage a few months later. In January 2011, the documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (which chronicles Channing's life and career) was released.[18]

Personal life

Channing in 2009

Channing 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 named Channing Carson.[19]

In 1956, Channing married her manager and publicist Charles Lowe. They remained married for 42 years. During this time, her son Channing Carson took his stepfather's surname; he publishes his cartoons as Chan Lowe and has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his work.[20] Channing filed for divorce from Lowe in 1998, but her estranged husband died before the divorce was finalized.[21]

After Lowe's death and until shortly before her fourth marriage, the actress's companion was Roger Denny, an interior decorator.[22]

On May 10, 2003, she married Harry Kullijian (December 27, 1919 – December 26, 2011), her 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. She and Kullijian were active in promoting arts education in California schools through their Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation. The couple resided in Modesto, California.[23] Harry Kullijian died on December 26, 2011, the eve of his 92nd birthday.

Channing is an ovarian cancer survivor.[24][25]

Legacy and honors

Theater credits

Channing with Peter Palmer in Lorelei



The handprints of Carol Channing in front of The Great Movie Ride at Disney's Hollywood Studios at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Year Title Role Notes
1950 Paid in Full Mrs. Peters Uncredited
1956 The First Traveling Saleslady Molly Wade
1967 All About People Narrator Short film
1967 Thoroughly Modern Millie Muzzy Van Hossmere Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress
1968 Skidoo Flo Banks
1970 Shinbone Alley Mehitabel Voice role
1978 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Guest at Heartland Cameo
1983 Parade of Stars Lorelei Lee Television film
1985 Alice in Wonderland White Queen Two part television film
1993 Happily Ever After Muddy Voice role
1994 Thumbelina Ms. Fieldmouse Voice role
1998 Homo Heights Herself Uncredited
1998 The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars Fanny Voice role
2003 Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There Herself
2011 Carol Channing: Larger Than Life Herself Documentary


Year Series Role Notes
1957 The Red Skelton Show, Starring Red Skelton Daisy June 2 episodes
1962-66 What's My Line? Herself 11 episodes
1958 The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford Herself 2 episodes
1971 The Flip Wilson Show Herself 1 episode[33][34]
1980 The Muppet Show Herself 1 episode
1981 The Love Boat Varying roles 7 episodes
1983 Magnum, P.I. Herself 1 episode
1986-88 Sesame Street Herself 2 episodes
1990 Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers Canina LaFur 2 episodes; voice role
1991 Where's Waldo? Varying roles 13 episodes
1992-93 The Addams Family Grandmama Addams; voice role 15 episodes
1993 2 Stupid Dogs Wicked Witch / Elderly Woman 2 episodes; voice role
1993 The Nanny Herself 1 episode
1994 The Magic School Bus Cornelia C. Contralto 1 episode; voice role
1994 Burke's Law 1 episode
1995 Space Ghost Coast to Coast Herself 1 episode
1998 Style & Substance Herself 1 episode
2006 Family Guy Carol Channing 1 episode; voice role
2006 Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List Herself 1 episode


Original Cast Albums:
Channing in 1973
Additional albums:
  • Archy And Mehitabel - A Back-Alley Opera (with Eddie Bracken), 1954
  • Carol Channing, Vanguard Records, 1961
  • Carol Channing Reads Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Caedmon Records, 1962
  • Carol Channing Entertains, Command Records, 1965
  • Carol Channing Reads Madeleine, Caedmon Records, 1970s
  • C and W (with Webb Pierce), Plantation Records, 1976
  • Carol Channing and Her Country Friends (guest appearances by Jimmy C. Newman, Hank Locklin, and others), Plantation Records, 1977
  • Carol Channing on Tour, 51 West Records, 1980
  • Jazz Baby, DRG Records. 1994
  • "Just Lucky, I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts", Audiobook, 2003
  • For Heaven's Sake, New Day Records, 2010
  • True To The Red, White, and Blue, Homesick Entertainment, 2012

Awards and nominations

Year Awards Award Outcome
1956 Tony Awards Best Actress, Musical, The Vamp Nominated
1961 Tony Awards Best Actress, Musical, Show Girl Nominated
1964 Tony Awards Best Actress, Musical, Hello, Dolly! Won
1968 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress, Thoroughly Modern Millie Nominated
Golden Globes Best Supporting Actress, Thoroughly Modern Millie Won
Tony Awards Special Award Won
1974 Tony Awards Best Actress, Musical, Lorelei Nominated
1995 Tony Awards Lifetime Achievement Award Won
2002 Grammy Awards Grammy Hall of Fame, Hello, Dolly! original cast album Won


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Further reading

  • Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts by Carol Channing (Simon & Schuster, 2002)
  • Diary of a Mad Playwright: Perilous Adventures on the Road with Mary Martin and Carol Channing by James Kirkwood, Jr., about production of the play "Legends" (Dutton, 1989)

External links