Carol Channing is a grande dame of stage comedy, an enduring figure on Broadway, in nightclubs and in concert halls. Channing’s unique grin and wide-eyed stare—and her deep, raspy voice—have been imitated by a whole generation of impersonators and have made her recognizable worldwide. Charlotte Observer correspondent Natalie Shelpuk noted that the former Tony Award-winner “has lost none of her spunk and originality,” even though she is nearing seventy. Shelpuk concluded: “Even though the trademark husky flutter of her voice has matured to a prominent warble, Channing still has that spindly-legged, knob-kneed innocence that rocketed her to stardom.”
Channing forged her fame on the Broadway stage in such classic musicals as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello, Dolly! While many of her contemporaries moved on to film and television, the energetic Channing chose to work primarily as a live performer. Today, as she tours the country with a one-woman show, she is literally a throwback to the golden era of nightclub acts and touring Broadway hits. She told the Orlando News and Sun-Sentinel that she started out as a revue artist and she still prefers the variety show. “If you have enough bright spotlights and good-enough acoustics,” she said, “it’s like blowing the performer up like a close-up. It makes a tremendous difference.”
Channing was born in Seattle, Washington in 1923, the only child of a prominent newspaper editor. Her father was actively involved in the Christian Science movement, and he taught his daughter how to reach an audience with music and oratory. She was thus “performing” in church activities from an early age, and she learned to amuse her schoolmates by clowning and mimicking other students.
Most of Channing’s childhood was spent in San Francisco, a town still dear to her heart. She went east for higher education, matriculating at the prestigious Ben-nington College. There she majored in drama and dance, supplementing her school work by taking parts in summer stock in the nearby Pocono resorts. During a winter recess in 1941 she landed her first role in a New York show, a walk-on in Marc Blitzstein’s No for an Answer. The show only ran for three days, but Channing decided not to return to college anyway. Between 1941 and 1946 she eked out a precarious living as an understudy for Eve Arden in Let’s Face It and as a straight dramatic actress.
Channing returned to San Francisco in 1946, but she did not give up the idea of a career in show business.
For the Record…
Born January 31, 1923, in Seattle, WA; daughter of George (a newspaper editor and Christian Science lecturer) and Adelaide (Glaser) Channing; married third husband, Charles Franklin Lowe (her manager), September 5, 1956; children: Channing Lowe (son). Education: Attended Bennington College.
Comedienne, actress, singer, 1940—. Principal stage appearances include No for an Answer, 1941; Let’s Face It, 1941; Proof Through the Night, 1942; Lend an Ear (revue), 1948; Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1949-51; Wonderful Town, 1953; The Vamp, 1955; Show Girl (revue), 1961; The Millionairess, 1963; Hello, Dolly!, 1964; and Legends, 1985. Has made numerous television appearances, including a role in the miniseries Alice in Wonderland, c. 1988. Performs one-woman live show, a musical-comedy revue, at orchestra halls and clubs nationwide.
Awards: Tony Award for best comedy actress, 1964, for Hello, Dolly!
The following year she moved south to Los Angeles and supported herself by doing one-night stands for lodge and benefit groups. Eventually she earned a place in a show called Lend an Ear, a musical revue directed by Gower Champion. The revue was a hit in Los Angeles, and it moved to New York for a Broadway run in 1948. There Channing earned her first attention from the critics for her “silly blonde” routine.
The work with Lend an Ear brought Channing to the attention of Herman Levin and Oliver Smith, who were preparing a musical called Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Channing won the lead in that Broadway show and made her name as the gold-digging Lorelei Lee. To this day she still performs the principal song from that show, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Gentlemen Prefer Blondes ran for nearly two years on Broadway, and then Channing went with the show for a national tour. She returned to New York in 1953 for another well-received role, that of Ruth in Wonderful Town.
A few appearances in film and on television convinced Channing that she did her best work on stage. Late in the 1950s she prepared a nightclub act and went on national tour, beginning in Las Vegas. The show included dancing, impersonations, and songs from several Broadway musicals. Channing revised and enriched the act over time and brought it to Broadway in 1961 as Show Girl. The following year she teamed with George Burns for a series of musical comedy performances. Their last show together was a command performance for President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy.
On January 16, 1964, Channing opened her biggest show ever—the immensely successful Hello, Dolly! Channing gave the signature performance of Dolly Gallagher Levi, the witty, manipulative widow intent upon finding a wealthy second husband. The musical won ten Tony awards in 1964, including Channing’s for best actress in a comedy, and it ran on Broadway for years. Channing has never been far from Dolly since. She has appeared in numerous revivals and road tours of the play, and she includes numbers from it in her other live performances.
Channing told the Phoenix Gazette that she has always been grateful for the opportunity to work in her two greatest hits, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Hello, Dolly! “It’s lucky when you have a character or a song that’s identified with you,” she said. “I’m doubly lucky because I have two of them. People know who you are!”
Age has not slowed Carol Channing down at all. In 1985 she returned to the stage with another hit comedy, Legends, about two feuding stars who must work together in a show. She also keeps a hectic schedule of live appearances in a one-woman revue, playing larger halls in every major American city. In order to enliven her revue she even learned how to conduct a symphony orchestra, and she often takes the podium when she is backed by a large ensemble. “I’m a stage hog,” she told the News and Sun-Sentinel. “I mean, the longer you’re out there the easier it is to communicate.”
Channing’s future plans are many and varied. She is constantly searching for the right vehicle to bring to Broadway, and she especially hopes to revive Hello, Dolly! one more time. Channing told People magazine that her favorite project is always “the one I’m doing at the moment, and that’s the dead-on truth.” She added: “You know why? It’s like asking a woman who is madly in love, ‘Which man did you love the most?’ Well, my God, you don’t remember anybody but the man you’re in love with right now.”
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, original Broadway cast, 1949.
Hello, Dolly!, original Broadway cast, RCA, 1964.
Charlotte Observer, January 22, 1989.
Look, May 19, 1964.
News and Sun-Sentinel (Orlando, FL), December 8, 1989.
New York Times, January 8, 1961.
People, December 16, 1985.
Phoenix Gazette, January 30, 1991.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Channing, Carol 1921–
Channing, Carol 1921–
Full name, Carol Elaine Channing; born January 31, 1921, in Seattle, WA; raised in San Francisco, CA; daughter of George (a newspaper editor and a Christian Scientist lecturer) and Adelaide (maiden name, Glaser) Channing; married Theodore Naidish (a writer; divorced); married Al Carson (a professional football player; divorced, September, 1956); married Charles F. Lowe (a television producer and manager), September 5, 1956 (filed for divorce May 19, 1998; died, September 2, 1999); married Harry Kullijian, May 10, 2003; children: (second marriage) Channing George Lowe (a political cartoonist). Education: Attended Bennington College. Religion: Christian Scientist. Politics: Democrat.
Career: Actress and singer. Cabaret performer at various venues, including the Tropicana Hotel, Las Vegas, NV, 1957, the Nugget Hotel, Reno, NV, 1972, and the Palmer House, Chicago, IL, 1972. Performer at the Inaugural Gala for President Lyndon B. Johnson, Washington, DC, 1965; appeared in television commercials, including General Foods; also a performer at the Apollo Theatre, Harlem, and at resorts in the Pocono Mountains; sold her "Broadway Collection" jewelry on home shopping networks. Previously worked as a model and as an usher in the Alvin Theater, New York City.
Member: Actors' Equity Association.
Awards, Honors: New York Drama Critics Circle Award, 1948, for Lend an Ear; Theatre World Award, 1949; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best actress in a musical, 1956, for The Vamp; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best actress in a musical, 1961, for Show Girl; Antoinette Perry Award and New York Drama Critics Award, 1964, both for Hello Dolly!; Golden Apple Award, female star of the year, 1967; Golden Globe Award, best supporting actress, Academy Award nomination, best supporting actress, Golden Laurel Award, female supporting performance, Producers Guild of American, 1968, all for Thoroughly Modern Millie; Antoinette Perry Special Award, 1968; London Critics Award, 1970, for Carol Channing and Her Ten Stout-Hearted Men; Woman of the Year Award, Hasty Pudding Theatricals, Harvard University, 1971; Antoinette Perry Award nomination, best actress in a musical, 1974, for Lorelei, or Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes; Antoinette Perry Award, for lifetime achievement in the theater, 1995; Distinguished Lifetime Service Award, League of American Theatres and Producers, 1998; Los Angeles Drama Critics Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996; Julie Harris Award, Actors' Fund, 2002; Star on the Broadway Walk of Stars, 2002; Woman of the Year, Nevada Ballet Theatre, 2003; Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame—Television.
Singer, No for an Answer, Center Theatre, New York City, 1941.
Understudy Maggie Watson, Let's Face It, Imperial Theatre, New York City, 1941.
Steve, Proof Through the Night, Morosco Theatre, New York City, 1942.
(Broadway debut) Various roles, Lend an Ear, National Theatre, 1948.
Lorelei Lee, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Ziegfeld Theatre, New York City, 1949, later Palace Theatre, Chicago, 1951.
Ruth Sherwood, Wonderful Town, Winter Garden Theatre, New York City, 1953.
Flora Weems, The Vamp, Winter Garden Theatre, 1955.
Show Business, Curran Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1959.
Various roles, Show Girl, Eugene O'Neill Theatre, New York City, 1961.
Dolly Gallagher Levi, Hello, Dolly!, St. James Theatre, New York City, 1964–65, then Shubert Theatre, New York City, 1966, later Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York City, 1978, and 1995–96, also Shaftesbury Theatre, London, 1980.
Mrs. Dunkelmayer, "House of Dunkelmayer," Betty, "Betty," Irene, "Toreador," and Mrs. Wexel, "The Swingers," Four on a Garden, Broadhurst Theatre, New York City, 1971.
Carol Channing and Her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Princess Theatre, Melbourne, Australia, and Regent Theatre, Sydney, Australia, both 1972.
Lorelei Lee, Lorelei, or Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes (also known as Lorelei), Palace Theatre, New York City, 1974.
Lorelei Lee, Parade of Stars Playing the Palace, Palace Theatre, 1983.
The Night of 100 Stars II (also known as Night of One Hundred Stars), Radio City Music Hall, New York City, 1985.
Legends, Los Angeles, 1985–86.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Abbott! Or Night of 100 Years, Palace Theatre, 1987.
Herself and performer of song "Little Girl from Little Rock," Night of 100 Stars III (also known as Night of One Hundred Stars), Radio City Music Hall, 1990.
Give My Regards to Broadway, Carnegie Hall, New York City, 1991.
Razzle Dazzle!, Los Angeles, 2004.
Carol Channing: The First Eighty Years Are the Hardest, Feinstein's at the Regency, New York City, 2005.
Also appeared in So Proudly We Hail.
Lorelei Lee, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, U.S. cities, 1951–52.
Eliza Doolittle, Pygmalion, U.S. cities, 1953.
Ruth, Wonderful Town, U.S. cities, 1954.
Show Business, U.S. cities, 1959.
Show Girl Revue, U.S. cities, 1961.
George Burns-Carol Channing Musical Revue, U.S. cities, 1962.
Dolly Gallagher Levi, Hello, Dolly!, U.S. cities, 1965–66, 1967, 1977–80, 1983, and 1994–96.
The Carol Channing Show, U.S. cities, 1971.
Lorelei Lee, Lorelei, or Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes (also known as Lorelei), U.S. cities, 1975.
Alma, The Bed before Yesterday, Florida cities, 1976.
Jerry's Girls, Florida cities, 1984.
Sylvia Glenn, Legends, U.S. cities, 1985–86.
Mrs. Peters, Paid in Full, 1950.
Molly Wade, The First Traveling Saleslady, Universal, 1956.
Herself, Carol Channing's Los Angeles, 1966.
Muzzy, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Universal, 1967.
Narrator, All About People, 1967.
Flo Banks, Skidoo, Paramount, 1968.
Voice of Mehitabel, Shinbone Alley, 1971.
Voice, Free to Be … You & Me, 1974.
Heartland guest, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1978.
Herself, George Burns—His Wit and Wisdom, 1989.
Voice of Muddy, Happily Ever After (animated), First National Film Corporation, 1990.
Herself, Wisecracks, Alliance Releasing, 1991.
Voice of Miss Fieldmouse, Hans Christian Andersen's "Thumbelina" (animated; also known as Thumbelina), Warner Bros., 1994.
Herself, Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story (also known as The Line King), Castle Hill Productions, 1996.
Edie & Pen (also known as Desert Gamble), 1996.
(Uncredited) Herself, Homo Heights (also known as Happy Heights), 1998.
(Uncredited) Herself, The Kid Stays in the Picture (documentary), Focus Features, 2002.
Television Appearances; Series:
Voice, Where's Waldo? (animated; also known as Where's Wally), CBS, 1991.
Voice of Granny, The Addams Family (animated), 1992.
Herself, The Bold and the Beautiful (also known as Glamour and Top Models), 1993.
Herself, Hollywood Squares, 1998.
Television Appearances; Movies:
White Queen, Alice in Wonderland (also known as Alice Through the Looking Glass), CBS, 1985.
Voice of Ceiling Fan, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars (animated), The Disney Channel, 1998.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
The Carol Channing Show, CBS, 1967.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Svengali and the Blonde, NBC, 1955.
Crescendo, CBS, 1957.
The Best on Record, NBC, 1965.
The Wonderful World of Burlesque, NBC, 1966.
Carol Channing's Los Angeles, 1966.
Carol Channing and 101 Men, ABC, 1967.
Host, Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey: On Broadway, ABC, 1969.
Carol Channing Proudly Presents the Seven Deadly Sins, ABC, 1969.
Guest, Danny Thomas Looks at Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, CBS, 1970.
Host, I'm a Fan, CBS, 1972.
Performer, One More Time, CBS, 1974.
Bob Hope Comedy Special, NBC, 1974.
Voice of herself, Free to Be … You & Me, 1974.
The Royal Variety Performance 1979, 1979.
Night of 100 Stars, 1982.
Parade of Stars, ABC, 1983.
George Burns Celebrates 80 Years in Show Business, NBC, 1983.
The Night of 100 Stars II (also known as Night of One Hundred Stars), ABC, 1985.
George Burns 90th Birthday Party (also known as Kraft Salutes the George Burns 90th Birthday Special), CBS, 1986.
Herself and performer of song "Little Girl from Little Rock," "Broadway Sings: The Music of Jule Styne" (also known as "The Music of Jule Styne"), Great Performances, PBS, 1987.
The 12th Annual Circus of the Stars (also known as Circus of the Stars), CBS, 1987.
Herself, 11-22-63: The Day the Nation Cried (also known as JFK: The Day the Nation Cried), 1989.
Herself and performer of song "Little Girl from Little Rock," Night of 100 Stars III (also known as Night of One Hundred Stars), NBC, 1990.
Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, NBC, 1992.
The Carol Burnett Show: A Reunion, 1993.
Herself, Jerry Herman's "Broadway at the Bowl" (also known as Broadway at the Hollywood Bowl), PBS, 1994.
The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration, NBC, 1994.
The First 100 Years: A Celebration of American Movies, HBO, 1995.
Gail Sheehy's "New Passages," ABC, 1996.
Annie, ABC, 1999.
Halston: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 1999.
Broadway's Lost Treasures, PBS, 2003.
The Desilu Story: The Rags to Riches Success of the Desilu Empire, Bravo, 2003.
Broadway: The American Musical (documentary), PBS, 2004.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Presenter, The 19th Annual Tony Awards, WWOR (New York City), 1965.
The 40th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1968.
The 32nd Annual Tony Awards, 1978.
Presenter, The 34th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1980.
The 24th Annual Grammy Awards, CBS, 1982.
The 38th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1984.
The 1st Annual Comedy Awards, 1987.
The 43rd Annual Tony Awards, 1989.
The 45th Annual Tony Awards, 1991.
Presenter, The 46th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1992.
The 49th Annual Golden Globe Awards, TBS, 1992.
Presenter, The 46th Annual Tony Awards, 1992.
The Golden Globe's 50th Anniversary Celebration, NBC, 1994.
The 49th Annual Tony Awards, 1995.
The 50th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1996.
Presenter, The 58th Annual Tony Awards (also known as The 2004 Tony Awards), CBS, 2004.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Herself, The Milton Berle Show (also known as Texaco Star Theater and The Buick-Berle Show), 1953.
"This Little Kitty Stayed Cool," Omnibus, CBS, 1953.
Person to Person, CBS, 1956.
Mabel, "Three Men on a Horse," Playhouse 90, CBS, 1957.
Toast of the Town (also known as The Ed Sullivan Show), 1957, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1967, 1971.
The Spike Jones Show, 1957.
Daisy June, "Clem in New York," The Red Skelton Show (also known as The Red Skelton Hour), 1957.
Herself, "Comedy Time," Shower of Stars (also known as Chrysler Shower of Stars), 1957.
Herself, The Big Record, 1958.
Promenade member, "The Christmas Tree," Hallmark Hall of Fame (also known as Hallmark Television Playhouse), NBC, 1958.
"George Signs Carol Channing," The George Burns Show, NBC, 1959.
"At Carol Channing's," The Big Party for Revlon, CBS, 1959.
Here's Hollywood, 1962.
What's My Line?, 1962–66.
I've Got a Secret, 1963.
The Andy Williams Show, 1963.
Password (also known as Password All-Stars), 1963, 1964, 1965.
Guest panelist, To Tell the Truth, 1964.
Daisy June, "Clem Strikes Oil," The Red Skelton Show (also known as The Red Skelton Hour), 1964.
The Carol Burnett Show (also known as Carol Burnett and Friends), 1968, 1971, 1972.
Playboy After Dark, 1969.
Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (also known as Laugh-In), 1969, 1970, 1972.
The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, NBC, 1970, 1971.
The Flip Wilson Show, 1971, 1972.
"David Hartman," This Is Your Life, 1972.
The Dean Martin Show (also known as The Dean Martin Comedy Hour), 1972, 1974.
The Mike Douglas Show, 1974.
Herself, The Muppet Show, syndicated, 1980.
Aunt Sylvia, "Aunt Sylvia," The Love Boat, ABC, 1981.
Aunt Sylvia, "My Aunt, The Warrior," The Love Boat, ABC, 1982.
Aunt Sylvia, "My Friend the Executrix," The Love Boat, ABC, 1982.
Herself, "Distant Relative," Magnum, P.I., CBS, 1983.
Aunt Sylvia, "Authoress! Authoress!," The Love Boat, ABC, 1984.
"Soap Star," The Love Boat, ABC, 1985.
"Who Killed Maxwell Thorn?," The Love Boat, ABC, 1987.
The New Hollywood Squares, syndicated, 1988.
Super Password, NBC, 1988.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, syndicated, 1989.
Sweethearts, syndicated, 1989.
"Carol Channing's Broadway," Evening at Pops, PBS, 1989.
Voice of Canina LaFur, "A Chorus Crime," Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers (animated), 1990.
Voice of Canina LaFur, "They Shoot Dogs, Don't They?," Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers (animated), 1990.
Voice of Granny Frump, The Addams Family (animated), ABC, 1992.
Herself, "Smoke Gets in Your Lies," The Nanny, CBS, 1993.
Voice of Dr. Contralto, The Magic School Bus (animated), PBS, 1994.
"Who Killed the Fashion King?," Burke's Law, 1994.
Herself, "Girlie Show," Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Cartoon Network, 1995.
The Dana Carvey Show, ABC, 1996.
The Rosie O'Donnell Show, syndicated, 1996.
Herself, "New York and Queens," The Drew Carey Show, ABC, 1997.
Herself, "The Comeback," Touched by an Angel, CBS, 1997.
Herself, "Chelsea's First Date," Style and Substance, CBS, 1998.
"Angela Lansbury: A Balancing Act," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 1998.
CBS News Sunday Morning (also known as Sunday Morning), CBS, 2005.
Martha, syndicated, 2005.
Voice, American Dad (animated), Fox, 2005.
Voice of herself, "Patriot Games," Family Guy (animated; also known as Padre de familia), Fox, 2006.
Also appeared in Captain Kangaroo, CBS; The Lucy Show, CBS:
Just Lucky, I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts, Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Entertainment Weekly, June 2, 1995, p. 29.
Interview, October, 1995, p. 84.
Newsweek, June 1, 1998, p. 76.
People Weekly, December 16, 1985, p. 194; June 8, 1998, p. 132.
Vanity Fair, October, 1995, pp. 262-66, 268, 292-93.