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.
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 Bennington 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. 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."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Carol Channing's Career
Carol Channing's Awards
Tony Award for best comedy actress, 1964, for Hello, Dolly!
- Selective Works
- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, original Broadway cast, 1949.
- Hello, Dolly!, original Broadway cast, RCA, 1964.
October 11, 2005: Channing did the first performance of her cabaret show,
- 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.