Carol Channing, legendary Broadway actress, dies at 97


Channing's first great role was also her first big break as Lorelei Lee in the 1949 original Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Her offstage resume was expansive, often curious and relentlessly fun. The show brought her to the attention of prominent admirers including Thornton Wilder, Lady Bird Johnson, and Jacqueline Kennedy, who reportedly brought her children to see "Hello, Dolly!" in their first public outing after President John F. Kennedy's death. "Who are the diamonds in the rough that go upstream against everything?" said Channing.

Channing also became a darling on the small screen, appearing on TV quiz shows and other programs including "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In", "The Love Boat", "Touched by an Angel" and "Family Guy". Even though director Gower Champion had worked on her first Broadway hit, "Lend an Ear", he had doubts about Channing's casting. " she said in 2014". But whatever the shortcomings and however unintentional, the result is now a cultural heirloom, a charismatic collection of campy song and dance.

Channing has seemingly done it all as a performer. No matter the part, she made it her own, including a 1985 reinterpretation of the White Queen in a made-for-TV adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

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Despite the short run time, a New Yorker magazine critic commented, "You will hear more about a satiric chanteuse named Carol Channing".

Perhaps because of her fame, but more likely because of the power of her charm and optimism, political power players sought out Channing. She was an unlikely choice for the role. But the role with which Channing will always be identified is Dolly. At opening night on January 16, 1964, when Channing appeared at the top of the stairs in a red gown with feathers in her hair and walked down the red carpet to the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, the NY audience went insane.

Johnson's successor, Richard Nixon, liked her less. Ten years later she was still getting applause, this time for a cabaret act.

"Live theater is something that can't possibly die because we're working on their metabolism", said Channing. She was part of an act at the Tamiment Resort in Pike County. Channing took to the stage more than 1,000 time across a seven-decade career and only missed one performance due to illness - the second act of Dolly - after suffering food poisoning in MI. "There's a fire escape there", she said, "but they'll have to take that out".