January 31, 1921 – January 15, 2019
To describe someone as “one of a kind” can sometimes be an understatement. Case and point: Carol Channing.
As a kid I was mesmerized by her. She didn’t even seem real with her over the top bubble hair, her bizarre voice and the way she told stories… and she NEVER BLINKED. When she came on TV, my own eyes were like spirals.
It seems like almost everyone did a Carol Channing impersonation. Most were passable… but not Lucy’s. This clip goes on forever and is almost physically painful to watch.
The big moment in Carol’s career was the play Hello, Dolly! It previewed in 1963 in my hometown of Detroit. In the 1980s my dad, on a whim, took my family to see a revival Sunday matinee of the show with Carol Channing actually in it. We were NOT a theater family. We didn’t even do movies together so it was ultra-weird, but ultra-cool. When they made the 1968 film starring Streisand, Carol was gutted. “I felt suicidal; I felt like jumping out a window. “I felt like someone had kidnapped my part.” “I’ve enjoyed wonderful health. The only time I ever got sick was when I watched Barbara Streisand in Hello, Dolly! on an airplane.”
I have always clipped articles and photographs from magazines. I don’t remember the context of this photograph, but I saved it. For this, I guess.
Carol was hugely “in” to health food – wayyyy before most of the world. Carol was bringing jars of organic vegetables and potatoes to dinner parties and restaurants in the 1960’s. Everyone just let it go. But really, it was Carol Channing. What the hell are you going to do? Tell her no? She also refused to drink alcohol.
Back to 1963, Hello, Dolly! almost closed in Detroit as the reviews were abysmal. A gossip columnist named Shirley Eder, who became good friends with Channing, “saved” the show by giving Carol a good review, though the show itself needed “doctoring.”
I had a chance to speak to Carol at a book signing and asked about Shirley Eder. Carol was a hoot and we got along great. She informed me that Shirley Eder was very ill with dementia. Shirley died in 2005.
Another time, my pal Donna Lethal and I went to a benefit that Carol threw for a animals something. It was an acid trip. Donna asked Rip Taylor how he was. “Medium.”
Jamie Farr, Loretta Switt, Lily Tomlin and Henry Gibson, Tippi Hedrin and Jo Ann Worley. Acid. Plus Carol, of course.
Carol lived in a modest home (well, 1.2 mil modest) in a gated community in Rancho Mirage, California.
It was in this home that she died on January 15, 2019 of a natural cause. It was 16 days before her 97th birthday.
There was a traditional wreath placed on Carol’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Business Cards (50k, folks!)
Thank you Brian Donnelly for the images.
Carol was cremated. Findagrave lists her cremains as “scattered”. Channing said that she wanted her ashes in scattered in her hometown of San Francisco, “in the alley between two of the city’s most famous theaters, the Curran and the Geary”. That, or thrown off the Golden Gate Bridge.
There was a memorial for Carol in Palm Springs. Our friend Jimmy Short sends this account along with photographs. Thank you, Jimmy!
“It was an honor and a privilege to be part of “Remembering Carol: A Tribute to Carol Channing on March 23, 2019, at the McCallum Theater in Palm Springs. The afternoon was exquisitely produced by Chad Hilligus and the staff & crew of the McCallum.
“The afternoon began with a recording of Carol performing the Ephrem speech from “Hello Dolly!” and then the curtain rose to reveal the legendary Carole Cook, positioned in the nook of the piano, with the backdrop of 4 of Carol’s recognizable costumes on striking white mannequins, with her original “Hello Dolly!” dress, front & center.
“The piano intro began and Ms. Cook proudly sang an elegant version of “As The Parade Passes By”, bringing forth every ounce of her soul for Carol. Tyne Daly, Lily Tomlin, Gavin MacLeod, Dori Berinstein, John Bowab and Ruta Lee, spoke about their experiences with Carol and introduced TV & film clips of her performances and her well known characters. Mary Jo Catlett, who originated the role of Ernestina in the 1964 Broadway production of “Hello, Dolly!” shared some humorous backstage tales of Carol. Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, daughter of former president Lyndon B. Johnson, shared her memories of Carol performing at the White House, which started a lifelong friendship for the both of them. Davis Gaines, who played Cornelius Hackle in the touring production of Dolly, sang a wrenching “It Only Takes A Moment”, followed by Alysha Umphress, singing a sassy and brassy version of “Diamonds” and “A Little Girl From Little Rock.”
“A real highlight was when Kristin Chenoweth entered from stage right as she was announced, with mic in hand and stopped center stage. It felt like she took in every person in the theater as she spoke briefly of her idol. When done speaking, she paused, dropped the mic to her side and said, “I think I must do this the way Carol would have wanted it”. She turned, placed the mic on the piano, and as she returned to center stage, the piano began the intro to the song “Smile”, which Kristin sang acapella, while images & photos of Carol throughout her lifetime crossed behind her on the stage. It was joyous evening!”
I think when Carol died, that was the end of living people in Rich Little’s repertoire.
Trivia: It was considered scandalous back “in the day”, but in 2002 Carol verified that she was born 1/4 African American via her paternal grandmother. “I know it’s true the moment I sing and dance. I’m proud as can be of it. It’s one of the great strains in show business. I’m so grateful. My father was a very dignified man and as white as I am.”
More Trivia: In the comments below, Motherlove mentioned the “corn story”, so I did a quick search.
During the interval of a show she was starring in, Carol was using the toilet and forgot that she was rigged with a wireless microphone. According to this story, Carol was um… “eliminating” in the toilet and didn’t realize the microphone was actually LIVE. The audience heard the appropriate sounds you would expect, then the unmistakable sound of toilet paper rustling. There was quiet for a moment until the unmistakable Channing voice exclaimed, “Corn?! When did I eat corn??!!”
12 thoughts on “Carol Channing”
Back in the early-90’s I sent Carol a Christmas card, not expecting one in return but sure enough: about a week later I got a little envelope in the mail with my name/address written in a simple block print that looked almost childlike. I was immediately charmed by her festive return address sticker which had a Christmas wreath above her name/home address which was on “Flicker Way” in Hollywood – which sounded just like where she WOULD live! Inside was a photocard or herself descending a long stairway dressed as Santa Claus; standing next to her was her then-third husband, Charles Lowe, who died a couple of years later.
Every year since, that card has been hung on my Christmas tree as an unique ornament all its own.
Nothing about the CORN??!! When did I eat CORN??!! story?
I had to look that one up! haha
Carol told a wonderful story about dinner with the Kennedys in Hyannisport. As usual, Carol brought her own food. Halfway through dinner, Bobby rose and said he thought it was very strange she brought her own food – and so much of it. I can see that now.
Bless you, Carol, for making so many smile and laugh.
On my birthday several years ago my sister took me to a very lovely patio restaurant in Palm Desert. Carol Channing and her party came in and sat right next to us. Her friend’s wheelchair kept hitting my chair. She smiled at me and mouthed, “I’m sorry” to me. She ordered the lobster salad.
Great article on a great lady.
Funny story… When I was in college (mid-2000s), I had too much to drink one night and fell down some steps, cutting my chin open. The hospital gave me some stitches and place about seven very narrow adhesive bandages vertically on my chin, all running parallel to each other with one bandage running horizontally at the top and one at the bottom to keep the whole thing in place. The objective was to keep the skin in place so it wouldn’t scar.
Depressed about my face, my roommate invited me up to Santa Barbara for the weekend to help him with a charity event his parents were the co-chairs of. My first task? Go with him to the airport and pickup the host of the event. Imagine my surprise when Carol Channing opens the door to the backseat of my car. As the luggage was being loaded I elbowed him “You didn’t tell me it was Carol Channing!” To which he said “Who’s she? Is she famous?” I almost shoved him out of the car.
In any event, our 30 minute drive to Montecito was lovely. She was as charming, wonderful and delightful as you’d hope. She griped about her ex-husband being gay and how happy she was she’d reconnected with her high school sweetheart, whom she had recently married.
At the end of the event, I asked her for a photo (something I never do) and for the first time she really had seen the front of my face, as most of our time together had been driving. She said “of course! but you have matches on your face!” Before I even realized what she was talking about, she reached out and grabbed the bandages on my face, ripping them off – having mistaken the white strips for a matchbook. Blood pouring out all over my suit, someone raced to get me a towel.
Back to the hospital I went, this time in Santa Barbara. Ms. Channing felt so bad about it she insisted my friend drive her to the flower shop and then to the hospital, where she stopped by for the photo we never took (hooray for Urgent Care photo ops!) and told me if I was ever in Palm Springs to hit her up, she owed me lunch for my trouble. I never did, sadly, but it was a memory that I shall never forget and the scar on my face is one I can wear with honor.
Awww!!!! Somehow, that just seems like Carol 🙂
Just checked out the alley in San Francisco that she said she wanted to have her ashes scattered in (on google street view). Interesting spot!
Hello, Scott! Thanks for the wonderful column you’ve written here.
I have a factoid to add. On some television show I was watching back in the day, they were interviewing Carol in her dressing room before some musical that she was doing. She had organic food in glass containers. I don’t remember all of the foods, but one of them was sunflower seeds, and she said she was eating them for dinner.
She made the comment that she had to eat like this because she was allergic to most foods. I wonder if she might have suffered from multiple chemical sensitivities. (I had a bout with this when I was young, but I am better now.) I would imagine that by eating only things that agreed with her she was able to stay very well….
Hi, Scoot love your site! Found a typo you might want to fix.
It was in this home that died on January 15, 2019 of a natural cause.
It was in this home that she died on January 15, 2019 of a natural cause.
I loved the episode of Family Guy (Patriot Games) she voiced where she not only took on Mike Tyson in a boxing match but actually bet him before complaining about young people and their rock ‘n roll 8-track tapes. According to IMDB, it was the last role/voice-over part she did before her death.
I just wanted to point out an error on the page. If she was born in 1921 and died in 2019 she would have died days before her 98th birthday not her 97th.