My Time With Carol Channing, The Original 'Dolly!", Dead At 97

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Carol Channing died this morning at the age of 97. This is an interview I did with her in 1995 for The Hartford Courant.


The voice is unmistakable, the sound of a showgirl who swallowed a contralto.

The face is a Hirschfeld drawing brought to life, all eyes and lashes and lipstick. And hair that's as big and bright as cotton candy.

The person is Carol Channing. And as the title song of "Hello, Dolly!" says, "Wow wow wow, fellas. Look at the old girl now, fellas."

At 74 (she's a Christian Scientist and doesn't believe in birthdays as much as a "series of life plateaus"), Channing is certainly now on one of her highest elevations, celebrating a triumphant tour with a revival of one of the most popular American musicals.

"Hello, Dolly!" -- opening Tuesday at the Bushnell Memorial in Hartford for a one-week run -- has been justifying its exclamation point by doing terrific business nationwide. And Channing's twilight Dolly has been receiving one valentine review after another.

Channing says this Dolly is more bawdy "and unashamed at her five physical senses" because the world is a lot different now than it was in 1964, when the musical opened on Broadway and became a phenomenon of its time.

Opening just two months after the Kennedy assassination, the show was a return to a happy, hopeful Americana and just the tonic the country needed. With Channing in the lead, the Jerry Herman musical, directed by Gower Champion, won a record 10 Tony Awards, including best musical. Channing even beat out Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl" for the best-actress Tony that year. The show played for 2,844 performances, with Channing logging in 1,273 consecutive appearances before hitting the road. Succeeding her were a long line of Dollys, including Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable and Pearl Bailey.

"Sooner or later people would stop going back to see `Hello, Dolly!' " wrote critic Walter Kerr. "They'd just settle down and live there."