Carol Channing: Stories And Facts About Her Life
Carol Channing in 1973. Source: Photo By Dave Buresh/The Denver Post via Getty Images
When it comes to Carol Channing, stories abound -- like her famous characters Dolly Gallagher Levi (from Hello, Dolly!) and Lorelei Lee (from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Channing was a larger-than-life persona. She was an entertainer at all times, with a raspy voice and large, expressive eyes that you couldn't ignore. We don't see stars like Carol Channing anymore, which is a shame, but we'll always have the unusual vignettes and facts.
Carol Channing Was Biracial. Or Was She?
Carol Channing was born in 1921 in Seattle. Her father may have been biracial (African American and Euro-American), but she was not completely sure of her father’s background. Her father was George Stucker and he changed his surname to Channing for religious reasons prior to his daughter’s birth. Before she left for college, her mother had informed her that her father’s mother was black, but Channing had no proof of this; the census records from 1890 that would have contained the information were destroyed in a fire. However, Channing said that she knew it was true because she could feel her African ancestry when she sang and danced.
Channing's mother's rationale for telling her of her possible racial heritage was interesting. The 17-year-old Carol was headed to college; adulthood awaited and Channing would be making her own grownup decisions. Her mother thought her daughter should be informed. Channing recalled that her mother said, "I’m only telling you [that you are mixed race] because the Darwinian law shows that you could easily have a black baby."
Inspiration Was Born In San Francisco
Though she was born in Seattle, they didn’t stay there long; her family moved to San Francisco shortly after she was born. It was in San Francisco that she discovered her love of the theater. That particular affair began when she was a small child backstage at the Curran Theater handing out Christian Science pamphlets for her father who was an editor for several Christian Science publications. This love affair blossomed into her first lead role on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and led to a career that lasted more than 70 years. A versatile performer, she appeared not only on Broadway but in film and tv as well, with roles on shows from The Love Boat to Sesame Street.
Carol Channing Was A Class Clown. Hard To Believe, Right?
Her sense of humor also emerged at a young age as well. In the fourth grade, she was elected class secretary. Her campaign consisted of kidding the teachers. She would continue to be secretary through high school, and she would read the weekly minutes to her class, sometimes impersonating fellow students. Her penchant for entertaining followed her to Bennington College, where she would entertain her peers on Friday nights.
She Met The Love Of Her Life When She Was Young -- But Married Three Other Dudes First
She also found the love of her life in her youth. Although she didn’t marry him at the time -- she was married three times before she married Harry Kulijian who had been her boyfriend in junior high. They married in 2003. With her fourth husband, she formed the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kulijian Foundation which has the goal of promoting arts education.
Carol Channing Was Chummy With Democratic First Ladies
In addition to winning critical acclaim on the stage, she was connected to some politicians, although not always in good ways. She met Jackie Kennedy backstage when she was performing Hello Dolly! after JFK’s assassination. After this meeting, she would visit the Kennedys in Hyannis Port, every other weekend on her days off. She also developed a friendship with Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson and sang a version of “Hello Dolly” for Johnson’s 1964 election campaign.
Nixon Hated Carol Channing, For Reasons Unknown
However, she was not tight with every politician: after the Watergate scandal, her name showed up on an "enemies list" compiled by Richard Nixon. She was not completely sure what she did to invite his ire, but in an interview, she offered that it was because Nixon thought she did not know how to behave properly in the White House. She has said that it was her biggest honor.
Carol Channing Brought Her Own Food To Restaurants
She had interesting dietary habits. In 1998, she revealed that she had not eaten restaurant food in 15 years but by 1995, she resumed eating restaurant food. She did go to restaurants however, but she would bring her own containers of food.
She died 16 days before her 98th birthday. Her ashes were scattered in San Francisco between the Curran and the Geary Theater.
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