Carol Channing: Jazz Baby!
by John Sanchez






If Carol Channing didn't exist, nobody would have made her up. This singing, dancing, large-mouthed dynamo is one of America's biggest stars and--even though she is quite talented--it's hard to say exactly what the appeal is. Her face and voice are instantly recognized from Maine to Alaska, yet in her long career, she has starred in only five movies and one of them--the gangsters 'n' LSD comedy "Skidoo"--is sometimes cited as the worst movie ever made! Her biggest triumphs have been on the Broadway stage, a venue where only a fraction of her legion of admirers could possibly have caught her act. What makes her so unforgettable? It's simple! Even though she can give a heart-stopping show that ranks with the best of 'em, she goes that extra mile by making it look not only easy, but downright retarded!

Carol's persona is truly one-of-a-kind. She's daffy like Marilyn Monroe and Goldie Hawn, but without the bombshell factor. She's demented in the manner of a Phyllis Diller or Rusty Warren, but without the risque touch or gargoyle-like facial features. And she's a belter along the lines of Ethel Merman and Judy Garland, but without the brassy edge. She's been cast as a gold-digger again and again, which is downright bizarre when you consider that there is absolutely nothing about the woman which might be termed "seductive." Her mysteries and contradictions began to make a little more sense last year during a messy bust-up with her husband of 41 years, Charles Lowe. In the divorce papers, poor Carol disclosed that she and Mr. Lowe had only ever had sex "once or twice in our 41-year marriage and that was 41 years ago. " What's worse, she stuck to her wedding vows the whole time and didn't have sex with anyone else either! And to add insult to injury he'd funneled off her fortune and now was spending her money like--you guessed it--a "drunken sailor!" The scandal reached its anti-climax when Ms. Channing went to the press with the news that her hubby was a homo. Somehow a camp icon with a gay husband wasn't as shocking as a 41-year dry spell.

And in spite of her slap-happy, resilient image, Carol's life has been beset with other hardships, even on the career front. She triumphed on Broadway as fortune-hunting Lorelei Lee in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," but when Hollywood came to call, they cast Marilyn Monroe. To make things even worse, Marilyn kept going to see the show, then stole all of Carol's best bits! History repeated itself years later with "Hello, Dolly." The role of Dolly Levi is Carol's--she owns it, and everyone knows it. She was the first and most famous at it on Broadway even though see was followed by such megawatt ladies as Ethel Merman, Phyllis Diller, and Pearl Bailey. But the movie men thought casting her was too risky and put Barbra Streisand in the role instead. The result? A movie which everyone can agree truly sucks!

But we should all take a lesson from Carol--she took a bad and made it into a good. First, she got herself a plum role in a better movie, "Thoroughly Modern Millie," playing a rich, madcap widow named Muzzy Van Hossmere, who makes her big entrance flying in a biplane, sloshing champagne, and screaming "Raspberries!" She blew minds with two musical numbers which won't be forgotten soon--in "Jazz Baby" she tap dances on a xylophone, among other outrages, and the other song, "Do It Again," BEGINS with her being shot out of a cannon (screaming "Raspberries!" again). And it's all uphill from there! Carol also skillfully reclaimed the role of Dolly and turned the movie mis-casting to her advantage. The show has toured for just forever--Carol's performed the part well over 4,000 times to packed-houses world-wide. With her in the lead it was the first Broadway musical to play Red China. If she'd done the movie way-back when, no one would care when she rolled through town. They'd say "eh, I'll just rent the video!" But as it worked out, everyone knows if you want to see "Dolly" with the real Dolly, you gotta pay, and you should probably hurry too! If living well is the best revenge, then Carol is one well-avenged lady. Raspberries!

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