5 Questions: Carol Channing

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5 Questions is a series by Steve Duffy –

Broadway legend Carol Channing has been entertaining audiences for years. She was the original Dolly Levi and Lorelei Lee from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  Carol has won three Tony awards (including one for lifetime achievement) and an Oscar nomination for her role in 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie. 

SD: What do you attribute to having a long and successful career?

CC: Well, I suppose living as long as I have is the greatest contributor to the length of my career. With regard to how successful … Well, I was blessed to work with some of the greatest talents in the industry, who taught me not only the how’s, but also nurtured my already existing love of the craft.

SD: You’ve played some great roles before and after Dolly. What makes Dolly your most iconic role?

CC: Jerry Herman’s Dolly arrived at the right time. The country had been recently devastated by the assassination of JFK.  Audiences could relate to Dolly and she gave them a much needed escape from reality … if only momentarily.  In fact, Jackie Kennedy made her first public appearance with the children at a matinee of “Hello Dolly!”  Dolly continues to resurface when Americans most need to laugh.

 SD: “Hello, Dolly!” is still breaking box office records with Bette Milder. What was your reaction to Bette playing the role you created?

CC: Oh!  I hear Bette is terrific as Dolly. I’m not surprised.  She came to visit me here in Palm Springs before she opened on Broadway.  There were a lot of women who followed me as Dolly, but I don’t recall anyone ever making that pilgrimage to discuss the role before.  She was very interested in Dolly’s origins, but she …well, like the others … made the character her own.  That is the key to success with any role.  You have to make them your own. You have to love them, even if the character isn’t very likable to others. 

SD: What lesson have you learned from your career?

CC: What lesson? I don’t think I can narrow it down to one. I do know that the role you’re portraying at that moment has to be your favorite.  As much as I loved Lorelei and Dolly … or Muzzy, you can’t hold onto them.  I have to fall in love with the next one or the audience knows.  If you aren’t completely enamored by the character you’re playing, the audience won’t be either.

SD: Looking back on your career, any regrets?

CC: I can’t recall any regrets. Then again, maybe I have just forgotten them.

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