Carol Channing was Broadway royalty.
Even as a 9-year-old, I knew when I saw Carol Channing perform “Hello Dolly” in 1964 I was witnessing pure magic.
Seated in a plush seat at the St. James Theatre clutching my Playbill I was dazzled. I couldn’t keep my eyes off this larger than life, fast-talking, gravely voiced powerhouse of a woman with the big saucer eyes gleaming with an innocence that belied her savyness.
Her incandescent smiled glowed all the way up to our seats in the mezzanine.
Resplendent in a scarlet gown embroidered in jewels and a feathered headdress she looked like an animated kewpie doll as she belted out “Hello Dolly” with such an earthy zest all while leading a male chorus of waiters and chefs in a promenade around a walk that arched the top of the orchestra pit.
I was mesmerized, forever solidifying my love of Broadway and Miss Channing.
I would cherish that Playbill for years.
The 1964-65 theatre season was stupendous by anyone’s imagination.
It saw the opening of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the incredible Zero Mostel and “Funny Girl” starring the incomparable Barbra Streisand. But in a season of jewels, “Hello Dolly” sparkled like a diamond, winning 10 Tonys.
My mother had been a fan of the platinum blonde actress ever since Channing’s knock out performance in 1949 as the diamond obsessed Lorelei Lee in “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” Her rendition of “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend” secured her spot in Broadway history.
Though my mother and I would disagree as to who was the more iconic loveable, gold digger Lorelei Lee, Carol Channing or my film based choice of Marilyn Monroe, there was never ever any doubt who owned Dolly Gallagher Levi.
Through the years countless others took to the stage as Dolly.Talented actresses from Pearl Bailey, Ethel Merman, Bette Midler, and yes even including a 14 year old me in a Junior H.S. production.
But for me there is only one Dolly – the originator – Miss Carol Channing. A Broadway treasure who was an original herself.
We will miss her, but boy she had a good long run.