Monday, February 3, 2014

Dark Monday • Carol Channing as Lorelei Lee

Carol Channing photo Carol_Channing_zpsa2171513.jpg

I am not sure why, but I was thinking a lot about Carol Channing recently, so I decided to go with it. Channing made a name for herself being equal parts talent, personality, and camp. Carol is at her best when she is being big and bold, a version of the Al Hirschfeld drawings amplified. She started working as an actress in New York City in the early 1940s, and quickly moved from off-Broadway to Broadway. In 1949, she opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre, the first to play Lorelei Lee in the great musical, 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes'. The show had music by the great Jule Styne, lyrics by Leo Robin, with a book by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos, based on the original story by Loos. While most are more familiar with Marilyn Monroe's star turn in the film version of the show a few years later. I happened across a clip of Carol doing a couple of songs from the show on NBC's 'The Buick Berle Show' from 1953. This is Channing performing her take on "I'm Just A Little Girl From Little Rock" and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend".

Channing became best known for her time as Dolly Levi in the original production of 'Hello Dolly!', although like 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes', when Hollywood filmed the show, she lost out to a younger starlet. Dolly earned her the first of three Tony Awards. And because of her highly stylized and energetic performance style, Channing has been a steady presence on the drag circuit across the country. It had been reported in 1973, during the Watergate hearings, that Channing was on a master list of Nixon's political opponents, informally known as Nixon's "enemies list". She has subsequently said that her appearance on this list was the highest honor in her career. Put all that together, and you understand why I love her so!

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