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7 Interesting Facts About The Late, Great Carol Channing

Carol Channing was a well-known actress, singer, dancer, and comedian, who starred in both Broadway and film musicals. Her characters often expressed themselves with passion and zeal, and possessed an easily identifiable voice. Her dynamic personality showed through the many characters she played, using her wide range of talent to portray all kinds of whacky and interesting roles. She was a true entertainer, who was always “on,” and relied on her raspy voice, and deep, expressive eyes that could not be ignored. Though she’s now passed, her memory lives on through all of her incredible performances.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org/AllanWarren

Unknown Origins

Carol was born in 1921 in Seattle, Washington. What’s strange is that her father was believed to be bi-racial (specifically a mix of European and African American), but his family history was so cloudy that it was impossible to be sure. It was only through what she was told by her mother that she believed her father was partially African-American.

Later on, Channing would claim that she could feel her African roots when she sang and danced, though it was never proven either way. Her mother’s rationale for telling her of the possible ancestry of her father was to inform her that there was the potential for her to give birth to a black child.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org/John Mathew Smith

San Francisco Inspiration

Her family didn’t remain in Seattle for long, and soon moved to San Francisco after Channing’s birth. This is where she would discover her love for the theater. It all began with her as a small child backstage, handing out Christian Science pamphlets at the Curran Theater. There, she met a man who was an editor for several of these types of publications.

This first exposure would later blossom into her very first lead role on Broadway for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Her career would last over 70 years, and she would go on to achieve fame on both the stage and the screen, using her versatility to stay relevant over the years.

The Class Clown

Carol developed her wicked sense of humor at a young age. Throughout the fourth grade, she would have fun with everything she did in school. She impersonated her classmates and teachers, and read the weekly minutes to her class in ridiculous voices. This led her to Bennington College, entertaining her peers on Friday evenings.

Four Marriages

Ironically, she met the love of her life when she was very young, but they didn’t marry. It took three marriages before she finally settled down with her fourth husbamd, Harry Kullijian, her sweetheart and junior high boyfriend. She married her husband in 2003, later forming the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kulijian Foundation with the goal of promoting arts education.

Photo: en.wikipedia.org/Cecil Stoughton

A Fan of First Ladies

Along with her critical acclaim, she had some serious political connections to boot. That being said, the connections weren’t always the good kind. She first met First Lady Jackie Kennedy backstage at a performance of Hello Dolly! not long after her husband’s assassination. After that meeting, she would regularly visit the Kennedys (nearly every other weekend) in Hyannis Port.

Channing also managed to develop a strong friendship with both Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson, even singing a version of Hello Dolly during his election campaign in 1964.

Photo: flickr.com/James Vaughan

Nixon Wasn’t a Fan

Though she got along well with many politicians, Richard Nixon wasn’t one of them. Apparently, after the Watergate scandal, Channing’s name showed up on an “enemies list” compiled by the president himself. Even though she wasn’t entirely sure why this was the case, she assumed it may have been because he didn’t approve of the way she carried herself while visiting the White House.

My Food, Your Place

For the majority of her life, Channing refused to eat restaurant food, instead opting to bring her own healthy, organic meals with her anytime she would be out with friends. At one point, it was known that she hadn’t eaten restaurant food for around 15 years, until she finally began eating restaurant food again during the mid 1990s.

Photo: flickr.com/KGO Radio

Carol Channing passed away in January 2019, just shy of her 98th birthday, and her ashes were scattered with much love between the Curran theater and the Geary theater, in San Francisco. The day after her passing, the lights on Broadway were dimmed in her honor, and a crowd gathered outside the St. James Theater to celebrate the anniversary of the opening of the original Broadway production of Hello, Dolly.