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Greg’s Review: “Carol Channing: Larger Than Life”

A scene from <i>Carol Channing: Larger Than Life</i><br> (© Peter James Zielinski)
Carol Channing
Even before I saw the first frame of the documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life at a special Outfest screening Friday night, I knew I was probably going to like this movie.
I’m a huge fan of this three-time Tony Award winning legend who has been enchanting audiences since the 1940s with such signature roles as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly!
But I had no idea how much I would absolutely love this film which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and will screen at Outfest next month.
We are treated to a treasure trove of clips from film and television performances – some very rare – and wonderful interviews with Miss Channing as she walks around the Broadway theater district and back in San Francisco where she grew up. It is so very sweet to see her and husband Harry Kullijian go down memory lane. They were junior high school sweethearts, spent more than 60 years apart before reuniting and marrying eight years ago.
“Every time he kisses me, I think I’m 12 years old again,” she says in the film.
The film’s director, Dori Berinstein, assembles quite an impressive group of showbiz folks to reflect on Miss Channing’s life and career including Jerry Herman (who wrote Hello, Dolly!), Lily Tomlin, Barbara Walters, Chita Rivera, Tyne Daly, Debbie Reynolds, Marge Champion, Jo Anne Worley, Bruce Vilanch, Tommy Tune, the late Betty Garrett and many of the dancers in the company of her last Broadway revival of Dolly in 1994.

Says Tomlin in the film: “When someone is so alive and in the moment, it takes your breath away.”

We learn some things about Miss Channing that we didn’t know before: Her first onscreen kiss was to be with Clint Eastwood in the 1956 film The First Traveling Saleslady. The two practiced and choreographed their clinch and finally filmed it but it got cut from the film!
We also find out that the legend about Channing never, ever missing a performance is not completely true: she once missed half a show on the road with Hello Dolly! when she became ill with food poisoning and began to throw up on the stage.
She also was being treated for ovarian cancer during a national tour of the show but never missed a show because of it. She explains: “That’s the road and it’s sacred to me – sacred.”
It is fascinating to hear her and Herman recall how Dolly got terrible reviews on the road before its Broadway debut. When he came up with the number Before the Parade Passes By, which greatly elevated the show and tied the story together, he woke Channing up at 3 a.m. at the hotel where the company was staying and had her sing it. They then woke up director David Merrick.
The thrill of seeing the movie Friday night (aside from seeing myself in a crowd shot taken when Channing appeared at the West Hollywood Book Fair a few years ago) was that after the credits rolled, we were treated to some time with the legend herself – the still dynamic and funny Miss Channing herself who is now 90 years old.
She really is larger than life.

CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE – Exclusive Clip from Carol Channing Film on Vimeo.


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2 Remarks

  1. I was there too and this was truly a magical evening and movie! Thanks for spreading the word Greg.

  2. I didn’t know about the documentary but hope to see it. I handled Channing’s wardrobe during the tours of Carol Channing and Her Twelve Gentlemen followed by the tour with George Burns in the 1960s. It was a rather fractious time with Charles Lowe. Glad that she has found a good soul-mate.

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