Ethel Merman passed on the original Hello, Dolly! because she was tired of living her “life in a dressing room.”  Instead, for over 5000 performances, Carol Channing lived there.  If you are just catching up with the latest installment of her life, after Channing’s 2002 memoir Just Lucky I Guess, which took her four and a half years to write, you’ll find that at ninety plus, she has remarried and lost a husband (her birthday is also this month).  She tells us that she has just recently found out that her mother was Jewish (in the autobiography, we learned that her dad had African-American blood).  On talk shows, in the past, she usually discussed her parents with regard to their family life as Christian Scientists.  About her son, who was left in boarding schools—and for whom she made Ethel Waters an adopted grandmother (see yesterday’s blog for ‘Suppertime’)–or her previous husband, who had sex with her only twice in four decades–we don’t get much, not that you’ll hear her complain.  Debbie Reynolds, interviewed for the documentary, breaks down almost immediately (she also suffered a husband who left her with nothing); the Dolly “waiters” are devastated by the loss of one of their number to AIDs.  You might even find yourself becoming ridiculously nostalgic as you hear “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” or another Herman or Styne standard (interviews here include those with Loni Anderson, Tyne Daly, Betty Garrett, Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury, Bob Mackie, Chita Rivera, Lily Tomlin, Tommy Tune, Barbara Walters, and JoAnne Worley, among others). Channing herself goes unfazed—she’s onto her next cue; the only analysis she’s interested in is how to play the moment, not the past.  Like Dolly herself, who continued to talk to her husband after his death, Channing isn’t much interested in tragedy. She’s better for theatre than for film (Marge Champion tells us that she was too “big” for the camera) or even life.  Somebody will undoubtedly provide a fuller assessment one day, but, for right now, console yourself with what’s on display here–like the classic joke about strawberries Channing tells TV host Gene Shalit, who is completely tickled pink.

Releases in LA, 1/20; opens in NY, SF, Expansion, 2/3  

© 2012 by Bob Shuman. All rights Reserved.        

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