The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, “What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you’re going to do anyway, over everybody’s dead body.” For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.
Aside from Dolly, her signature roles included Lorelei Lee in Broadway’s Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1949)—several years before Marilyn Monroe took on the role in the later film version—and Muzzy Van Hossmere in the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie. For Millie, she was in excellent company, acting opposite Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore, and Channing’s performance won her a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.
Age wasn’t just a number for Channing—it meant even less than that. At 74, she reprised her role of Dolly for the third time on Broadway, and through the years, she performed it thousands of times, even on international tours to Britain, Australia, Japan and China.
An anecdote in The New York Times asserts that birthdays simply weren’t on Channing’s radar:
She said she did not observe her birthday until Jan. 31, 1993, her 72nd, when she was a guest at a White House dinner and, to her amazement, President Bill Clinton noted the occasion in his remarks. When she replied that she had never celebrated her birthday, the president responded, “Well, then this is your first birthday.”