Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Exceptional People: Carol Channing

Laughter is much more important than applause. Applause is almost a duty. Laughter is a reward.
--Carol Channing
Recent birthday girl Carol Channing is the first in our weekly series of Exceptional People. The very name of this American favorite elicits thoughts of pure talent and joyful entertainment. With her big voice and slight figure, Miss Channing embodies the spirit of the American theater.

Born January 31, 1921, into a Christian Scientist Family, Miss Channing recalls being drawn to theatre as a small child when, accompanying her mother on a trip to distribute the publication, “The Christian Science Monitor” backstage at San Francisco theatres, she immediately became aware that her life was to be on stage. She said, “And I stood there and realized – I'll never forget it because it came over me so strongly – that this is a temple. This is a cathedral. It's a mosque. It's a mother church. This is for people who have gotten a glimpse of creation and all they do is recreate it. I stood there and wanted to kiss the floorboards.” 

And kiss the floorboards, Miss Channing did—with a mesmerizing stage presence and a keen sense of timing and fluidity which was rare and enchanting. After her first stage job at the age of 19 in 1941, Channing quickly earned a place as Eve Arden’s understudy in the Broadway production of “Let’s Face It!” Within five years, Channing was performing in a featured role in a Broadway revue when she was spotted by by author Anita Loos and cast in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" as Lorelei Lee—the role which defined the rest of her career and gave her the song most often associated with her, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

By 1964, Miss Channing was already a Broadway legend when she awarded the title role in “Hello Dolly,” a part which brought her a Tony Award. In between these famous productions, Channing delighted audiences across the world with winning performances in films as “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and “Skiddoo.” 

With a larger than life personality, sharp wit and endearing self-awareness, Miss Channing made for the ideal guest on a host of television programs—further sealing her spot as a beloved American personality. The always cheerful Channing has used her celebrity to bring attention to the causes she most values. A fervent supporter of LGBT rights, Channing has acted as a voice for many who would otherwise go unheard. Furthermore, as a survivor of ovarian cancer, Miss Channing has sought to raise awareness of the condition and urged women to ensure their personal well-being through regular checkups. 

But, most of all—she’s Carol Channing. And, she’s wonderful. With each delightful flip of her trademark platinum locks, with each purring note and brassy song, Channing—the little woman with the big voice—has, over the course of her seventy-year long career, brought immeasurable delight to millions of people, across every medium. 

For that alone, Carol Channing is truly exceptional.

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