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Questions For… Carol Channing

February 10, 2011

Carol Channing by Michael Davis

Carol Channing by Michael Davis

On February 21, The Actors Fund Musical Mondays series celebrates the 90th Birthday of the legendary, three-time Tony Award-winner Carol Channing at Los Angeles’ historic Pantages Theatre. The hottest ticket in townthe evening is already sold out!this benefit performance for The Actors Fund and the Channing-Kullijian Foundation for the Arts will be hosted by Bruce Villanch and feature an array of stars including Carole Cook, Jo Anne Worley, Davis Gaines, and—of course—Broadway’s original Dolly.

Ms. Channing has been a longtime fan of The Actors Fund, and was awarded the Fund’s Julie Harris Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. In anticipation of this one-of-a-kind evening, Ms. Channing graciously answered a few of our questions:

AF: You’ve had such an incredible career. How does it feel to be turning 90?
CC: I can’t say that I’ve given it much thought—certainly not as much as everyone else has. I was raised Christian Science, and birthdays were never really celebrated. My very first birthday party was given to me by President Kennedy—they brought a cake out and I didn’t know what to think of it.

Why did you decide to make your 90th birthday celebration a benefit performance?
Actually, I didn’t. Someone came to Harry and suddenly there it was on my calendar. They surprised me in New York at the Gypsy Awards. Tyne Daly and Lee Roy Reams brought a huge cake on to the stage. Someone said it was left over from Liza’s birthday, but I loved it. They also had a surprise cake for me in Houston last weekend when I performed there. You know, I still have yet to get a piece of one.

Why do you think The Actors Fund, an organization that’s there to support everyone in the entertainment industry, is so important to the community?
Oh, they’ve just been around forever…even longer than me, if you can believe that? They have helped so many actors and other people in the industry. I have had friends who have relied on their services.

Ms. Channing at the Pantages

Ms. Channing at the Pantages

Your own foundation, the Dr. Carol Channing & Harry Kullijian Foundation for the Arts, supports arts education. Why do you think—especially these days—providing for and promoting arts education is so important?
Harry and I were so lucky to have the arts in our lives as children. Statistics have shown that exposure to the arts dramatically increases brain functions for other academic areas, like math and science. It’s like fertilizer on the brain, that’s what it is. It also builds self-confidence, self-discipline, and teamwork. There is a California school, Creative Planet School of the Arts, that only offers arts to students who maintain a certain grade average, and all of the students are doing it. Isn’t that wonderful?

Do you have any special anecdotes about any of the performers sharing the stage with you that night?
Carole Cook! You know, I think she was Dolly in Sydney longer than I was on Broadway? Oh, and Jo Anne Worley (make sure you say her name right—it’s pronounced “Whir-ley,” but you know that). She is such a good friend. Figures they would get the only two women funnier than me…but don’t let them know that. Oh, and Bruce Vilanch. Oh, is he funny. The audience is going to be worn out before I come on the stage.

Are there any special memories of the Pantages you’d be willing to share?
I was in Dolly at the Pantages. It’s a beautiful theatre. The acoustics are wonderful. I think my Star on the Walk of Fame is in front of the Pantages.

It’s going to be an incredible night. Is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to?
Seeing my friends. It sounds like so many of them will be there. Someone said that there are people coming who knew or saw me in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. They must be very old.

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