Most people remember Carol from Hello, Dolly!, but her Broadway debut came in 1948 in Marc Blitzstein’s No For An Answer. She has nearly a dozen Broadway shows to her name including Lend an Ear, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Wonderful Town. She has also been the recipient of three Tony Awards; one for Hello, Dolly! in 1964, a special Tony Award in 1968, and a 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony Award.
While I could trifle with a few sluggish moments in Ms. Berinstein’s film, this film’s subject makes it sparkle. A good deal of the time, we see Ms. Channing with her husband Harry Kullijian, Ms. Channing’s fourth husband, and first love. She and Mr. Kullijian dated when Ms. Channing was 12. They went their separate ways and found each other again 70 years later, but not before Ms. Channing was married three previous times. Before Kullijian, she weathered 42 insufferable years married to her publicist, Charles Lowe. In the film, Ms. Channing talks about her previous relationship, and her current husband’s previous relationship saying “He had a beautiful 65-year-marriage… and she died. And I had a miserable 42-year marriage.” (In a sad note, Mr. Kullijian died on December 26, 2011, just before his 92nd birthday and the release of this film.)
Also appearing in the film are Jerry Herman, Lily Tomlin, Chita Rivera, Barbara Walters, Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller (the sixth woman to play Dolly Levi on Broadway), Marge Champion, and JoAnne Worley, to name a few. Ms. Worley tells of being Channing’s understudy for Hello, Dolly! and never having the opportunity to go on. Carol Channing only missed one half of one performance of Hello, Dolly! in more than 5,000 performances. Also in the movie are some of the chorus boys from the 1995 Broadway revival of Hello, Dolly! who all speak lovingly of the woman who rallied her cast-mates with events like nights out at the movies.
One of Broadway’s greatest historians, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld had drawn Carol a number of times. Ms. Berinstein drew on this inspiration and turned one of those caricatures into animated transitions used throughout the film. One minor disappointment in the film is not getting to see Richard Skipper, famed Carol Channing impersonator (who they interview), do his impersonation of Carol.
I had a great time at this film. It was an opportunity to see the real persona behind this truly, “larger-than-life” character.