Born in Seattle, Washington, in 1921, Carol Channing is a singer and actress whose performances have earned her multiple Tony Awards®, including one in 1995 for Lifetime Achievement.
Before she was a month old, Channing’s family moved to San Francisco, where she grew up. She briefly attended Bennington College, majoring in drama and dance. She made her New York debut in January 1941, appearing in Marc Blitzstein’s labor opera No for an Answer at Manhattan’s Mecca Temple (now New York City Center) and, later that year, became an understudy in Cole Porter’s Broadway musical Let’s Face It! She played Steve in Allan R. Kenward’s short-lived play Proof Through the Night and was an original cast member in Charles Gaynor’s musical revue Lend an Ear (1948); in the revue she caught the attention of Anita Loos, the author of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Loos recognized Channing’s appeal and had her cast as Lorelei Lee, the central character, in the Broadway musical version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1949). Channing’s performance was a huge success, and the musical launched her into stardom; the first to sing the classic “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” she can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording. She also played Lorelei Lee in the musical sequel Lorelei (1974), by Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green.
In 1953–54 she joined the cast of Bernstein’s Wonderful Town as Ruth Sherwood, replacing Rosalind Russell, and played Flora Weems in The Vamp (1955), a musical by James Mundy and John La Touche.
But it was in the title role of Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly! (1964) that Channing scored her greatest success. The show ran until 1970, with 2,844 performances, and Channing never missed a show during her run. The production won several Tonys®, including one for Best Actress in a Musical for Channing. Her performance can be heard on the original Broadway cast recording, which became a runaway bestseller. She reprised her role as Dolly Gallagher Levi in two Broadway revivals (1978, 1996).
In a cast that included Sid Caesar and Tommy Lee Jones, Channing played in Four on a Garden (1971), a sequence of four one-act comedies. She also was one of the performers – including Tony Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch, and Liza Minnelli – in Jule’s Friends at the Palace, a benefit concert celebrating music by Jule Styne.
In addition to her work on stage, Channing appeared in a number of movies, including Skidoo, Thoroughly Modern Millie (playing alongside Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore), and Alice in Wonderland. For her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie she earned an Academy Award® nomination for Best Supporting Actress and won a Golden Globe® Award for Best Supporting Actress. On television she has made many guest appearances on such programs as The Love Boat; Magnum, PI; The Nanny; Touched by an Angel; and The Drew Carey Show.
In the 21st century, Channing published her memoirs, Just Lucky I Guess (2003), and toured the nation with a one-woman show entitled The First Eighty Years Are the Hardest.