Hello, Carol! (and Really, What More Can Be Said?)
Carol Channing, subject of Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (which opened Friday at SIFF Cinema at the Film Center) , is 91 years old. You might have known that. She’s also black (one-quarter). I didn’t know that. She’s also Jewish. She admits that even she didn’t know that.
An ability to laugh and take things easy helped Ms. Channing get to 91, surely. I’m not so sure about her Christian Science faith, which has ruined the health of a few people I can think of. I think she was just lucky-gened. She went well over 5,000 performances of Hello, Dolly! and by her reckoning she missed exactly one half of one performance–food poisoning in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Even vomiting backstage, she got onstage for half of the show. She says someone told her that if she had to go down for a half, Kalamazoo was the place to do it.
She never even missed a show while being treated for ovarian cancer. The mind does reel.
I found it tough to criticize this particular documentary because to start with, no one can find anything bad to say about its subject (her third husband/manager’s another story). She beat the odds to become a star. She beat cancer. She survived her third husband. She admits she could have been a better mother, and her only child, a professional cartoonist, suspiciously isn’t in the film.
But she carried a “Dolly” revival for 18 months without ever losing a single one of her backing dancer/singers. She comforted one of them, dying from AIDS, backstage in the middle of a show, and told him to come back to work when he felt like it.
She shared a stage with Louis Armstrong, when Satchmo scored a hit with “Hello, Dolly!”. The Las Vegas hotel management stuck the genius in a trailer park, across a busy highway from the hotel. Satch said he couldn’t understand running across the highway every night when he’d blown his horn for royalty.
How, Carol Channing wonders 48 years later, did Satchmo know that she’d understand him so well? And except for Carol Channing herself, this is the film’s only unsolved mystery.