For decades, Carol Channing has entertained audiences with her outrageous personality and one-of-a-kind voice. With her 90th birthday around the corner, the famed actress sat down with dot429 to discuss her secrets to success, views on LGBT affairs, and how celebrity has changed over the years.
With one of the longest and most successful careers in show business, what are your keys to success?
Carol Channing: Always remember that the next job is going to be your best. That’s one of the reasons I never missed a performance. It wasn’t that I was all fire healthy all the time. In fact, I would just get sicker thinking about that. I knew that trips had been planned, babysitters had been hired, and disappointing them made me sicker. I also knew that skipping a show meant you probably would have given your best performance, and you missed it.
As an international icon and a gay icon, what are your views on the current “state of affairs” in the LGBT community (specifically gay marriage)?
Carol Channing: I honestly don’t know. I never cared if someone was gay or not. If a friend was gay? Well, that’s all there was to it. The gay community is responsible for so much of my success, and I love them. It’s a mutual love affair, really. They make the better audiences too, because they laugh often and loudly. Applause is obligatory, but laughter is a reward, and gay audiences reward me often. Years ago, I was made their Queen in San Francisco, which is so much better than legend or icon. I was told that on that day, there wasn’t a blonde wig to be found in stores. Isn’t that wonderful.
What do you believe are the primary contributing factors that make you an acclaimed gay icon?
Carol Channing: I can’t think of myself as an icon or legend. The moment you do, then you’re not. There are so many talented people that have been called a “gay icon” that have no similarities at all. So I don’t know that I can answer that. There will always be certain individuals that a minority will put on pedestals, but for different reasons. The gay community has had Sophie Tucker, Ethel Merman, Bette Midler, Cher, Madonna. The list is long, really. The only thing I can think of that they have in common is a desire to lift up the audience.
How do you think celebrity has changed over the years?
Carol Channing: Celebrity? I may not understand what you mean, but anyone can be a celebrity nowadays. My dear friend Annie Miller wrote “Star” as her occupation on a form once. I think she had a point. There are a lot of celebrities for various lengths of fame, but a star is someone who has maintained the love of audiences for a period of time. If they maintain the title of star long enough, then I suppose they are blessed to be referred to as a legend.
You have been performing for a long time. Do you still have future goals or have you accomplished everything you wanted?
Carol Channing: I don’t know yet. No matter how old you get, and I’ll be 90 in January, there is always something around the corner that you feel passionate about and need to accomplish or complete. For me, it is the Resolution that Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced to the House and passed unanimously. Isn’t that great. Anyway, the resolution is coming up before the Senate, and I am very passionate about that right now and convinced that getting the arts back into the curriculum of our schools is the most important thing I have ever done or will ever do. I am very proud of my past. I will always be grateful to Loreli, Dolly, Muzzy and all of the other characters I was privileged to create. But the experience and achievement, my father’s favorite word, will have been wasted if we don’t take advantage of those successes to make change. Tippi Hedren uses her role of Melanie in “The Birds” to help rescue abused animals at Shambala, Florence Henderson uses Mrs. Brady to raise awareness for Cancer among other topics, Alison Arngrim uses Nellie Oleson to help protect abused children, and all of us try and continue the awareness raising of AIDS.
What is the most difficult thing you have had to overcome in your career and how did you do it?
Carol Channing: Well, I had cancer through much of the tour of Dolly. I think performing saved me. An audience is a healing thing. You send out a little love and it is returned sevenfold. You return it and it comes back again, and all of that love cures you.
What is your advice for youth that want a career in show business?
Carol Channing: Love what you do and keep doing it. Don’t let stage fright control you. Helen Hayes once said that stage fright is God-given. It triggers something in the brain that makes you reach for a great performance. Noel Coward used to throw up before every show. I get so nervous before I take that first step on stage, every time. Most really good performers do. They worry that this is the audience that won’t get it or this will be the show I’ll forget my lines.
Do you think show business is more difficult to break into today than it was when you started?
Carol Channing: Harder? No. Different? Yes. There are so many new and exciting outlets for entertainment now. My very dear friend, Phyllis Diller, is now on a show that runs on the internet. There are so many ways to creatively express yourself or share your talent nowadays.
You have been a big advocate for supporting the education of art in the public schools. Why is this so dear to your heart and how much progress have you made?
Carol Channing: Thank you for asking about that. My husband Harry and I are just dedicating all of our time to this because it is so important. The arts are like fertilizer on the brains of young children. It helps them develop in other areas like Math, English, Science, and Geography. It’s true, dropout rates are climbing as the arts are being removed. It’s not a coincidence. I’ve been speaking to students across the country, and they all tell me that school is boring. The arts teach self-esteem and teamwork. Sports is a great social outlet, but not all children are inclined to play a sport. There is a group in southern California called Creative Planet School of the Arts that offers dance, voice, etc. to students that maintain a certain grade average. Students who were dropping or flunking out are suddenly A students. I think their success rate is 100%.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Carol Channing: Please make sure your readers know about the HR 275 resolution going through the Senate. Think about what school would have been like if you hadn’t had the Arts, and remember that children today are being threatened with losing that rewarding experience. We are not trying to save the arts, but we are trying to help the arts save our children.
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