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Carol Channing deserves a Kennedy Center Honor


Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian at the Tribeca Film Festival. —Patricia Gay photo

Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian at the Tribeca Film Festival. —Patricia Gay photo

It’s time for a Broadway legend to be recognized for her hard work.

Carol Channing, America’s Dolly Levi, deserves a Kennedy Center Honor.

The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded annually for exemplary lifetime achievement in the performing arts.

Last year’s Kennedy Center honorees were Buddy Guy, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman, Natalia Makarova and the rock band Led Zeppelin.

In her introduction to the 2012 Kennedy Center award ceremony, host Caroline Kennedy said, “Tonight we salute honorees who, through their artistry and daring, have banished monotony and provided extravagant pleasure and joy to audiences the world over.”

That statement applies to the much beloved Carol Channing, who turned 92 this year. An entertainment icon, Carol first wowed audiences in 1949, as Lorelei Lee in the Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. In 1964, she became a huge sensation as Dolly Gallagher Levi in Hello, Dolly! which became her signature role. The show ran on Broadway for years, and in order not to disappoint fans, Carol never missed a performance.

Carol_PosterCarol’s wide-eyed personality and vivacious sense of humor made her a sought after guest on many TV shows. She won Tony Awards, a Golden Globe Award, and was even nominated for an Academy Award for her role in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

In 2004, Carol became an advocate for arts education. With her husband and childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian (who died in December 2011), she created a foundation to support arts education for children in public schools.

I got the chance to meet and talk with Carol and Harry at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April 2011. Although she was recovering from health problems, Carol flew in specially to attend a screening of the documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, which had made its debut at the festival the week before. (Photos from that event).

Carol and Harry spoke to me about a number of things, including their disappointment that schools were cutting music and arts programs due to budgetary constraints. Harry said arts were important because learning how to play an instrument or performing in a play required children to use different parts of their brains than academics required. Carol said if it hadn’t been for arts programs when she was growing up, she didn’t know what would have become of her. Their utter devotion and commitment to keeping arts alive for the next generation was emotional and moving.

Below, in this short 2009 video clip by Rob VanAlkemade, Carol and her husband Harry address the arts at a meeting of the Executive Committee for CA County School Superintendents. To make her point, as only Carol can, she sang a special song, The Show Must Go On, written by her neighbor John Wyatt:

The future’s at stake. Just give kids the chance, and you will see one day their skills will advance… Let’s keep the arts alive, let’s keep young hearts alive, because the show must go on.

The Kennedy Center can now do its part in keeping the arts alive. Entertainer Richard Skipper has started a petition asking the Kennedy Center to recognize Carol Channing’s lifetime achievement by awarding her a Kennedy Center Honor in 2013. Time is of the essence, so please support this worthwhile cause and join me by signing this petition now at change.org. Thank you.

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6 thoughts on “Carol Channing deserves a Kennedy Center Honor

  1. Pingback: One more push for Carol Channing | Expect the Unexpected

  2. She really doesn’t. She is not extraordinarily talented, has not spoken favorably of her gay audience, and one should not receive such an honor for merely being old and around for so long. Mae West, Yma Sumac, Dietrich, sure. Channing…no.

    • Thanks for your comment Dave. I think Carol Channing is very talented, a comic genius in many regards. I wish she was able to let go of the wig and bright lipstick persona and play some dramatic roles. She stuck with the ditzy blonde thing, to her detriment I think. She meant a lot to me growing up. I adored my mom’s Hello, Dolly! album. It was my first exposure to show tunes and I was hooked. For me, she is an American icon. As for her anti-gay (biblical) remark, Carol said she was misquoted. But it’s not what she SAYS that matters, it’s what she does that counts. She recently appeared on Fire Island with (transgendered) Justin Vivian Bond in front of a huge gay crowd. This was by CHOICE. She has many close friendships with gay men and women. For the sake of argument, let’s say she did make an inappropriate comment. People do that sometimes, they say things they regret or don’t mean. I’ll judge her by her actions, and they’re very positive towards the gay community. There are many performers who deserve a Kennedy Center honor, but only a few will get them.

  3. David Wylie on said:

    PLEASE submit Carol Channing for this year’s KENNEDY CENTER HONORS!!!!!!
    There is no entertainer out there that has done more and is more deserving…..

  4. Barbara Capozzi on said:

    Ms. Channing is an American icon and deserves to be inducted and receive the Kennedy Honors. God bless her and all her achievements.

  5. JOAN MURRAY on said:

    I have always loved Carol Channing, since the very first time I saw her perform.
    She deserves to be honored , and I thoroughly endorse her, for all she has
    contributed to the entertainment industry.

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