Carol Channing - "Before The Parade Passes By"
Broadway said “Goodbye, Dolly” to a favorite performer and lost one of its most distinctive personalities when Carol Channing, the original Lorelei Lee and Dolly Levi, passed away from natural causes on January 15, 2019, at her home in Rancho Mirage, California. Channing was the last in a long line of stage clowns who found the perfect role and stuck with it. With her saucer eyes, yard-wide smile, tornado of cotton-candy hair, and flexible voice which could go from a gravelly bass to a child-like squeak, she always played a variation on the dumb-like-a-fox blonde, manipulating every situation to her advantage. She first gained fame as the avaricious but charming Lorelei in the musical version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondesin 1949, but she assumed theater royalty status as the titular matchmaker in Hello, Dolly! in 1964, returning to the role many times including Broadway revivals in 1978 and 1995. Like Rex Harrison with Henry Higgins, Zero Mostel with Tevye, and Yul Brynner with the King of Siam, she became forever identified with the role.
And happily so. Channing told the New York Times in 1977, “I did Dolly 1,273 times in four years without missing a single performance, and on the night I closed I cried my eyes out in the dressing room. But I’ll tell you something — thank God I can keep doing Dolly until I’m 90.” Ultimately, she played the role over 4,500 times and traveled with a separate suitcase for her false eyelashes. She also carried her own specially-prepared organic food in a canvas bag, always asking waiters to heat it up for her.
She was born in Seattle in 1921, the only child of George and Adelaide Channing. The family later moved when her newspaper editor father got a job in San Francisco. He later became a lecturer for the Christian Scientist movement and this led to young Carol’s first exposure to show business. Her mother recruited her to help distribute the Christian Science Monitor backstage to city’s theaters where she became enchanted with the stage. “And I stood there and realized – I'll never forget it because it came over me so strongly – that this is a temple,” she related to the Austin Chronicle. “This is a cathedral. It's a mosque. It's a mother church. This is for people who have gotten a glimpse of creation and all they do is recreate it. I stood there and wanted to kiss the floorboards.”
George Burns with whom she appeared in a summer tour explained her humor to The New York Times in 1976, “It’s her openness, her theatricality that makes her funny, she emphasizes her bigness. She makes you notice her eyes, her mouth. That’s why she can go out there, sing a perfectly straight song like ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and get laughs. You don’t even think about the song. You’re watching her capsize a character. So Carol’s humor, ultimately is her manner. It’s a style she invented herself. She mimics the golddiggers of the ’20s and ’30s…She lovingly mocks the character. She’s the dumb blonde, but she’s not that dumb…She never was. Carol makes us understand that joke. Her dumb blonde becomes larger than life.”
She was an alien from another world who came to earth to show us how to laugh a little harder and how to be a little more honest with ourselves. Her signature style will forever be mimicked and never be forgotten. Goodbye Dolly, though the sky shines brighter with another glowing star, down here on earth things are just a bit more dim without you.
So today, with guts and gusto, I choose Carol Channing’s iconic version of “Before The Parade Passes By” as my, go on and get back in, don’t let the colors lose their place, hold on to the sparkle as long as you can, song for a, gifts given with unending generosity, the dream of a world where you can be both, small miracles in tiny little frames, Tuesday.