A Tribute to Forest Hills’ Own Carol Channing
by Michael Perlman
Jan 22, 2019 | 8181 views | 0 0 comments | 195 195 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Carol Channing with her husband.
Carol Channing with her husband.
Carol Channing with Chip Deffaa.
Carol Channing with Chip Deffaa.
Performer Carol Elaine Channing died on January 15 in California at age 97. She was born in 1921 in Seattle, but in 1955 she was one of numerous artists that called Forest Hills home.

Channing starred in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” as Lorelei Lee, and most notably as Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” The latter debuted in 1964 and had over 5,000 consecutive runs, earning ten Tony awards, including one for Channing as “Best Actress in a Comedy.”

In 1995, she was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2009 she was a Smithsonian Institution inductee.

Bill Boggs, who can be seen on BillBoggsTV on YouTube, has interviewed everyone from Frank Sinatra to Burt Bacharach, including Channing.

“The word 'icon' is overused, but it is accurately applied to Carol Channing,” said Boggs. “You could not watch her on stage or meet her and not smile.”

Boggs called her a defining Broadway star.

“It’s unlikely that we will see another star who will dominate Broadway by selling tickets for years and years without having a major career in film or TV,” he said. “She created a caricature of herself that became her on-stage persona.”

Chip Deffaa, a playwright, critic and director, can't think of anyone more dedicated to her work than Channing.

“To the world at large she was a Broadway legend, and to me she was an extraordinary friend,” said Deffaa. “Whenever I direct a show, run a recording session, write a script, or hold an audition, I do so with her guidance,”

Channing fought a brave battle against cancer during her first national tour, which she kept confidential. She would fly to and from Sloan-Kettering weekly to undergo treatment.

“I’ve seen her go out on stage on sheer nerves, putting mind over matter, despite fierce health challenges,” said Deffaa. “She would play her role over 4,500 times before ever letting an understudy go on.

“I certainly wasn’t disciplined by nature in my youth, but if she could do eight shows a week while fighting cancer, I could damn well write copy for the New York Post or another chapter of a book with the flu,” he added. “She encouraged me to dream big, grab opportunities when they came, and work full steam and not to wait, because none of us know how much time we have.”

Deffaa remembers her as a “consummate trooper.”

“When she recorded the audio version of her autobiography, she spent hour after hour in front of the microphone and did not want to take any breaks,” he said. “Producer Steve Garrin had to call breaks. She spent 40 hours recording the complete book, plus some extras.

“Create something every day,” Deffaa remembers Channing telling him. “When we create, we’re closer to being whole and well.”
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