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Effervescent ‘Hello, Dolly!’ icon Carol Channing mourned

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NEW YORK — Carol Channing, the lanky, ebullient musical comedy star who delighted American audiences over 5,000 performances as the scheming Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway and beyond, has died. She was 97.

Publicist B. Harlan Boll said Channing died of natural causes at 12:31 a.m. Tuesday in Rancho Mirage, California. Boll says she had twice suffered strokes in the last year.

Besides “Hello, Dolly!,” Channing starred in other Broadway shows, but none with equal magnetism. She often appeared on television and in nightclubs, for a time partnering with George Burns in Las Vegas and a national tour.

Her outsized personality seemed too much for the screen, and she made only a few movies, notably “The First Traveling Saleslady” with Ginger Rogers and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” with Julie Andrews.

Over the years, Channing continued as Dolly in national tours, the last in 1996, when she was in her 70s. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called her “the ninth wonder of the world.”

Messages of love and appreciation lit up Twitter early Tuesday, with the League of Professional Theatre Women saying Channing “was a gift of inspiration to so many.” Fans who saw her work also took to social media, calling her a “firecracker” and saying she was “matchmaking for the angels now.”

Veteran actress Bernadette Peters said Channing “was show business and love personified” and Margaret Cho said “you will forever be missed.” Viola Davis mourned: “You had a great run! Rest well.”

Channing was not the immediate choice to play Dolly, a matchmaker who receives her toughest challenge yet when a rich grump seeks a suitable wife. The show, which features a rousing score by Jerry Herman that’s bursting with joy and tunes like “Put On Your Sunday Clothes,” ”Before the Parade Passes By” and “It Only Takes a Moment,” is a musical version of Thornton Wilder’s play “The Matchmaker.”

Theater producer David Merrick told her: “I don’t want that silly grin with all those teeth that go back to your ears.” Even though director Gower Champion had worked on her first Broadway hit, “Lend an Ear,” he had doubts about Channing’s casting.

She wowed them in an audition and was hired on the spot. At opening night on Jan. 16, 1964, when Channing appeared at the top of the stairs in a red gown with feathers in her hair and walked down the red carpet to the Harmonia Gardens restaurant, the New York audience went crazy. The critics followed suit. “Hello, Dolly!” collected 10 Tony Awards, including one for Channing as best actress in a musical.

Channing was born Jan. 31, 1921, in Seattle, where her father, George Channing, was a newspaper editor. When his only child was 3 months old, he moved to San Francisco and worked as a writer for The Christian Science Monitor and as a lecturer. He later became editor-in-chief of Christian Science publications.

At the age of 7, Channing decided she wanted to become an entertainer. She credited her father with encouraging her: “He told me you can dedicate your life at 7 or 97. And the people who do that are happier people.”

While majoring in drama and dance at Bennington College in Vermont, she was sent off to get experience in her chosen field. She found a job in a New York revue. The show lasted only two weeks, but a New Yorker magazine critic commented, “You will hear more about a satiric chanteuse named Carol Channing.” She said later: “That was it. I said goodbye to trigonometry, zoology and English literature.”

For several years she worked as an understudy, bit player and nightclub impressionist, taking jobs as a model, receptionist and sales clerk during lean times. Landing in Los Angeles, she auditioned for Marge Champion, wife and dance partner of Gower Champion who was putting together a revue, “Lend an Ear.” Marge Champion recalled: “She certainly was awkward and odd-looking, but her warmth and wholesomeness came through.”

Channing was the hit of “Lend an Ear” in a small Hollywood theatre, and she captivated audiences and critics when the show moved to New York. As the innocent gold digger in the musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” her stardom was assured. One reviewer reported she “hurls across the footlights in broad strokes of pantomime and bold, certain, exquisitely comical gestures.” The show’s hit song, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” became her signature number.

Over and over again she returned to the surefire “Hello, Dolly!,” which earned her $5 million on one tour. She considered Dolly Levi “a role as deep as Lady Macbeth,” but added that “the essence of her character was her unquenchable thirst for life.” That description fit Carol Channing, who attributed her sunny optimism to her lifelong faith in Christian Science.

Others who have played the role include Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller, Betty Grable, Ethel Merman, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers and Barbra Streisand, who played Dolly in a 1969 film version directed by Gene Kelly. Bette Midler won a Tony Award in the role in 2017 and a current national tour stars Betty Buckley.

The tour of “Hello, Dolly!” said Tuesday it would honour Channing at its current stop in California. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of the one and only Carol Channing. She was a ‘Dolly’ for the ages, and a true icon of the American theatre. Betty Buckley and the cast will dedicate tonight’s performance in San Diego to her memory.”

Channing had two early marriages that ended in divorce — to novelist Theodore Naidish and pro footballer Alexander Carson, father of her only child, Channing. Her son became a successful political cartoonist.

In 1956 she married a television producer, Charles Lowe, who seemed like the perfect mate for a major star. He adopted Channing’s son and supervised every aspect of her business affairs and appearances. He reportedly viewed every one of her performances from out front, leading the applause.

After 41 years of marriage, she sued for divorce in 1998, alleging that he misappropriated her funds and humiliated her in public. She remarked that they only had sex twice in four decades.

“The only thing about control freak victims is that they don’t know who they are,” she told The Washington Post. “It’s taken me 77 years to figure that out. I was miserable. I was unhappy. And I didn’t realize it wasn’t my fault. But I’m going to survive. I’m going to live. I’m free.”

Lowe died after a stroke in 1999. Channing moved to Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs, California, in 2000 to write her memoirs. She called the book “Just Lucky, I Guess.”

Channing remarried in 2003 to Harry Kullijian, her childhood sweetheart from 70 years before. He died in 2011.

In her book, Channing recounted an early story from her childhood that showed a budding audience-pleasing performer. She wrote that she came home from kindergarten and noted that all the little girls hit the little boys.

Her parents asked: “Do you?”

She responded: “Oh no, I pet them.”

___

Associated Press writer Shawn Marsh in Trenton, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

___

Follow Mark Kennedy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press






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Oilpatch advocates tell MPs help needs to be faster, easier to get

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OTTAWA — Representatives from Canada’s oilpatch say they don’t know of a single energy company that has yet benefited from any of Ottawa’s COVID-19-inspired loan programs.

Several company owners and industry advocates are painting a grim picture of the state of the country’s energy sector today at a virtual hearing of the House of Commons finance committee.

Peter Kiss, the president of Morgan Construction and Environmental Ltd., says he has laid off 80 per cent of his staff, watched his revenues crash 87 per cent and still considers his company one of the lucky ones because there is still at least some money coming in.

Tristan Goodman, president of the Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, says some of the loan programs promised from Ottawa have the right intention but the money is still not flowing, and qualifying is unnecessarily complicated.

The combination of a drastic drop in demand for fossil fuels because of the pandemic and an oil production war between Saudi Arabia and Russia forced oil prices to record lows in recent months and left many Canadian producers on the verge of collapse.

The sector’s advocates warned the committee that if the government doesn’t make the loan programs less complicated, companies aren’t going to survive.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Canada a series of ‘regional epidemics,’ top doctor says as provinces hit snags

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Different regions face distinct challenges in emerging from COVID-19 lockdowns, Canada’s top public health doctor noted Thursday as New Brunswick had to suspend its legislature, Ontario saw a jump in cases and Manitoba grappled with loosening restrictions on gatherings.

Dr. Theresa Tam described Canada as “a series of regional epidemics,” with the hardest-hit provinces remaining Ontario and Quebec.

“Even within those jurisdictions, you need to hone in on certain areas,” she said as she urged authorities to focus their efforts on hot spots and vulnerable areas such as long-term care homes.

Her assessment proved true on Thursday as various provinces experienced setbacks and successes in the fight against the virus.

New Brunswick’s provincial legislature abruptly adjourned, a day after officials confirmed a health-care worker who had travelled outside New Brunswick was at the origin of a cluster that has grown to at least six cases in the Campbellton area.

Premier Blaine Higgs has said the health-care worker was in contact with “multiple patients” over a two-week period after returning to the province without self-isolating. The area, near the border with Quebec, will now have to return to tighter restrictions on physical distancing.

Tam said the response shows public health officials across the country are taking a cautious approach to reopening.

“I think there has always been the message in different jurisdictions that there’s a flexibility in the public health system to reinstate or pull back on some of the measures as they see fit, based on their own epidemiological context,” she said.

Ontario also experienced a small setback as it reported 383 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, after several consecutive days of fewer than 300 new cases. It brings the provincial total to 26,866, an increase of 1.4 per cent over the previous day.

The province continued to deal with the fallout of a scathing Canadian Armed Forces report alleging “horrific” conditions in five long-term care homes, including insect infestations, poor hygiene and aggressive behaviour toward residents.

On Thursday, five Ontario Liberal MPs representing ridings with long-term care homes “devastated” by COVID-19 urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Health Minister Patty Hajdu to push the province to hold a full inquiry into the province’s long-term care system. They said Ottawa should work with the provinces to develop “enforceable national standards.”

Trudeau did not hold his usual COVID-19 news conference, as he co-hosted a major United Nations conference and prepared for a Thursday evening first ministers meeting.

Canada is competing for one of two non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council next month, and Trudeau is running on a platform of trying to help rebuild the post-pandemic world.

“And for the global economy to recover, and for our domestic economies to bounce back, we need a global, co-ordinated plan,” Trudeau told the videoconference. “Our citizens need to have confidence in international institutions that leave no one behind and are capable of overcoming global challenges.”

Manitoba’s premier, meanwhile, called on Trudeau to clear up mixed messages about Indigenous ceremonies after a First Nation chief said his community would hold its annual powwow next month, even if provincial public health orders continue to limit the size of gatherings.

“Now is not the time to begin to disrespect public health orders that have kept Manitobans safe — all Manitobans,” Brian Pallister said.

He said he would be bringing up the issue on a call with Trudeau later Thursday.

Chief Cornell McLean said that after careful consideration Lake Manitoba First Nation decided to go ahead with the community’s traditional powwow, although he promised social distancing measures would be in place.

“It is our culture,” McLean said.

In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault said that outside of seniors residences, the infection rate is decreasing — even in Montreal, the epicentre of the virus in Canada. The number of daily new cases of COVID-19 in the city has been decreasing for the past week.

Legault said another piece of good news is that the province’s hospitals have 173 fewer COVID-19 patients than they did a week ago.

However, new projections released by Quebec on Thursday warned that hospitalizations and deaths could increase by August if the majority of Montrealers don’t follow public health directives.

The models were divided on what will happen if compliance is strong, with 50 per cent projecting a gradual reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, and the other half suggesting those numbers could still increase.

The operation of long-term care homes and paid sick leave for workers is expected to be front and centre on the agenda when Trudeau hosts the first ministers’ call.

The prime minister has promised federal support in both areas but his offer has been met with mixed reactions from provincial and territorial leaders.

Legault has said the province’s corporate leaders want to know who will pay for Trudeau’s promise to ensure 10 days of paid sick leave for workers who fall ill with COVID-19 or are required to go into quarantine after exposure.

On long-term care homes, Legault came close to suggesting the feds should butt out, apart from sending the provinces more money for health care in general, which they could then spend as they see fit.

In contrast to Legault, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been vocally grateful for the offer of federal help.

Trudeau on Wednesday repeatedly stressed that the federal government will respect provincial jurisdiction as it embarks on a discussion with the premiers.

— with files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Joan Bryden in Ottawa

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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