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National Entertainment

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






Edmonton

LISTEN: TRUDEAU STORY VS. POVERTY: YOU DECIDE

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cam tait

So on this historic day of a United Way campaign kick off we are bombarded by the Trudeau story. .

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Canada takes centre stage in Bannon film based on Huawei exec Meng’s detention

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Steve Bannon

OTTAWA — Canada plays a starring role in a soon-to-be-released film aimed at exposing China’s bid for world domination through technology — produced by one-time Trump strategist Steve Bannon.

The film, “Claws of the Red Dragon,” is fiction, but “inspired by” Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou and China’s subsequent retaliatory measures, including the detention of two Canadians for alleged espionage and death sentences meted out to two other Canadians convicted of drug crimes.

Bannon has said the movie is aimed at exposing ties between Huawei, which he describes as the “greatest national security threat” to the United States, and China’s communist government, which he maintains is “the greatest existential threat the West has ever faced.”

He’s also been clear that his objective is to stiffen U.S. President Donald Trump’s resolve to shut Huawei out of development of next generation wireless networks over fears the telecommunications giant is controlled by the Chinese government and its equipment could be used to spy on or sabotage other countries.

The film is to be released next month by New Tang Dynasty Television, part of the Epoch Media Group that is closely associated with the Falun Gong spiritual movement and includes the pro-Trump and vehemently anti-Beijing newspaper, The Epoch Times.

The 54-minute movie follows fictional Chinese-Canadian journalist Jane Li as she reports on Canada’s arrest of the chief financial officer of Huaxing Hi-Tech; along the way she “exposes the company’s ties” to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese military, according to a New Tang Dynasty news release.

The film features a Canadian cast, including Eric Peterson of “Street Legal” and “Corner Gas” fame.

A trailer for the movie, replete with ominous soundtrack, shows Peterson — playing a character named James MacAvoy and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Canada’s former ambassador to China, John McCallum — meeting with a detained Canadian named Michael.

In real life, Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have been detained in China since December, accused of espionage shortly after Canada detained Meng, who is wanted by the U.S. on charges of fraud related to evasion of American sanctions on Iran.

The trailer also shows Peterson telling someone who looks remarkably like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the Chinese “just arbitrarily sentenced a Canadian to death. There’s no telling where this retaliation will end.”

In the New Tang Dynasty news release, Bannon calls the movie “a seminal and timely work exposing the inner workings” of the Chinese Communist Party and Huawei.

“Run by a radical cadre of the Chinese Communist Party, China’s Communism today is the greatest existential threat the West has ever faced,” Bannon says. “Huawei, the technology and telecommunications arm of the CCP and the People’s Liberation Army, is the greatest national security threat we have ever faced, as it is already in the process of a global tech domination via 5G and 6G (wireless networks).”

Bannon told Bloomberg earlier this month that he hopes the film will be screened for Trump at the White House.

“The central issue in the 2020 presidential campaign is going to be the economic war with China: manufacturing jobs, currency, capital markets and technology,” he told the news agency. “Huawei is a key part of that and this film will highlight why it must be shut down.”

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press

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