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Interview with Carol Channing
by Matthew Murray

The York Theatre Company will hold a gala concert evening on June 7 to present the Oscar Hammerstein Award for lifetime achievement in musical theatre to Broadway legend Carol Channing. The star of the original productions of Lend An Ear, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Hello, Dolly! spoke with Matthew Murray over the Memorial Day weekend about the Award, her recent receiving of an honorary doctorate, and her current and upcoming performances.

Carol Channing: Hello, Matthew!

Matthew Murray: Hello, Ms. Channing! Or I should probably say Dr. Channing now, shouldn't I?

CC: Exactly!

MM: I just heard about your doctorate, that's very exciting.

CC: Oh, it's very exciting, and it's a wonderful... Oh, it's just terrific. I look like Dr. Kennedy, you know on Sunday mornings... Have you seen him?

MM: Um, I'm not sure I have.

CC: Okay, well, anyway, I'm all bedecked with all that. it looks very Shakespearean what they gave me.

MM: When did you find out that was going to happen?

CC: Oh, weeks ago. It was a big thing. It's the California State University, it's the Stanislaus extension of it - Stanislaus is like the San Joaquin Valley. Anyway, the University had to approve it, and it was a unanimous vote, isn't that marvelous?

MM: That's absolutely wonderful. I understand it's the third honorary doctorate they've ever given out.

CC: I'm a doctor of fine arts. I just think it's a great honor. I spoke to twelve thousand students, and they were all up on the hill, and they had a wonderful microphone system, they were marvelous. I think the younger generation is going to be terrific.

MM: Well, I certainly hope they are!

CC: Yes, we all hope so. They really are. They're wonderful. It shocked me to find out that, yesterday, those 12,000 students all knew who I was, I couldn't figure it out!

MM: Well, I would hope that they would know who you are.

CC: No, not likely, I don't think.

MM: Well, if they're in the performing arts, I would think they would have to, otherwise they're not getting a very good education!

CC: Well now, that's true, I didn't look at it that way! But how often do they get to a Broadway show, you know?

MM: I would hope they would know... You've done landmark shows, so I would certainly hope they would know about them.

CC: You know, if you're lucky enough to have two smash hit shows, the traffic of the world goes through your dressing room. Yes, it's true, but that was before. So now... Now I'm able to teach at the university, if they want me.

MM: Well, I can't believe they wouldn't want you... Very few people have the kind of performing experience you have.

CC: I'd love to do it.

MM: I should probably tell you I saw you in the 1994 tour of Hello, Dolly!, and I saw you and Glen Roven in Singular Sensastions, and you were absolutely wonderful both times. Now I understand that you and Glen Roven did the show again in San Francisco in April, is that right?

CC: Yes, he was with me in San Francisco.

MM: How did that go?

CC: Well, you know San Francisco, it's my home town. They felt very deeply about my being there, about my being in San Francisco. I was born in Seattle, but two weeks later, my father's work took him to San Francisco.

MM: What do you have coming up?

CC: Next, I go to Napa County and do my show there for Gala Wines. They have a theater there, and it's a great big thing. And then after that, we go to the Hammerstein Awards.

MM: How long are you going to be in New York next week?

CC: Just to do the Hammerstein Awards. That one day. Well, the day before so we can rehearse.

MM: Are you looking forward to it?

CC: Wonderful! They haven't had... This is the first time they've given it to a performer. This is a great honor. I don't know why... Suddenly, this week, everybody loves me!

MM: Well, I think everyone has loved you for over over fifty years, now, I would hope you'd be used to it!

CC: 63 years I've been on Broadway! The thing is I very seldom was not working. But people don't know that, because I've been all over everywhere. They don't know when you're in Melbourne, Australia, or Sydney, or Hong Kong, but I was very seldom not working, which made me happy.

MM: I'm sure that it made your audiences happy, too.

CC: Well, I hope so!

MM: Have you seen a lot at the York Theatre?

CC: About three, no it was four years ago, they put on Light Up the Sky and they put on As Thousands Cheer. Oh, they're wonderful.

MM: Are you going to try to catch their new show, The Musical of Musicals - The Musical while you're in New York?

CC: I wish I could. The way it works... See, I'm touring now. No, I don't think I will.

MM: What are you touring in?

CC: Oh I'm touring with my own show, which is the dream of my life that I've always wanted to do.

MM: I hate to say this, but I haven't heard of it. What is your show about?

CC: No, we carefully don't tell people. I don't want to be reviewed yet by Variety, you know, so we find wonderful places to go that Variety never thought of. I'll never forget when I tried to break in an act in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the summertime. Nobody's there then, and Mr. Abbott was sitting at the front table. He was there, and there he sat. I didn't want anyone to see it yet! I'm really loving doing it.

MM: What's the name of the show?

CC: The First 80 Years Are the Hardest.

MM: That's a wonderful title. Is it a biography show?

CC: Not like Elaine Stritch's, no, but I loved her show. She was fabulous. Oh, she was marvelous.

MM: What all do you do in your show?

CC: My show changes all the time. Could you wait until I get it broken in?

MM: Well, I hope you come to New York eventually so I can see it.

CC: Well, we'll see. If they want it, they'll call me, if they don't, that's all right with me. I have a happy life all my own now. If New York doesn't ask for it, that's fine with me. I'm just so happy about this show. The show gets a little better each time I do it.

MM: Any idea when you might come back to New York next?

CC: There's the B.B. King thing, it's only a day or two, April 16.

MM: Our time's about up... Is there anything else you'd like to say?

CC: No, that's everything, except that I couldn't be happier. The show gets better every time I do it.

MM: Do you know what you'll be performing at the Hammerstein Awards yet?

CC: I don't know, but they've asked Glen Roven to be there, so that means they must expect me to do something... "Before the Parade Passes By." Oh yes, Harry and I, for exercise, Harry's been learning the soft shoe dance. And George Burns taught it to me! And I'm teaching it to Harry, and we're going to do our soft shoe dance for the Hammerstein Awards.

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