Little Rock Look Back: Carol Channing

Carol C2On January 31, 1921, future “Little Girl from Little Rock” Carol Channing was born. Alas it was in Seattle.

After gaining the notice of New York critics and audiences in the musical revue, Lend an Ear, Channing achieved Broadway stardom playing fictional Little Rock native Lorelei Lee (the creation of Anita Loos) in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  In this show, which opened in December 1949, she introduced the Leo Robin-Jule Styne songs “Little Girl from Little Rock” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”  Her work in this show predated Tony Award nominations being announced.  (The Tony that year went to Mary Martin for playing another Little Rock native – Nellie Forbush in South Pacific).

Her first Tony nomination came for the The Vamp in 1956. Five years later, she earned a second nomination for Show Girl.  In 1964, she won the Actress in a Musical Tony for her second signature role playing the title character in Hello, Dolly!  Channing also earned a special Tony in 1968 for Dolly when it became the longest-running Broadway musical.

She returned to Lorelei Lee in the reworked update entitled Lorelei and earned a Tony nomination.  In 1995 she earned a Lifetime Achievement Tony.

In the 1960s, she visited Little Rock on a tour of Hello, Dolly! which played at Robinson Auditorium. It was arguably the biggest Broadway show to have played Robinson at that time.  While she was in Little Rock she spent time at the Governor’s Mansion and was made an honorary citizen of Little Rock.  (Nearly 30 years later, she recounted very glowingly her Little Rock visit to the Culture Vulture.)

In 1993, she spent her birthday in Washington DC at a White House dinner for the National Governors’ Association.  This was the Clintons’ first offiical White House dinner after moving in to the residence eleven days prior.  President Bill Clinton led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to her.  She remarked to the President that she was Christian Scientist and didn’t celebrate birthdays, which meant she didn’t get any older.  He replied that it meant the night was her first birthday (it was her 72nd in actuality).