Carol Channing: Larger Than Life


“There was this creature with huge eyes and an enormous red mouth,” recalls Bruce Vilanch on first seeing Carol Channing on TV—an impression shared by anyone whose introduction to the actress was her frequent appearances on Hollywood Squares or The Love Boat. Dori Berinstein’s desultory, fawning profile of the nonagenarian performer devotes many of its padded 88 minutes to Channing’s greatest success, playing the title yenta in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway in the 1960s. Providing some scaffolding is the belter’s relationship with Harry Kullijian, whom she wed in 2003, reuniting 70 years after they were middle-school sweethearts in San Francisco. (Kullijian, a charming, dapper former California city councilman, died on December 26.) The remaining scenes consist of standard testimonials: A group of male dancers from the 1994 revival of Hello, Dolly! gush about the time their idol took them to see Interview With the Vampire (and bought them snacks!); Barbara Walters avers, “I never heard anyone say that she was temperamental”; Loni Anderson, with apparently no connection to Channing, attests, “The whole blonde thing was just fascinating to me.” Frail but still voluble, the sandpaper-voiced ham is ever grateful for attention: At a dinky book fair, she tells one fan, who gives her a photo of himself in Channing drag, “That’s an honor that you got all dressed up like me.”