I met Carol Channing in 1994 for a revival of Hello Dolly (the role that made her the star that she has remained for decades) when I was a teenager and she was on tour in Jacksonville, Florida. After the production—which took about twice as long as it probably would have, but Channing was given a standing ovation EVERY time she walked onstage—a few of us high school theater geeks went with our drama teacher up to her hotel room. I was nervous as she peered from her robe, these massive hands shaking mine and I peered into her large eyes, large mouth, and larger-than-life cranium. Was this what a living legend looked like? It's a moment that has stuck with me and that I've repeated more than most anecdotes. Carol Channing scared me.
But in Dori Berinstein's loving documentary, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life (such an apt title!), you see the more human side of the woman who has been going strong for so long. I mean, she's now 91! Not only has she famously played Dolly Gallagher Levi, and originated the role of Lorilei Lee on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; she's also survived cancer and bad husbands.
Berinstein began shooting in 2009 and completed principal photography in 2010. After premiering last year at Tribeca Film Festival, the doc is finally in cinemas in New York City and Los Angeles. It's time to revel in Channing's kooky character and reflections on and off the stage. Every time I see that big smile plastered across that dame's face, it reminds me that we should all aspire to live life large and, most importantly, with unbridled joy.