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Interview With Carol Channing

Aired November 27, 2002 - 21:00   ET



LARRY KING, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, a living legend, a true one of a kind character, Carol Channing. With a very surprising personal revelation and some dish about the tabloids, too. All this at 81-years-young.

The one, the only, Carol Channing next on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: What an honor, what a pleasure to welcome Carol Channing to LARRY KING LIVE tonigh -- tonight rather. An entertainment original, theatrical legend who's been performing for over 50 years. Author of a new memoir called "Just Lucky I Guess" which she describes as a memoir of sorts. The title is an old prostitute joke in which the client says, to the prostitute, What's a nice girl like you saying in a place like this and she says, Just lucky I guess.

What do you mean by a memoir of sorts?


KING: The best in the business.

CHANNING: The best.

KING: The best.


KING: He's very good.

CHANNING: He is the best. So he's -- he made up a memoir of sorts, you see, he went to Oxford for four years.

KING: Why -- you mean it's not a real memoir.

CHANNING: He thinks it's of sorts. It's my memoir. That's the way I see it.

KING: What took you so long to write it?

CHANNING: Well, I was busy working. KING: Well, you could have written this 20 years ago.

CHANNING: No I couldn't. I was working all the time, you don't know. I have been in Australia, Canada three back and forth.

KING: Doing shows?

CHANNING: Yes, doing -- doing shows. That's every actor's wish. You don't want to stop working.

KING: So work stopped for awhile and you wrote it?


KING: Was it tough to write?


KING: Because?

CHANNING: Because of the edits.

KING: Meaning?

CHANNING: Well, edits like -- it wasn't Mr. Quarter, he saved me. He absolutely saved me. The edits when they come in, they have to work very hard to make sure there's nothing -- no wrong with the English. I said Barbara Streisand was the greatest creative force of our century and so on.

But a barrel of laughs she ain't. So they changed to it isn't. Can you believe it? Can you believe?


CHANNING: But do you know what Michael Quarter did for me? I didn't mean to interrupt you. He saw to it that I had no edits. He said look. You can't expect (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- you can't -- he's lost his British accent now.

KING: So he let you just write it?

CHANNING: I wrote it and it hasn't got one edit. Even one thing said what's the plural of this, Mr. Quarter? And that's what's in the book.

KING: So it is a memo. It's just like free form thought?

CHANNING: Yes, free form thought?

KING: Free form? In other words just whatever came out?

CHANNING: No, to me it's very organized. It's a book, and to me it's an autobiography but they say it's not.

KING: Now, some who write autobiographies claim that it cathartic when they do it. That it kind of releases things from them. Do you feel that way?

CHANNING: Yes. you see when you try to talk about yourself you don't know who you are or what you're like or what you're like to other people. That's impossible and the moment you do it's a formula for yourself, and you're imitating yourself, and nobody likes you and they don't know why.

You know, don't you think?

KING: I get that.

CHANNING: Yes, I remember you when, you used to say, people would say how do I become a Larry King and you'd say be yourself.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) You're right. You remember.

CHANNING: Sure, well. That was 28 years ago.

KING: That's the only clue. There ain't no secret.

CHANNING: There ain't no secret.

KING: I say ain't.

CHANNING: Well my editor would have changed it to there isn't. But there ain't. And the thing is, you can't describe yourself. So all I can do is tell the whole truth as it happened.

KING: As you perceived it.

CHANNING: As I perceive it and as it happened to me and let the reader decide whether I'm lying.

KING: Lets start early in that truth. Your father was black.

CHANNING: No, he was not black. I wish I had his picture. He was -- he was a -- his skin was the color of mine. I don't know maybe. Yes, it's all right. Well any, no. My father -- you read the tabloids, don't you?

KING: No, it says in my notes your beloved father, George Channing, a newspaper editor, renowned Christian Science lecturer listed as colored on his birth certificate.

CHANNING: Yes, and the place burned down, but nobody ever knew that. But I know it. Every time I start to sing or dance, I know it, and I'm proud of it.

KING: So he was black?

CHANNING: No, He had in -- there was a picture in our family album and my grandmother said -- I never saw them. My grandfather was Nordic German and my grandmother was in the dark. And they said no that was -- she was -- and I'm so proud of it I can't tell you. When our champion gave me that last third (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on "Hello Dolly!" Again. No white woman can do it like I did. KING: So you're proud of your mixed heritage?

CHANNING: Very, when I found out. I was 16-years-old and my mother told me. And you know, only the reaction on me was, Gee, I got the greatest genes in show business.

KING: Some people years ago discovering that might have been disturbed by it?

CHANNING: Yes, years ago because when I found out about it, you don't want to do that.

KING: You don't say it.

CHANNING: You don't say it. There's a lot of it down South.

KING: People are ashamed of it.

CHANNING: I'd proud of it.

KING: I'm glad to hear it.

CHANNING: I really am. I mean look, what makes you, you? You don't know. None of us knows our heritage. Not in the United States.

KING: We're all immigrants.

CHANNING: Exactly, this is the changing face of America. I'm part of it. Isn't it wonderful?

KING: You damn right.

CHANNING: I'm young again.

KING: Was your father a Christian Scientist?

CHANNING: Yes, he was.

KING: Meaning he never took a pill? Never went to the doctor? Never...

CHANNING: That's right, he was a devout Christian Scientist. My mother was a practitioner and my father was editor in chief of the "Christian Science Publications." Finally, that was his final job. And a most distinguished man.

KING: Are you a Christian Scientist?

CHANNING: Well, I believe in it. But at 6:30 at night if I have sprained a toe or if broke a rib or if I have laryngitis, I used to run to the doctor, Bill Cayhand (ph), and he'd used to fix me.

KING: So you're not a Christian Scientist?

CHANNING: Well, I got scared. But, no, that's not the issue. My father told me that's not the most important thing about Christian. Do you know what's most important to me? To be raised in it. The idea behind this show.

Course, you have to have a good script -- first to begin with. The idea behind this show is to strong it's stronger than any illness. It's stronger than any broken arm. It's stronger than not being able to see, not being able to talk. It's stronger than any -- and it is. It is.

KING: Carol Channing. If we have to tell you who she is, you are on another planet. We'll be right back.








KING: We're back with Carol Channing, great performer, one of my favorite people and author of "Just Lucky I Guess," a memoir of sorts. We're going to talk about her musical career and the fantastic shows he's been in.

But another tough part of her life was the scandalous and the tough marriage to Charles Lowe. And that was revealed. Do you write about it much?


KING: Why?

CHANNING: Because I never wanted to talk about it. It's nobody's business. I never wanted to talk about it.

KING: But it's your memoir, Carol.

CHANNING: Yes. No. It's a 42-year marriage. Everybody's got good and bad in them.

KING: Forty-two years, though, deserves some comment.

CHANNING: It means he was pretty bright, wasn't he? Knew just how to hang.

KING: Were you a show business kid? Were you the class clown?

CHANNING: No. No. I was not. No. Those class clowns are not too good on stage, I notice. Most actors...

KING: Was it in you? Did you sing for the family when people came over the house were you the -- Carol entertain?

CHANNING: No. I was elected secretary of the student body, so I did the principal of the school telling us all to be quiet. It was Miss Berard. And she was -- I guess she was the forerunner of Julia Child.

KING: So you imitated her?

CHANNING: Yes. Yes. I used to go in her office. Any excuse to go in her office. She fascinated me. I found out later that was adenoids. But anyway she -- so I -- Bobby Smalls (ph) nominated me as secretary. That's the procedure.

KING: Where was this, by the way?

CHANNING: Commodore Slow (ph) Grammar School in San Francisco. It's public school. I'm standing there and naturally I couldn't think of one reason why they should vote for me. You're supposed to give a campaign speech all of a sudden. I didn't expect it. So I was an only child so I did Miss Berard, the principal of the school. When you go to the polls vote for Carol.

KING: And won?

CHANNING: Then I did Marjorie Gould, who swung her little buns around. And she was real cute. And the boys just loved her. So I did Marjorie Gould and I won the election by a land slide. I mean all you got to do -- so I'm standing there...

KING: The bug was bit.

CHANNING: This is what happened. I did Miss Berard and they started to laugh. And even Miss Berard laughed because it wasn't cruel. And it was because I adored her. I just was fascinated with why her mouth didn't work. You know, why it didn't work that way?

So then -- they all -- she laughed, everybody did. And I go, I'm no longer an only child. What I laugh at, that's what everybody else laughs at. We're all alike. What I cry at, what's touching to me, is touching to them. We're all alike. And I have never been an only child since. And I went backstage. I went off stage. Of course it was holy chaos. I mean, everybody just loved it. Then I did "Miss Weavah," who came from tha Bronx and she was the history teacher and told us all to, For God's sakes, shut up! You know?

So I did Miss Weaver. Well, they loved it. Then -- that was the social study's teacher. Then -- oh, I did Mr. Schwartz, the chemistry teacher who blew up the chemistry class on an average of once a term, you know?

KING: You were 16 then, right?

CHANNING: No. I was in the fourth grade and I was 7.

KING: Oh you were a baby? KING: Yeah. First time on the stage. And I got elected again and again as secretary and I got to imitate everybody that made a motion.

Larry, it was the greatest training in the world. Children are not polite. They yell at you. Come off it, Carol. You know? They yell. It's getting dull. We had three -- we couldn't fit the whole school in. We had to have three assembly meetings.

So, the first one I wasn't so good. The second one, I was getting better -- I realized -- Oops, I didn't lay in the feed lines and the punch line. Well, I didn't know that was the name of it then. The third one I was swinging and that's when I learned to like long runs.

KING: Where did you begin professionally? Where -- when were you first paid to perform?

CHANNING: Not until Mark Blitzstein wrote "No for an Answer." He wrote "The Cradle Will Rock." He was a great American opera. He wrote American operas.

KING: And you got a part?

CHANNING: One comedy relief song in it. And I got the part.

KING: And where was this performed?

CHANNING: Right here in Mecca Temple. It's now called -- what's it called? It's on -- it's still here.

KING: In New York City?

CHANNING: Yes, New York City.

KING: You tried out and got this part.

CHANNING: Yes, with Mark Blitzstein. Well, you see, I started doing everybody for him. It was the part of a girl who was 18-years- old. That's what I was, I was out of -- fresh out of Bennington College. And a girl who didn't know who she was. Well, it's perfect. Of course, I still don't, but who does?

KING: We're still working on that. Let me get a break. We'll be right back with Carol Channing, who is just lucky, I guess.

Don't go away.






CHANNING: It took the Clintons to really make it famous. So tonight, I'm particularly honored to sing...



KING: We're back with great -- the great Carol Channing. She put her stamp on roles, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

CHANNING: I did 13 Broadway shows. People think I only did two.

KING: I know you did a lot, but you put a stamp on every role you played.


KING: In other words, "Hello Dolly!" -- they did -- Barbra Stresiand did the movie, but you were Dolly. You'll always be...

CHANNING: They lost money on the movie. Isn't that a pity and a shame? I feel so sorry.

KING: You ticked you didn't get the movie?

CHANNING: Yes. The set for the Harmonia Gardens of "Hello Dolly!" is still up there. I guess they couldn't afford to take it down.

KING: When you saw the movie, can you approach it objectively?

CHANNING: Yes, I thought, Poor Thornton Wilder. He thought he wrote a comedy.

KING: She sang well?

CHANNING: Well, she was probably the great creative force of our whole century. She's a terrific thing and she's unique and she's Barbra. But a barrel of laughs she ain't.

KING: What was your big break? When did the public get to know you? Was there a show that got Carol Channing the initial attention?

CHANNING: Actually it was that first one. One reviewer, Virgil Thompson, in the "New Yorker Magazine." No, you're not so young. You remember Virgil Thompson.

KING: Vaguely.

CHANNING: Do you really? It's so nice not to talk to the chorus. They don't know who anybody is.

KING: How old are you?

CHANNING: Me, 81. KING: I'm 68.

CHANNING: Well, you're a baby. No use talking to you.

KING: So the "New Yorker" gave you a rave.

CHANNING: No. They just had one sentence. It said, "You will surely hear more about a satirical (UNINTELLIGIBLE) named Carol Channing." I was just floating.

KING: All right. What after that was your break?

CHANNING: "Len Deneer" (ph). It was a review that started in Los Angeles. Even now when I go by, we rehearsed in the Masonic Temple. It's the little West Palmist's (ph) Theater. Every time I go by there, I have a mixture of euphoria and sick stage fright.

KING: Really?

CHANNING: It's a mixture of the two.

KING: You once told "USA Today" that your best lover -- they were talking to you about sex -- you said your best lover was the stage.

CHANNING: Did I say that?

KING: Yes. You said that, My problem was I didn't have a best lover. My best love is working. True?

CHANNING: True but I didn't know I said it.

KING: They said you said it.

CHANNING: That's true. That's what I'm trying to...

KING: Stage brought you your most reward.

CHANNING: I prostituted myself to the audience.

KING: Hence the title of the book. "Just Lucky I Guess."

CHANNING: That's it.

KING: Prostituted yourself because you gave to them.

CHANNING: You bare your heart and soul and body to possible axe murderers, to hitmen, to crazy people, to somebody. You bear it and do it anyway. It's the only way. And I have done it since the fourth grade.

And it just -- it's the only way to do it. But you get in a lot of trouble that way. You have axe murderers and people all around you.

KING: Your main stardom occurred on Broadway, right? Film came later?

CHANNING: I only did two movies. One was horrendous. One closed RKO for all time.

KING: What movie was it?

CHANNING: That was called "The First Traveling Sales Lady." It was with Ginger Rogers and Clint Eastwood.

KING: Never heard of this movie. Trouble is no one else did.

CHANNING: Oh yes they did. They dig it up now. I could die. Wherever I play anywhere, they dig up in the little old movie house across the street from the auditorium. They say -- we called it "Death of a Sales Lady" while we were making it. It was just -- it was the worst.

And you know what? Ginger Rogers was in it and her mother. The script was so bad that her mother used to come and say, Ginger, why don't you say this and, Carol, you say that. And that's what we said, Larry.

KING: And "Thoroughly Modern Millie" was the other movie, right?


KING: So your whole career was the stage? You got nationally known by performing on the stage.

CHANNING: Yes, sir. That's because I toured all the time.

KING: Was "Dolly" the big, big, big star breaker?


KING: What was?

CHANNING: "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

KING: That came before "Dolly?" Who was in the Broadway show?


KING: No. The movie we remember Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell.

CHANNING: She came to see the show.

KING: Marilyn did?

CHANNING: They bought her tickets for a whole month. She sat in the third row center.

KING: Every night?

CHANNING: And matinee. And the orchestra went out of its mind. They never saw anybody so beautiful. They sent her there and bought her a ticket.

She came up to see afterwards on the last show she was there and she said, I just want you to know I always looked forward to it. I never got board with it. I can't wait to see it.

I thought, You're so sweet. You know I could have kicked her down the stairs. She doesn't know me.

KING: Did you resent not getting it?


KING: Why didn't they give you movie roles? Do you think?

CHANNING: Do I think? I don't know. I don't know.

KING: Did you ever ask? Did your agent ask?

CHANNING: Ross Hunter insisted, I'm going to break this thing and I'm going to stick you in "Thoroughly Modern Millie." And Julie Andrews.

KING: The best?

CHANNING: The best. I know you've interviewed her. The best. She made up her mind I was going to get the Golden Globe Awards and I did. She made up her mind.

She came in on her day off, the first day off she had since her -- the movie before. It was "Hawaii." And she came in, no makeup, hair not done. I was to talk to the back of her stand in.

KING: Instead of having to stand and do it she came to do it.

CHANNING: She came. I said, Julie, do you know I wouldn't have talked the same way to your stand in as I would to you? She said, I knew that. That's why I'm here.

KING: When we come back with Carol Channing we'll talk about "Dolly." Don't go away.


CHANNING: I thought that Mr. Van H had stolen it so I begged him to take it back and go straight. Well he just laughed and laughed. Then he told me that he really was a real multimillionaire even if he didn't look like one to a girl. And we became married right away.

Look, sweetums, like I say, while I truly do prefer (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we could have made it on green glass.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While I have been in the bleachers looking at life you've been a player on the big field.

CHANNING: Honestly, Millie, if it's marriage you've got in mind, love has everything to do with it. Follow your heart. No raspberries.






KING: We're back with Carol Channing. Carol's book is "Just Lucky I Guess." A memoir of sorts. She is a terrific lady and of course a great talent.

OK, give me the story of "Dolly." How did you get that?

CHANNING: Mr. Marik.

KING: David?

CHANNING: No, I couldn't call him David. I had too much respect.

KING: I called him David, I didn't even know him. I don't care. Anyway, he called -- what happened?

CHANNING: Of course you called him David.

KING: How'd you get "Dolly?"

CHANNING: He came to Minneapolis- St. Paul. And it was huge arena, and I was doing my one-woman show that I did in London for over a year in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Theater. For (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It was really wonderful. It really was.

KING: You sang and told stories, right?


KING: An evening with Carol, right?

CHANNING: No. No. No. I had a whole chorus. Carol Channing and her 10 stout-hearted men. One was very fat. Another one was Japanese. Another one was tall and thin. And another one -- and I was so proud of that chorus.

KING: So David came? Saw you do that?

CHANNING: Yes, he saw me do that.

KING: And?

CHANNING: And he came backstage. And I said, You haven't told me yet how did you like the show? He said I didn't look at the show, I was counting the house. So anyway, he said, I'm going to get a show written for you. I'm gonna do it. And it's gonna work out. And I said, Look, I just had a flop. And that was "The Vamp." And I learned a lot from that. You know, you learn a lot more from your flops than you do your hits.

KING: I heard.

CHANNING: Have you heard? Oh, you haven't had any flops. Well, wait, honey. Just wait. But anyway, it comes to all of us.

KING: So he got "Dolly" for you based on just seeing you as a talent?

CHANNING: Yes. And he got Jerry -- and I said, Look, I can't do it without Gaur Champion. I had already done this little review in Londonear (ph), which swept New York. I mean, it was just a little review. We won all the -- everything we needed.

KING: So you needed Gaur?

CHANNING: I needed Gaur. And I said, I need Gaur Champion. And so he said, OK. And went right after him. And Gaur suddenly said, Ih, no, I can't do it with her. No. I want -- I don't know who he wanted but he can't do it with me.

So I said, Look, Gaur. Let me audition for you. I want -- see, he hadn't seen me do "Dolly." It was so different from anything in Londonear (ph). So, I said, Look, this is "Dolly." I already memorized the manure speech. You know the money manure speech? Yes. Money is -- money -- you should pardon the express -- is like manure. It's not worth a thing unless it's spread around.

You know? Well, it's so true. Every business mogul knows that speech. I memorized it. We-- I read it. With -- and, I said, come here. And Mr. Marik said, Oh, this is ridiculous. This is ridiculous. He shouldn't have to -- well, Mr. Marik had already seen me. And Gaur didn't see me do anything but "London Ear" (ph).

So Marik -- boy, he's smart. He was a sly fox sitting in the audience. And he slunk down into the darkness, Mr. Marik. He's very -- he's provocative, boy. Don't tell me Mr. Marik isn't attractive. He just wandered by me and he said -- he just said, This is ridiculous, but go ahead, do it if you want to do it. I said, I got to get Gaur to go with me on this because I want Gaur.

KING: And you sold him?

CHANNING: No. Gaur refused to do it with me, so they have to go after Ethel Mermen. So Ethel always did -- whenever they said -- she had a tumor on the brain. So -- and I was with her when she died. Am I off the track?

KING: Yes.

CHANNING: Oh. Well, so Ethel...

KING: They went after Ethel for "Dolly"?

CHANNING: Yes. They did. And Ethel always said to everybody, Yes, I know that show. Yes, I turned it down. I turned it down.

So they said, Well, did you see carol in it? No.

KING: What I was it like to come down those stairs?

CHANNING: Nothing. I'll tell you why. Now, I was always told don't say that. But if I think it and feel it, the audience doesn't. That's the secret of good acting. It takes 5,000 performances to find that out. And it takes me 81-years-old to find that out.

KING: What do you mean by nothing to come down those stairs?

CHANNING: Don't cry for them. Don't laugh for them. It's like you laughing at your own joke.

KING: Just -- in other words, come down the stairs.

CHANNING: Come down the stairs. You're still Dolly. You don't know whether you're going to make it or not. Dolly's fine to rejoin the human race. That's what I think. I don't know what Thornton Wilder thought. I don't know what the director thought. I think her spine was to rejoin the human race.

She comes down the stairs. And everybody says -- so many people say, What were you thinking that made me cry so? Because I didn't cry. That's why they cried. I was -- so glad to be back and rejoining the human race, that you just hold yourself and you just come down and easily and say, That's all right, Dolly, take it easy.

And those boys were marvelous. They were so strong. And for the first time in my life I was glad to be 6-feet tall in heels. I loved it. And their legs stretched with mine. And their quadriceps moved with mine. And we went out on the runway and I tell you, as I say, Gaur was giving it to us -- as he gave it to us, we would stop, He'd stay, Now, you do this, And you do that and Carol, you stay there in the center and you go down -- and enjoy the length of yourself and just stretch down that runway.

And it was -- we did it. We couldn't wait to do it, as all good dancers want to do it when you know it was something good. He was creating this thing, this great man.

KING: So nice to have you back where you belong.

CHANNING: Yes. And dog gone -- then he said, OK, Carol. You're with these boys. Stretch all the way down. I got in the center. And then he gave me that third arabis. You ripple from here. You ripple your spine. You ripple your shoulders. You ripple your head. And you go, "Third arabis!" Like that. Oy vasemear (ph)!

KING: Were you shocked that that also became a hit? Louis Armstrong's record was No. 1? Everybody was singing "Hello" -- Armstrong -- help. That was a great record. CHANNING: It is a great. It helped us. He was a friend of mine. We used to get together in Las Vegas after both our shows. They put him in an autocamp across the Strip. And they put me in the Riviera Hotel where I was working at the time. So, I said come on. So we sat in my room after every show.

KING: This is Louis.


KING: I love the way he said that.

CHANNING: Oh boy. I thought I knew him all my life. And then we got to ride in the Sugar Bowl. What's that thing in New Orleans where you have the...

KING: Sugar Bowl.

CHANNING: Sugar Bowl. Football game.

KING: How long did you do "Dolly"? How many performances of "Dolly"?

CHANNING: Five thousand, but I'll tell you the truth, Yul Brynner did...

KING: "King And I."

CHANNING: "King And I." And he said Look, love. If you ever go over 5,000 don't say so. So I have never said so. But it was a little more.

KING: Therefore, no one did a show more times than you did "Dolly."

CHANNING: I don't know. I never asked. I never asked. But we went back and for the across Canada three times, from Vancouver to...

KING: Did you ever get bored doing it?


KING: Never? Five thousand times, you never get -- never had a night when you saying I wish I had some orange juice?


KING: Where am I going after the theater?

CHANNING: The audience is an X-ray machine.

KING: They know.

CHANNING: They know you're wishing you had some orange juice. They know that. You can't do that. And do you know what's the secret? Put someone you love -- put your two sons in that audience. Put your wife in that audience.

And put someone who's an understanding heart in your mind -- who told me this was an Noel Coward. He said, Put me, love, in your audience and you'll see, it will work. Do you know what happens? The whole audience turns into Noel Coward.

KING: You know something? You're a genius.

Yes, you're a genius.

CHANNING: Oh, come on.

KING: You playing all this dumb things. You're a genius.

CHANNING: Oh sure.

KING: We'll be right back with Carol Channing. The book is "Just Lucky I Guess." Don't go away.







KING: She sang "Hello Dolly!" as "Hello Lyndon!" Presidential campaign. She's a great friend of Lady Bird.

Now let's discuss the little aspects of Carol Channing.

You a claustrophobic?

CHANNING: Yes, aren't lots of people? Neil Simon is.

KING: Is he too?

CHANNING: Oh yes, I said to him, well have you over come your -- how are you doing with claustrophobia? He said I have overcome the whole thing. I said, well, what did you do? Tell me, I have got to know. He said I stay out of back seats of Volkswagens. I don't sit in the middle seat on a three seat plane. I don't wear turtleneck sweaters with a button up vest and...

KING: Even a turtleneck makes you claustrophobic?

CHANNING: Oh, God! You can't wait to get out of it. So -- so especially air planes. And then you can't get the buttons seat. Don't wear anything with the button holes tighter than the buttons. You can't get it off. You can't...

KING: That's how bad you are.

CHANNING: No, he was.

KING: You're OK.

CHANNING: No. The other thing is the Holland Tunnel. Oh my God, they used to pile the costumes up on top of me and then the windows wouldn't open.

KING: I dined with you one night at the Jockey Club in Washington. It was a lovely evening, and you came in with pots and pans, and brought your own food. Explain that.

CHANNING: Well, for heaven's sake haven't you done eight shows a week? If you do eight shows a week they might put something in there like if you put dairy -- if you eat dairy products before you -- if do and I was doing a show at the time.

KING: So you had...

CHANNING: You get laryngitis.

KING: You didn't trust the restaurant to cook something well?

CHANNING: They don't know what makes a good singing voice. And of course I didn't have it. But by the time you get through singing in character not in your own voice you get laryngitis. You get funny things.

KING: So you had to sing in character?

CHANNING: Yes. I had to have a New York accent.


CHANNING: Sure, Mrs. Levi. She lived under the hill.

KING: Was that -- was that hard every night, by the way, to do that? To not it have at 8:00 and have it at 8:10. To have an accent suddenly and then not have it?

CHANNING: No. I was in love with Dolly. I loved having her accent. I loved showing all sides of her. Whatever you can see, my father used to tell me, he said be careful what you set your heart upon for you should surely get it. I realized, Dolly's spine is to rejoin the human race. I'm doing that right now, ever since I entered -- my last interview to be with you.

KING: Let me tough -- let me touch other bases. How's your son doing? Great cartoonist.

CHANNING: I get him all the time on the Internet. Children go through phases. I went through phases. He'll be back.

KING: You have a separation from him?

CHANNING: A bit. It will be over, I know. I know.

KING: Do you see his cartoons?

CHANNING: Every one of them. He's does a great bin Laden. Have you seen his cartoons?

KING: He's great. I see him all the time. He's based in Fort Lauderdale but he's syndicated.

CHANNING: He's syndicated. You do see it. Isn't that fabulous?


KING: What are you apart from your son for? Call him on the phone.


KING: And?

CHANNING: Well, he'll get over it. He'll get over it.

KING: Is it over the things in the divorce?

CHANNING: I went through a phase like that with my parent, with my mother.

KING: Is it over the divorce that he's this way?

CHANNING: No, it wasn't his father.

KING: I know. What is he mad at? He should love you. How could anyone not love you?

CHANNING: He's married.


CHANNING: She's a lovely girl. She's an Irish girl, and I tried hard.

KING: Well, OK, I won't go further than that. I think that says a lot. Friendship with Jackie Kennedy. How did that begin?

CHANNING: Campaigned with Louis Armstrong for President Kennedy. We were in the Armory in Washington. We were in the Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. It's so big, the Kiel (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And we dressed together in this huge locker room, it's a city block long. But we already knew each other and we'd sit right close together. The most adorable, he wore a handkerchief.

KING: I knew Louie. I interviewed Louie. Great, great man.

CHANNING: Great man.

KING: Lived in a little house in Queens. Remember that? The house he had for 42 years in Queens in a nondescript avenue. Maybe the musical genius of our time.

CHANNING: Probably.

KING: So you got to know Jackie by campaigning for Jack.

CHANNING: For Jack. And they were grateful. And so, Oh, and then Carol Burnett and Gene Kelly and a whole lot of us, I can't recall all -- Rudolph Nureyev. He said the accent's on the third from the last syllable in Russia. All of us came to pay off President Kennedy's campaign debts shortly after he was elected president. We elected him is what we ran around the country making speeches.

KING: Sinatra too.

CHANNING: Yes, everybody was on that program. And so -- oh. We were fogged in. And so they couldn't go to Camp David. And they could -- so Mrs. Lincoln called and she said...

KING: The secretary?

The secretary. You knew it was the secretary. George Burns and I were touring at the time together. We toured for two years in theaters.

KING: You were in Vegas together.

CHANNING We were everywhere, theaters all over.

KING: So what happened to the fog?

CHANNING: Oh, thank you. So the fog. So the fog -- we were fogged in. She said the Kennedys are fogged in, too, Mr. President and Mrs. Kennedy. They'd like you to come and have dinner with them because you can't get out anyway.

Well, we got George had to -- I said, George, come on. We got to -- Charles, my husband, said now who this please? He doubted it. And she said I'm Mrs. Lincoln. He said Carol Burnett, I'd know you anywhere. Your just -- he said, what is this? I'm supposed to believe you Abraham Lincoln...

KING: Strange things. Kennedy's secretary was Mrs. Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln secretary was Mrs. Kennedy.


KING: Yes. I found that out


CHANNING: Why didn't you tell me so I could put that in my book.

KING: Evelyn Lincoln.


KING: So what was dinner like? George Burns and John Kennedy. What was that dinner like? You and Jackie that had to be something.

CHANNING: Sitting there he was on his way to the moon. This is what happened. The two people came from London. I can't remember their name. Could have been Mount Baton (ph). Well anyway, they're sitting there. Do you know them?

KING: Kind of famous General Mount Baton (ph).

CHANNING: General?

KING: Well, He was a famous lieutenant and lieutenant general killed in an ambush and a massacre.

CHANNING: He was killed? He was a nice fellow.

KING: That was 40 years ago, Carol. It's, OK, go ahead.

CHANNING: I find lot of people are dead now. That's how come I'm good. Did you know I'm going to be put in cement in Times Square. Do you know why? Everybody's dead. Ethel Merman. when I see Ethel and when I see Gwen Verdicten (ph) and Mary Martin.


KING: You're going to see them?

CHANNING: I have to thank them.

KING: For?

CHANNING: For being dead. I mean, I'm first in line. Arlene Doll is sticking me in cement. I didn't know which part of me, the hands the feet.

KING: Let me get a break. We only have one more segment. I want to ask about your health. Well be right back with...

CHANNING: What's the matter with my health.

KING: You were sick once. I want to ask how you're doing. We'll be back -- we'll be right back with Carol Channing. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The first song to the greatest star, Carol Channing.

CHANNING: Good evening. Isn't it a wonderful evening? Look, look, Arlene did all this.


CHANNING: Isn't that beautiful we don't know where it's going but...





KING: Friendships with George Burns and Gracie, Loretta Young, Yul Brynner, Lunt and Fontaine, Louis Armstrong...

CHANNING: Taine. Fontaine.

KING: Fontaine, I'm sorry.

CHANNING: Yes, that's Joan Fontaine.

KING: Mary Martin, Ethel Merman. She'll be the first star on Broadway, in the walk of stars which she says is the dead thing in cement.

CHANNING: I'm first.

KING: Now, you had a severe illness at one time. How are you doing?

CHANNING: Not a sign of it.

KING: No? You had cancer of the uterus.

CHANNING: I just kept working. And that may help a lot of other people. Huh?

KING: You didn't treat it?

CHANNING: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

KING: Chemotherapy?

CHANNING: I went to my Dr. Bill. He said, Will it last? You came into the office with something in my element. In my sphere.

KING: So you had uterine cancer?


KING: And you're all right?

CHANNING: I'm perfect. Something came to me as they were wheeling me in. See, it was all during the run of "Hello Dolly!" We had to come in on weekends -- chemo and all that. But what -- if you keep working, at the end of a show you either feel better or you feel -- do you know why? You're giving everything you've got and you feel better or else you're cured.

KING: You're prostituting yourself.

CHANNING: Prostituting myself?

KING: What was George Burns like to work with?

CHANNING: A -- the best. He was so pleased if I got the laugh and he didn't. I'd said, George, you're the most generous person I ever worked with. He said, You forget, Carol, I wrote the line. The line you said.

KING: You had to be in that act sort of like Gracie, right?

CHANNING: No, I was me.

KING: But you had to play off him. But you had to play off him.

CHANNING: Oh yes. And we did do it. See, I was so crazy about him. People said, You stand too close to George, Carol. You've got to be a little farther. I couldn't. It was like taking the rubber stopper off the sink. You know that big round rubber -- you can't get it off. You can't -- I would try to leave him and I'd go right back. I couldn't help it. He's magnetic. I couldn't stay away from George.

KING: How long -- do you still do shows? Do you go out and work?

CHANNING: Oh, yeah. Well, I have been writing a book for 4-and- a-half years.

KING: I know. But that's out now.

CHANNING: Well, I just finished. I finished "The Gal" -- at least I finished correcting "The Galley". And then finally Mr. Quarter saw to it. He even saw to it that what -- he's just been wonderful.

KING: What are you going to do now?

CHANNING: It's unheard of to have no edits at all.

KING: The book is out now. What are you going to do? Would you go back into a show?


KING: At 81?


You see, I found when I was writing the book, if I tell somebody what I'm going write about next, like Jackie Kennedy, it loses its energy. You got to say, Don't talk about it. Either talk about it or do it. But don't talk about it first. You can talk about it after you write it.

But the energy is gone from me. I have to struggle to get the thing out. And I needed an obstacle because I needed an -- a guy that doesn't know what on Earth this is about. Barrel of laughs she ain't. She doesn't get it. I needed that obstacle.

The worse the obstacle is, the stronger the victory is if you overcome it, if you can. And I remember when somebody cut Loralie's (ph) walk in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." It was the director. He said, You act like you're trying to be funny. It came with the character. I didn't even know I was walking that way. I just thought, I'm not acting Loralie (ph). I'm not imitating Loralie (ph). I am Loralie (ph). And people who are don't try to be.

KING: Was Dolly your favorite part?



CHANNING: It was "Sugar Babies."

KING: "Sugar Babies."

CHANNING: I played it in Boston.

KING: With Mickey Rooney?

CHANNING: No. They gave me lots of his parts. And Mickey Rooney said, You can't do that to me. My father's heritage is that he gave me all that vaudeville material. And I understand that.

KING: And you like that better than Dolly?

CHANNING: Yes, sir. It was a review.

KING: Because?

CHANNING: Oh! I got to play every kind of character. These crazy vaudevillians were all around me. They say it's the funniest show. Kevin Kelly -- anyway.

But I understand what Mickey's talking about. His father didn't give him millions. He didn't give him money. He gave him his legacy. He gave him his heritage. He gave him what he was born with. What's in his genes. He gave him all that material from vaudeville. It was heaven. I'd walk out on stage and say, I wonder what- - while they were changing scenes -- What did I do with my panties? Oh, that's right. I left them in the dentist chair. You know? Blackout. I like that.

KING: Carol, you are the best. You are a delight. Long life. Long life.

CHANNING: So you know what we did? We closed it. We closed it. I said, We got to close the show. I understand. It's Mickey's inheritance.

KING: And the book is "Just Lucky I Guess." The author, the autobiography -- well, no it's not an autobiography. It's a memoir of sorts by Carol Channing is "Just Lucky I Guess." Thank you, Carol.


KING: Thank you very much for joining us and good night.


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