November 10, 2006
You know what the Bible says
legend Carol Channing
This was not the story I thought I would write. This wasn’t the interview I was expecting.
When I heard that Broadway legend Carol Channing was coming to Springfield with her one-woman show, I was excited at the opportunity to see this long-lasting performer and to possibly interview her about her legendary life and iconic work.
The 85-year-old chanteuse has a large gay following, and has done events with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and West Hollywood Pride Day. She has praised her gay audience in the past.
“Gay people are my favorites,” Channing told the Windy City Times last year. “Gay people just know people that are talented. They just know. I’m their queen!”
So it was a surprise when she shared some not-quite-friendly views on gays and the Bible.
Channing’s publicity agent Harlan Boll insisted afterward that she did not know that she was speaking with a gay publication, due to a miscommunication between his agency and their client. But when I called in for the interview, I gave the man who answered my name and publication, and as she came on the phone I overheard him tell her, “This is Kaizaard [sic] from the Gay People’s Chronicle.”
A third of the way through the interview, Channing asked, “Oh, dear. Is this for a gay publication?” Even after I reconfirmed that it was, she later reiterated her ideas about gays and the Bible.
This is a transcript of the interview, done by phone October 31 from one of her homes in Rancho Mirage, California.
Kaizaad Kotwal: You have had a very long and illustrious career. To what do you attribute your longevity?
Carol Channing: Do you really think so? My, I don’t know. To tell you the truth, the most important work is what I am doing now. What we’re doing is bringing the arts back.
KK: Can you say more about that?
CC: When Harry [Kullijian, her current husband] was in World War II and the Korean War, it took ten years out of his life. In those days they tried to eliminate all necessities when things got really bad. They even tried to eliminate the arts. Harry was in an audience [in England] when Churchill was told that due to the financial constraints they were eliminating the arts and Churchill said, ‘What are we fighting for?’
KK: Do you remember your introduction to the arts?
CC: Yes. My mother asked me if I wanted to help her distribute the Christian Science Monitor at theatres and I agreed. I don’t remember how old I was then, but I must have been very little. We walked into a darkened theatre and I instantly felt, “I’m on hallowed ground. This is a church. A mother church. A mosque. This is how you get a glimpse of creation. If children were exposed to art the way we used to be then they wouldn’t have troubles with drugs because that’s just not as exhilarating [as art].
KK: You have performed prolifically. Have you ever felt that acting and singing and dancing got in the way of other things you wanted to do in your life?
CC: Actually it helped me to understand many, many things I wouldn’t have. I’m a Doctor of Fine Arts – you wouldn’t believe it – and I am traveling to college campuses to talk to students and my life is more important now that it has ever been. Imagine at this state being so needed.
KK: As revealed in your biography “Just Lucky I Guess,” you found out later in life that your father was of African-American origins. Did you ever feel betrayed that you weren’t told that right from the start?
CC: No. I didn’t even know it would matter, that reporters would ask questions. [It did] not change my relationship with him at all. But I did finally realize why I sang so well, why I danced do well. Everyone’s race is something to be proud of. I’m terribly proud of it. I was very close to him and loved him dearly. He was the kindest, most spiritually minded person I knew.
KK: In your new touring one-woman show, which you are bringing to Springfield, what are you trying to say to the audience?
CC: My life story.
KK: You seem to have a very large gay following. Have you ever thought about why?
CC: I don’t think about them. I’m grateful that they seem to like me. They’re terribly loyal to me. But I’m knee-deep in the Bible and you know what it says about that.
CC: Oh, dear. Is this for a gay publication? Have I offended you?
KK: Yes. For the Gay People’s Chronicle. Right now, it’s really not my job to be offended or not be offended. I am just asking questions and reporting answers. I read that you have fought for gay rights. Do you think that the things gay people are fighting for are important?
CC: I don’t think about it. If they can’t take care of their own problems, why should I bother. It’s not my problem.
KK: I see.
CC: At one time there were seven men doing me in Las Vegas. I began to wonder if I had a glandular problem. But you know that the Bible says that that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
KK: So have you always been religious?
CC: Always. I was born into a Christian Science family.
KK: Do you go to church every Sunday?
CC: No. I am too busy creating.
KK: Thank you for your time.
No more than ten minutes after I hung up with Channing after a 35 minute chat, the marketing people with the Springfield Arts Council (hosts for her November 14 show) called. They said that Channing’s people said that she had been most upset with the interview and interviewer, and was canceling all her other interviews connected to the Springfield visit.
As soon as I had hung up with the Springfield marketing office, Boll called. After discussing Channing’s confusion about the Chronicle’s identity, he noted that she had gotten into another gay media fracas a month ago over things she said about gay marriage versus civil unions.
I was not aware of that story at all. Boll said that Channing thought I was trying to call her to check in about that incident.
Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I have returned the two complimentary tickets I received to attend Channing’s show to eliminate the shadow of conflict of interest.
“An Evening with Carol Channing” is 8 pm November 18 at Clark State Performing Arts Center's Kuss Auditorium in downtown Springfield. Tickets are $35-60 for adults, $28-50 students; call 937-328-3874.