Carol Channing in Carol Channing: Larger than Life.
By Ed Rampell
Watching Dori Berinstein’s delightful documentary Carol Channing: Larger Than Life is a sheer joy. The now 91-year-old performer who embodied Broadway with her original onstage incarnations of Lorelei Lee in Gentleman Prefer Blondes and the eponymous matchmaker in Hello Dolly! is a force of nature.
This nonfiction biopic traces Channing from her 1921 birth into a Christian Science family in Seattle and upbringing in San Francisco to her debut onstage, TV appearances from Steve Allen to Laugh In, and movie career. In addition to the ever hilarious Channing herself, the doc’s talking heads include Betty Garrett, Jerry Herman, Lily Tomlin, Bruce Vilanch, Tommy Tune, etc. Channing’s second husband, Harry Kullijian -- a childhood sweetheart who reappeared late in life -- co-stars. (However, the film sweeps under the carpet Channing’s disastrous long first marriage and how her career conflicted with motherhood.)
You don’t have to be a fan of Channing or of musical theater to be swept away by this feel good ode to the Great White Way’s eternal nightingale. Cinema wasn’t the medium that most favored the entertainer with those flying saucer eyes, lips as red as Dorothy’s ruby slippers and blonde tresses -- Marilyn Monroe and Barbra Streisand portrayed Lorelei and Dolly onscreen. But this doc finally makes Channing -- Oscar-nominated for 1967’s Thoroughly Modern Millie -- the movie star she deserves to be, too.