Actress, singer and dancer who had huge success with Hello, Dolly!

Born: January 31, 1921;

Died: January 15, 2019

CAROL Channing, who has died aged 97, was perhaps the ultimate Broadway trouper, supposedly missing only one performance out of 5,000 shows of Hello, Dolly!, a musical in which she appeared on Broadway, in the London West End and in touring productions all over the world from the mid-1960s through to the 1990s.

On one occasion she performed with a patch over one eye and on another with her arm in a sling – at least according to showbiz legend. And she would reassure understudies that there was no real need to learn the lines, because they would not be going on.

Theatre was very much Channing’s medium and it was Barbra Streisand who played the eponymous matchmaker in the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly!, though Streisand was really too young for the role – Channing was still playing Dolly on stage in her mid-seventies.

Six feet tall, flamboyant, with a cascade of long, platinum blonde hair, big eyes, big mouth and a raspy voice, Channing was perfect for the stage. She was larger than life, larger than a cinema screen, larger than Streisand – and that is saying something.

Channing also originated the role of the showgirl Lorelei Lee in the long-running Broadway production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes that opened in 1949. In the film four years later Lorelei was played by Marilyn Monroe and emerged as a very different character.

Channing did co-star with Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore in the film Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967, playing eccentric widow Muzzy Van Hossmere, a role that secured her an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress. But it was a rare film appearance. She did win Golden Globe, Tony and Grammy awards.

It was only in 2002, in her autobiography Just Lucky, I Guess, that she revealed a huge secret that she had kept to herself since her teens, a secret that would certainly have impacted on her career if it had come out when she was just getting started – Carol Channing was mixed race.

Her father’s mother was African-American and his birth certificate listed him as coloured. Channing’s mother told her when she was 16 and going off to college in case she had a dark-skinned baby.

Her father’s family were African-American on one side and German on the other. “Apparently I took after them,” she said, but she maintained she was proud of her African-American roots. She reckoned she took her looks from one side of the family and her performing abilities from the other. “No white woman can do it like I did,” she said.

She was born Carol Elaine Channing in 1921 in Seattle. Her father was a journalist and the family moved to San Francisco when Channing was only a baby. Her father was also a Christian Scientist and Channing embraced his religious beliefs and was tee-total all her life.

She showed an early aptitude for performing and was fascinated by the theatre ever since she was a young child. She studied drama at Bennington College in Vermont, began auditioning on Broadway and quit college early after her performance in a comedy musical called Let’s Face It was singled out for praise in The New Yorker when she was only 20.

Other shows followed, most notably Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which included the song Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend. She spent almost two years in the show on Broadway. She also worked regularly with George Burns in an act that included song, dance and comedy.

In Hello, Dolly! she brought much of her own spirit and energy to the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi, a widow who is determined to find a wealthy husband for herself. Channing was not happy when film producers turned to Marilyn Monroe and Barbra Streisand for the film versions of her two most celebrated roles.

“Barbra is one of our great creative forces, but a barrel of laughs she ain’t,” Channing said. She was reportedly pleased when the film did disappointing business on initial release.

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, with her producer’s hat on, attempted to set her up in her own sitcom as a small-town girl trying to make it in Broadway. They shot a pilot for The Carol Channing Show, but it was not picked up by any of the networks.

Channing was married four times. Marriages to writer Theodore Naidish and Canadian football player Alexander Carson ended in divorce. Her third marriage was to Charles Lowe, her manager and publicist. It lasted more than 40 years and ended in an acrimonious split, with her accusing him of physical abuse, misappropriating money and managing to have sex just twice in four decades and him initiating legal proceedings for defamation. However he died soon after they separated.

She married her childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian in 2003. He died in 2011. Channing had two strokes in the past year. She is survived by a son from the second marriage.