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Now On DVD: 'Carol Channing: Larger Than Life' (Maybe Now We Can Get A Straight Answer From Her On Her Race)

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by Emmanuel Akitobi
July 19, 2012 8:33 PM
13 Comments
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Entertainment icon Carol Channing raised a few eyebrows back in 2002 when she revealed in her autobiography, Just Luck I Guess: A Memoir Of Sorts, that she was of mixed-race.  Then she took it all back.

Below is the actual text, from Just Luck I Guess: A Memoir Of Sorts, of Channing explaining how her father, George Channing, was born to an African-American mother and Nordic German-American father.

By November of 2002, when she appeared on the Larry King Live, Channing was singing a different tune.  Below is a transcript of that show:

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.

Confused?  So am I.  Seems like a whole lot of double-talk.  Was he, or was he not?

Maybe Channing had already begun to feel the burden of being black in Hollywood, and decided she would pretend that she'd never revealed her secret.  Because 8 years later, she appeared on the Wendy Williams Show, and Channing was singing the same old song.

The bottom line is that Channing wrote what she wrote in her book, and there's no taking it back.  Why she refuses to own that truth now is a mystery.  Perhaps the documentary film Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, which was released on DVD two months ago, will shed some light.  Who knows?  *shrug*

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13 Comments

  • Conrad | December 6, 2013 12:40 AMReply

    Very interesting how scared she looked when the race issue was brought up. She must want to continue working in Hollywood, and doesn't wanna mess that up.

  • MaryJo | July 22, 2012 12:07 AMReply

    I remember seeing her on TV for the first time years ago and noticed that her features looked like she had African American ancestry, and I said to my sister, I wonder if they know she's black? She looked like my grandmother, who is mixed also, so it was easy to see. Over the years, I have been a big fan of Carol Channing, and I always took it for granted that she must have been mixed, but I was totally surprised when I read that it was only made public in her 2002 book. From what she's said in some of these interviews, I suspect she has more trouble talking about it than she says, but I guess having kept it a secret for so many years in her life that it's difficult for her to really discuss it with people. The part that I find so sad, though, is that her paternal grandmother never got to know her son's family, nor did Carol get to know her grandmother, they both missed so much in life.

  • ALM | July 21, 2012 5:20 PMReply

    Why doesn't she just go on Dr. Henry Louis Gate's show and find out once and for all?

  • Conrad | July 20, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    In that Wendy Williams clip, Channing sounded like a runaway slave who had just been asked to show her freedom papers.

  • lvflg | July 20, 2012 10:38 AMReply

    glad that era is over!

  • SHEBABABY | July 20, 2012 3:09 AMReply

    To quote Chris Rock.. "Don't NoooBODY wanna be black."

  • Edwina | July 19, 2012 10:28 PMReply

    Back in her day, Carol Channing was a major, major Broadway star. The biggest. That's a fact. But she could go ditzy during an interview and in this latest documentary (I watched it on Showtime the other night) she was almost incoherent with double-talk when the subject came up.

  • Valsadie | July 19, 2012 10:12 PMReply

    I could usually guess the nationality of actors I saw in movies. The only actors who ever confused me were Yul Brynner and Carol Channing. I just had no frame of reference for Brynner and his strong mix of Russian/Eastern European features. But nothing fell into place for me with Channing until she explained about her father being black. OH! Not until then could I connect her with anyone or anything; it was like she was her own entity alone. Maybe I was right the first time... But what is the most clear is that Carol Channing did live her life as if that conversation with her mother when she was 16-years-old never happened. Blackness hadn't been part of her identity up to that point, and she certainly did not add it. Where that puts her ... ?

  • Sergio | July 20, 2012 9:07 AM

    Brynner always kept his real background a secret to add some mystery to his persona. (At one time he claimed he was part Mongol) The real truth was that he was simply Russian, the son of a Russian mother and a Russian/Swiss father. He was born in eastern Russia though when he was young child he was lived for a few years in China where his mother moved to after his parents split. My father though always used to crack me up saying that he thought Brynner was really a black guy passing for white which is why he shaved his head. In fact there is one film, the western Invitation to a Gunfighter in which Brynner plays a mixed race person

  • LeonRaymond | July 19, 2012 9:50 PMReply

    I am old enough to remember her thang, my mother always filled me in on her , they cherish her cause she is one of the last surviving actors/performers from an era that didn't want us around, she represents nostalgia, when the big fat Cigar smoking producers ran Hollywood, and Vaudeville was king also, and I am willing to bet that yeah she is Black but admitting so would have given those older performers sitting in nursing homes their last heart attack and so many of her generation would cry out loud to hear her admit that, so she took it back and she will state it on shows that have a Black audience only cause those same old folks who would cringe don't watch us on TV in any form!!! I for one never got the fascination with her and her thang on stage, but she belongs to that Old Johnny Carson era!

  • Laura | July 19, 2012 9:39 PMReply

    Look if she says she not Black, then she's not Black. I, too, never understood the fascination with her. It reminds me of the rumors about Dinah Shore being Black and passing. It might be true for both of them, given the era in which they were born in. **If you look at the pictures of Carol Channing when she was very young she definitely look Black. You can see it in her eyes and cheeks***

  • No | July 19, 2012 8:44 PMReply

    I've never understood the interest or fascination with Carol Channing. I believe she was a hit in the stage version of "Hello Dolly," but not much of her subsequently....

  • Quentin | July 19, 2012 11:32 PM

    She was also nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). I don't know if she deserved, considering all the supporting actress performances that year. I didn't really care for the film either. But she was nominated nonetheless.

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