On April 22, I joined my pal Dan to see a screening of Carol Channing: Larger Than Life as part of the TriBeCa Film Festival. (Good God, has it already been five years since Boy Culture played there???) I'd heard nothing about the documentary, so looked forward to being surprised.
I was definitely surprised that it had a mini red carpet and that Channing had been slated to attend. Dan was playfully worried I'd embarrass him by asking Miss Channing for a pic-with, but he needn't have worried—as it turned out, she bailed due to a virus that kept her from boarding her plane to NYC. I hope she gets well soon...the last time I attended a doc on someone who was too ill to attend, it was Jack Wrangler—and he never got better. :(
I walked in with Tyne Daly, who later addressed the audience with a sweet note from Channing, who clearly regretted not being able to attend:
Though she is said to have never missed a performance, Channing admits in this most heartwarming, feel-good documentary of all time that she had food poisoning in Kalamazoo once during a stint in Hello, Dolly! and was, in fact, dragged from the stage after puking all over it mid-way through. So this absence was not wholly unprecedented.
Along with Daly, other celebrities in attendance included Alan Cumming (avec beret), Dianne Wiest (who in truth might've just been walking by the theater and who ignored a pro autograph seeker), Marge Champion, a group of emotional chorus boys men from the 1994 Hello, Dolly! revival and Tommy Tune. (The latter we became aware of when, afterward, a mean-spirited chaperone shouted at her high-school-aged charges, "You see that tall, gray-haired man walking over there? That's Tommy Tune! He IS dance! And YOU MISSED HIM!" She seemed to take great pleasure in both pointing out their ignorance and rubbing their noses in a missed opportunity.)
The movie is a joy. Director and co-writer Dori Berinstein met Channing at a theatre dinner and struck up a friendship that turned into a working relationship when the Broadway legend showered her with one too many priceless anecdotes, leading her to decide somebody had to film this stuff. As such, the doc is a friendly look at Channing's unique position in theatre history and her singular personality, gigantic energy and effervescent humor. The key aspect is the most unexpected—a reality-show-ready peek at Channing's fourth marriage, to childhood sweetheart Harry Kullijian. He found her again after she wrote lovingly of him in her memoir, and they behave like lovestruck kids for Berinstein.
The film benefits from priceless interviews with the likes of the late Betty Garrett, a teary Debbie Reynolds, Jo Anne Worley (her understudy who never got to go on—ever!), friend Loni Anderson (think on it...it makes sense) and Phyllis Diller, and cutely makes use of animated version of Al Hirshfeld's iconic illustrations of Channing.
The real take-away of Channing's story is that despite being impossibly optimistic and eternally "on," she's not phony. She's an honestly, purely positive person and persona, the embodiment of indomitable and, even though she's endured some serious trials, the picture of success as a person.
Afterward, the Q&A was warm and informative. I captured almost every bit of it, though at the tail end a film-fest flack told me no photography was allowed. (At the Q&A? Never heard of such rubbish. Don't they want the PR?)