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    Carol Channing and Tommy Tune Razzle Dazzle Curran Audience

    carolSeveral of us here at the SF Bay Times are Broadway show fanatics, so this is high holy time with numerous shows playing now throughout the city. SHN’s season has been particularly good, with a true gem being last weekend’s “Time Steppin” featuring stage legends Carol Channing and Tommy Tune.

    Ever handsome, dapper Tune tap-danced his way through the intro at the Curran Theatre before presenting 93-year-old Channing, who wowed the crowd with numerous songs, anecdotes and still-hilarious classic routines. If you need a good laugh, check out Channing’s “Cecilia Sisson” comedy sketch, which thankfully has been immortalized at YouTube: (It’s a “tragic tale” about a silent film actress who was unable to make the transition from stage to screen because of her voice.) In yet another memorable moment, Channing shared how she performed at the wedding of Joan Crawford to Pepsi-Cola CEO Alfred Steele. Apparently Joan was drinking a lot more than Pepsi that day!

    Born in San Francisco, Channing is one of our local treasures. She even hopes to be buried between the Curran and A.C.T. theaters. She joked that she measured her hips and believes that she’ll just fit in the narrow space between the two buildings. While age has slowed her down, affecting her mobility, Channing is still super sharp. Her stage persona is like a drag version of herself, with a brilliant mind behind it all. We were completely floored and honored to get a chance to interview her before the show.

    San Francisco Bay Times: We love your sharp wit, often based on thoughtful perceptions of others. What have been some of the happiest, most joyous moments for you, both in terms of your life and career?

    Carol Channing: (In terms of life in general) I think my fondest memories are from my childhood in San Francisco. Delivering papers with my mother…especially to the Curran and Geary Theatres…taking the Dinky…Oh, you probably call it a cable car…down the Embarcadero to get a 10-cent bag of shrimp, and watching the construction of both the Bay and Golden Gate bridges from our house.

    (In terms of my career) I’m very grateful to Dolly and Lorelei (characters Dolly Levi from “Hello Dolly” and Lorelei from the Broadway show of the same name) for what they did for my career, but I don’t spend much time in the past. The future always seems so much more exciting, and I find my joy in the current projects or shows I am working on.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Your intelligence and sheer life force are astounding. To what do you attribute your incredible inner core of strength?

    Carol Channing: I think I am just channeling my father.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What was your first impression of Tommy Tune when you met him, and how has your relationship with him evolved since those early days?

    Carol Channing: I met Tommy when he was in high school in Dallas, TX. I have always felt a connection to Tommy and have been impressed with his dedication to the craft. I was even more impressed with his mother. How such a tiny thing could give birth to so much…Well, so much. (Editor’s Note: Tune is 6’6.5” and is believed to be one of the tallest dancers in the world.)

    carol2San Francisco Bay Times: Who have been some of your own mentors over the years, and how did they influence and inspire you?

    Carol Channing: Oh, (sigh). Ethel Waters, she performed at the Curran when I was a little girl and I never forgot it (starts singing “Suppertime”).  Later, we became good friends in New York and I told her about seeing her in San Francisco and the impact it had on me at the time. She was Chan’s (Channing’s son, Channing Carson) godmother. Gracie Allen! She picked me to replace her with George (Burns) in their Las Vegas act. It was like being sainted.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What are some of your favorite places to visit and things to do in San Francisco? For example, what would be a perfect night out in the city for you?

    Carol Channing: You mean, when I was young? So much has changed. I remember wonderful trips to China Beach…Oh, but that wasn’t at night. I usually attended matinees at the theatre, so that wasn’t in the evening. Oh dear, I don’t remember anything I did at night. Isn’t that awful? I’m going to visit some places while we are there this time. I have a whole list that I want to see…Grace Cathedral and Twin Peaks…Oh, the San Francisco Chronicle, where my uncle worked, and Frederick Burke elementary school. I’m going to speak at my high school—Lowell High School. They named the theatre after me. I was just so honored when I heard that.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Thinking of Tommy Tune, Jerry Herman, and many of your other colleagues, you have always been supportive of LGBT individuals, long before it was publicly acceptable to do so. Did your seemingly easy acceptance of LGBT individuals come naturally, or was it something that developed more over time?

    Carol Channing: I just never thought about it. They are your friends…or even family, when you work that closely with someone. They were…and, well, still are, I suppose…the most creative people I have ever worked with. There are a lot of us that owe the (LGBT) community for their support. They always seemed to know who was the most interesting and talented. That’s awfully self-glorifying for me to say, isn’t it? Well, they do.

    San Francisco Bay Times: What do you think is the biggest misconception about you?

    Carol Channing: That I’m glamorous. I’m not. No, no, I’m not at all. I’m a character, because characters make you laugh and laughter is the best reward an audience can give a performer. Impersonators always seem to make me look so pretty…And I just don’t think of myself that way. I participated in a Carol Channing look-a-like contest once in San Francisco. I came in third. Really, third?!

    San Francisco Bay Times: You have already achieved so much in your life. Your career is truly mind-blowing. Your ambition still shines through. What else would you like to achieve? What haven’t you done that is still a goal for you?

    Carol Channing: At the moment, 94 is my goal, and I’ll realize that in January.

    San Francisco Bay Times: A lovely quote associated with you, from your doctor, comes to mind: “If you reach to the heavens to get the show out, the heavens answer you.” (Note that Channing was diagnosed with cancer several years ago while working and managed to go through treatments and chemo while never missing a performance.) Are you a spiritual person and, if so, how has that helped both in your life and work?

    Carol Channing: Did I say that? Oh, how very inspiring, don’t you think? Am I spiritual? Well, I say my prayers and ask God for help, so I suppose I am. Obviously, something or someone has been looking over me and my career.