Excerpt: Carol Channing's Autobiography

Carol Channing is one of America's most beloved theatrical legends. Known for Broadway's Hello, Dolly! and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the actress has written an autobiography, Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts. The book takes the reader behind the scenes of her life, and talks about other stars she met along the way, including Marilyn Monroe, Barbra Streisand and Marlon Brandon.

Excerpted from Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts:

Many people ask me, "Carol, how did you get into the theatre?" I never mind being asked that question because I do so dearly love to hear my own answer. So, during my winter period from Bennington I went first to the William Morris Agency. I was warming the bench outside Mr. Lastfogel's (the president's) office waiting to go in. On my right were Betty Comden and Adolph Green, two members of the Revuers who had appeared at the Village Vanguard just once, and I saw them. They were an innovation! Judy Holliday was one of their group. No one had heard of the Revuers yet or any of their names.

On my left was Alfred Drake, who wasn't the great Alfred Drake at all yet. Mr. Lastfogel's door finally opened. His secretary pointed at us and said, "You! Come in." Betty said to me, "She pointed at you, Carol." I said, "I could swear she pointed at you and Adolph." "No! Go in. Go!" Betty said.

I picked up my little Haitian drum, went through the door, and began my first audition. Years later I opened my Carol Channing and Her Ten Stout-Hearted Men show at the Drury Lane Theatre in London with that story.

Mr. Lastfogel was a man who was known as having a touch of genius, and so of course as a result he never saw anyone, excepting occasionally Katharine Hepburn, or John Wayne, or Mrs. Lastfogel — he saw a lot of her. But now, there I was face to face with the great man himself. He was a rugged tycoon who could make or break anyone's career with a single bite on his cigar. I swung right into my first number — something I was sure of because it was a big hit with the girls at Bennington — a simple ancient Gallic dirge, in obsolete Vercingetorix French. Vercingetorix was a conqueror before all Gaul was hauled together. This dirge was adapted from the original Greek tragedy, Orestes, and this was the most thrilling part of the whole thing, the Orestes Funeral Chant.

I remember how Mr. Lastfogel's eyes filled with wonderment as I showed him how the women of the Greek chorus lamented the ravages of war and the shortage of men. As I say, I had my little drum, this was in 9/5 time, very difficult. I chanted in obsolete French. Then, while beating my breasts, I swung into the rousing finale, "Oo — oo — oo."

Well, Mr. Lastfogel thought I should do someone better known than Orestes, like Sophie Tucker. I sensed I was losing the great man's attention, so I said, "Wait, Mr. Lastfogel, please. I have another song here that the girls at Bennington just love. It's a Haitian corn-grinding song rendered by the natives as they stomp out the kernels with their feet. They sing of their lost youth and pray for rain." The lyrics were in patois, a Haitian bastard form of French.

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