Ef­fer­ves­cent ‘Hello, Dolly!’ icon Carol Chan­ning mourned

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Mark Kennedy AP En­ter­tain­ment Writer

Carol Chan­ning, the lanky, ebul­lient mu­si­cal com­edy star who de­lighted Amer­i­can audiences over 5,000 per­for­mances as the schem­ing Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broad­way and be­yond, died last week at 97.

Pub­li­cist B. Har­lan Boll said Chan­ning died of nat­u­ral causes at not long af­ter mid­night on Tues­day, Jan. 15 in Ran­cho Mi­rage, Cal­i­for­nia. Boll says she had twice suf­fered strokes in the past year.

Be­sides “Hello, Dolly!,” Chan­ning starred in other Broad­way shows, but none with equal mag­netism.

She often ap­peared on tele­vi­sion and in night­clubs, for a time part­ner­ing with Ge­orge Burns in Las Ve­gas and a na­tional tour.

Her out­sized per­son­al­ity seemed too much for the screen, and she made only a few movies, notably “The First Traveling Saleslady” with Ginger Rogers and “Thor­oughly Mod­ern Mil­lie” with Julie An­drews.

Over the years, Chan­ning con­tin­ued as Dolly in na­tional tours, the last in 1996, when she was in her 70s. Tom Shales of The Washington Post called her “the ninth won­der of the world.”

Mes­sages of love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion lit up Twit­ter early Tues­day, with the League of Pro­fes­sional The­atre Women say­ing Chan­ning “was a gift of in­spi­ra­tion to so many.” Fans who saw her work also took to so­cial me­dia, call­ing her a “fire­cracker” and say­ing she was “match­mak­ing for the an­gels now.”

Veteran ac­tress Ber­nadette Peters said Chan­ning “was show busi­ness and love personified” and Mar­garet Cho said “you will for­ever be missed.” Vi­ola Davis mourned: “You had a great run! Rest well.”

Chan­ning was not the im­me­di­ate choice to play Dolly, a match­maker who re­ceives her tough­est chal­lenge yet when a rich grump seeks a suit­able wife. The show, which fea­tures a rous­ing score by Jerry Herman that’s burst­ing with joy and tunes like “Put On Your Sun­day Clothes,” ‘’Be­fore the Pa­rade Passes By” and “It Only Takes a Mo­ment,” is a mu­si­cal ver­sion of Thorn­ton Wilder’s play “The Match­maker.”

Theater pro­ducer David Mer­rick told her: “I don’t want that silly grin with all those teeth that go back to your ears.” Even though di­rec­tor Gower Cham­pion had worked on her first Broad­way hit, “Lend an Ear,” he had doubts about Chan­ning’s cast­ing.

She wowed them in an au­di­tion and was hired on the spot. At open­ing night on Jan. 16, 1964, when Chan­ning ap­peared at the top of the stairs in a red gown with feath­ers in her hair and walked down the red car­pet to the Har­mo­nia Gar­dens restau­rant, the New York au­di­ence went crazy. The crit­ics fol­lowed suit. “Hello, Dolly!” col­lected 10 Tony Awards, in­clud­ing one for Chan­ning as best ac­tress in a mu­si­cal.

Chan­ning was born Jan. 31, 1921, in Seat­tle, where her fa­ther, Ge­orge Chan­ning, was a news­pa­per ed­i­tor. When his only child was 3 months old, he moved to San Fran­cisco and worked as a writer for The Chris­tian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and as a lec­turer. He later be­came ed­i­tor-in-chief of Chris­tian Sci­ence pub­li­ca­tions.

At the age of 7, Chan­ning de­cided she wanted to be­come an en­ter­tainer. She cred­ited her fa­ther with en­cour­ag­ing her: “He told me you can ded­i­cate your life at 7 or 97. And the peo­ple who do that are hap­pier peo­ple.”

While ma­jor­ing in drama and dance at Ben­ning­ton Col­lege in Ver­mont, she was sent off to get ex­pe­ri­ence in her cho­sen field. She found a job in a New York re­vue. The show lasted only two weeks, but a New Yorker mag­a­zine critic com­mented, “You will hear more about a satiric chanteuse named Carol Chan­ning.” She said later: “That was it. I said good­bye to trigonom­e­try, zool­ogy and English lit­er­a­ture.”

For sev­eral years she worked as an un­der­study, bit player and night­club im­pres­sion­ist, tak­ing jobs as a model, re­cep­tion­ist and sales clerk dur­ing lean times. Land­ing in Los An­ge­les, she au­di­tioned for Marge Cham­pion, wife and dance part­ner of Gower Cham­pion who was putting to­gether a re­vue, “Lend an Ear.” Marge Cham­pion re­called: “She cer­tainly was awk­ward and odd-look­ing, but her warmth and whole­some­ness came through.”

Chan­ning was the hit of “Lend an Ear” in a small Hol­ly­wood theater, and she cap­ti­vated audiences and crit­ics when the show moved to New York. As the in­no­cent gold dig­ger in the mu­si­cal “Gen­tle­men Pre­fer Blondes,” her star­dom was as­sured. One re­viewer re­ported she “hurls across the foot­lights in broad strokes of pantomime and bold, cer­tain, exquisitely com­i­cal ges­tures.” The show’s hit song, “Di­a­monds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” be­came her sig­na­ture num­ber.

Over and over again she re­turned to the sure­fire “Hello, Dolly!,” which earned her $5 mil­lion on one tour. She con­sid­ered Dolly Levi “a role as deep as Lady Mac­beth,” but added that “the essence of her char­ac­ter was her un­quench­able thirst for life.” That de­scrip­tion fit Carol Chan­ning, who at­trib­uted her sunny op­ti­mism to her life­long faith in Chris­tian Sci­ence.

Oth­ers who have played the role in­clude Pearl Bai­ley, Phyl­lis Diller, Betty Grable, Ethel Mer­man, Martha Raye, Ginger Rogers and Bar­bra Streisand, who played Dolly in a 1969 film ver­sion di­rected by Gene Kelly. Bette Mi­dler won a Tony Award in the role in 2017 and a cur­rent na­tional tour stars Betty Buck­ley.

The tour of “Hello, Dolly!” said Tues­day it would honor Chan­ning at its cur­rent stop in Cal­i­for­nia. “We are deeply sad­dened by the pass­ing of the one and only Carol Chan­ning. She was a ‘Dolly’ for the ages, and a true icon of the Amer­i­can theater. Betty Buck­ley and the cast will ded­i­cate tonight’s per­for­mance in San Diego to her mem­ory.”

Chan­ning had two early mar­riages that ended in di­vorce — to nov­el­ist Theodore Naidish and pro foot­baller Alexan­der Car­son, fa­ther of her only child, Chan­ning. Her son be­came a suc­cess­ful po­lit­i­cal car­toon­ist.

High­land Rivers Health is a type of agency called a Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Board (CSB). There are 25 CSBs in Ge­or­gia that pro­vide the same ser­vices High­land Rivers does, and these agen­cies are a crit­i­cal part of the state’s healthcare sys­tem.

But if you’re un­fa­mil­iar with the term Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Board, you’re not alone. Not many peo­ple know the term, and fewer prob­a­bly un­der­stand what they are. I’ll be one of the first to ac­knowl­edge that ‘Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Board’ isn’t very de­scrip­tive and doesn’t tell you any­thing about what we do. So let’s start there.

Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Boards are state-des­ig­nated agen­cies that pro­vide be­hav­ioral health ser­vices – treat­ment, sup­port and re­cov­ery ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance use dis­or­ders, and in­tel­lec­tual a n d d e v e l o p m e n t a l dis­abil­i­ties. These types of dis­or­ders, es­pe­cially men­tal ill­ness and sub­stance use, are called be­hav­ioral health con­di­tions be­cause they can cause un­usual be­hav­iors in in­di­vid­u­als who have them.

At the state gov­ern­ment level in Ge­or­gia, ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal ill­ness and sub­stance abuse and for in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties are over­seen by the De­part­ment of Be­hav­ioral Health and De­vel­op­men­tal Dis­abil­i­ties (DBHDD), an agency whose name, thank­fully, de­scribes its focus ex­actly.

DBHDD co­or­di­nates ap­pro­pri­a­tions from the state leg­is­la­ture and fed­eral gov­ern­ment (for ex­am­ple, from the Sub­stance Abuse and Men­tal Health Ser­vices Ad­min­is­tra­tion, SAMHSA) to fund be­hav­ioral health and dis­abil­ity treat­ment ser­vices across Ge­or­gia. The agency also es­tab­lishes pol­icy that gov­erns the op­er­a­tions of CSBs and the use of state and fed­eral funds.

CSBs like High­land Rivers Health are the front-line of pro­vid­ing be­hav­ioral health and dis­abil­ity ser­vices in Ge­or­gia. Even if the term Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Board doesn’t de­scribe ex­actly what we do, there is one word that is es­sen­tial: com­mu­nity. CSBs operate in com­mu­ni­ties, where peo­ple live, work and raise fam­i­lies, pro­vid­ing cru­cial ac­cess to ser­vices for com­mu­nity mem­bers.

As you may know, High­land Rivers serves 12 coun­ties in north­west Ge­or­gia. We operate com­mu­nity out­pa­tient clin­ics in nine of those coun­ties, as well as res­i­den­tial treat­ment pro­grams, cri­sis units, peer pro­grams, dis­abil­ity ser­vices and so much more, pro­vid­ing ser­vices that are close by and con­ve­nient for peo­ple liv­ing in our ser­vice area.

We also part­ner with hos­pi­tals, Fed­er­ally Qual­i­fied Health Cen­ters (FQHCs), emer­gency de­part­ments and pri­mary care providers across north­west Ge­or­gia to en­sure be­hav­ioral health ser­vices are avail­able as part of a com­pre­hen­sive and co­or­di­nated com­mu­nity healthcare sys­tem.

But there are two other char­ac­ter­is­tics that dis­tin­guish Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Boards from other be­hav­ioral health and dis­abil­ity providers. First, CSBs are what the state calls Com­pre­hen­sive Com­mu­nity Providers. That means CSBs pro­vide a com­pre­hen­sive set of 15 men­tal health and sub­stance use treat­ment ser­vices, as well as cri­sis sta­bi­liza­tion, in­ten­sive com­mu­nity-based ser­vices, peer ser­vices and more (col­lec­tively known as “core” ser­vices). High­land Rivers pro­vides all of these ser­vices, which is one rea­son we em­ploy more than 600 pro­fes­sion­als across our ser­vice area.

Sec­ond, and per­haps more im­por­tant, CSBs are safe­tynet providers. Ac­cord­ing to DBHDD, safety-net providers ex­ist to serve the most vul­ner­a­ble mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ties and pro­vide crit­i­cal ac­cess to these ser­vices – re­gard­less of abil­ity to pay. In other words, CSBs pro­vide ser­vices to in­di­vid­u­als who, if we did not ex­ist, would not have ac­cess to men­tal health, sub­stance use or dis­abil­ity ser­vices. This is one of the most im­por­tant as­pects of who we are, what we do and why we are a crit­i­cal part of the com­mu­ni­ties we serve.

Like the state’s broader healthcare sys­tem, the be­hav­ioral health and dis­abil­ity ser­vices sys­tem in Ge­or­gia is a net­work of both pub­lic and pri­vate providers that of­fer vary­ing lev­els and types of ser­vices. But un­der­ly­ing this sys­tem are the state’s Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Boards, which help en­sure ev­ery Ge­or­gian has ac­cess to crit­i­cal men­tal health, sub­stance use and dis­abil­ity treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices.

Me­lanie Dal­las is a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor and CEO of High­land Rivers Health, which pro­vides treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance use dis­or­ders, and in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties in a 12-county re­gion of north­west Ge­or­gia that in­cludes Bar­tow, Chero­kee, Floyd, Fan­nin, Gilmer, Gordon, Har­al­son, Mur­ray, Pauld­ing, Pick­ens, Polk and Whit­field coun­ties.

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