Goodbye Dolly: Fans Rely On Carol Channing With Their Proposals


LOS ANGELES — For men of a certain age — and mostly men — Carol Channing was kind of obsessed. From Broadway to Tampa, they waited at the stage doors for him to show up. “Hi Dolly!” They released albums when they were younger, watched it on TV and in movies, and sometimes wore dresses to impersonate it—exaggerated red lipstick, a nosebleed, funny delivery with big eyes, and a burst of fluffy hair.

So when much of the Channing estate went up for auction last month, more than two years later, there was an audience ready and waiting. died at the age of 97 in Rancho Mirage, California.

Of course, all 400 items were sold out within eight hours, and the auction authorized by Channing’s heirs raised close to $406,000 from 6,000 registered bidders, with some of the transactions going to charity. Fans snatched the Tony and Golden Globe Awards, gowns, shawls and shoes, ragged prints, needlepoint pillows and wigs. Some of this Channinabilia was quite costly: a 1964 Tony for “Distinguished Achievement in Theatre” cost $28,125, “Hello Dolly!” She went for the glamorous red costume she wore as she walked down a ladder in the lead role. He withdrew $23,750.

“We’ve sold celebrities in the past, but this was different,” said Joe Baratta, Vice President of Development. Abell Auction Company, Which real estate is running? “There were items he wore, used, touched, and gifts to honor his career.” (A further 300 Channing items will be auctioned in September).

Given the pandemic, there was no excitement in person – paddles in the air, an auctioneer with a mallet on the podium. Everything was done online and by phone, on their screens with bidders and lurkers. Those wishing to inspect merchandise can head to the Abell warehouse in Commerce, just east of downtown Los Angeles. But most of the items were bought without seeing.

By whom? Here’s a look at three superfans who brought their checkbooks (or at least Venmo accounts) and walked away with Carol Channing’s sixty years in public life.

David Turner is an actor (most recently animated Broadway show: “The Boys in the Band”) and a commercial pilot. angel flight east. As a college student, she waited for Channing at the door of her Hartford, Conn., theater for hours after “Hello Dolly!” yield. He was a soldier; When she showed up, Turner and her boyfriend were the two remaining fans.

“I didn’t say a word,” said Turner, 46, the other day. There is no request for signature. “I felt it would be predatory. I just watched her move.”

Until that night in Hartford, Channing’s goodwill was indisputable. In 1972 he was already playing – and playing and playing – a song from the children’s compilation “You and Me Is Free”, on which Channing performed (talking more than singing) “Housework.” When she was a 15-year-old in New Jersey, she began impersonating at the suggestion of an 18-year-old boyfriend who told her that she sounded like Carol Channing when she had a cold.

She still does this to this day and is now hoping that one of her eponymous Channing dresses goes into service for a drag performance, assuming it can fit inside.

“I’m doing Diamonds is a Girl’s Best Friend,” she said of the song in her debut role as Lorelei Lee in the 1949 musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

It was Turner’s first auction and he found it a little scary. But he eventually bought 25 pieces: a sketch of Channing’s Al Hirschfeld with wide eyes and an exaggerated grimace; several dresses and costumes; a blouse monogrammed with initials; a pair of tap shoes; and that 1964 Tony.

Truth be told, it made him a little uncomfortable – was that scary? she thought—before deciding it was a good way to preserve the memory of someone who was such a big part of her life.

“There was a way to find a room to zing,” he said. “For me, being part of the auction was wanting to hold on to that feeling.”

“I loved it,” she added. “And Carol is a very strange person in many ways. She was the first to take anything strange and tie her car to her.”

Nicky Ciampoli lived with Carol Channing for the last years of her life. Don’t read too much for this. She was his personal assistant, a job he started while he was still on tour, and he continued as he got older and as he stepped out of the limelight.

Channing split his time between Modesto and Palm Springs, and Ciampoli stayed with him at both locations.

She bought 18 pieces for $25,000 to hold on to the memories: her wedding outfit from her 2003 marriage to Harry Kullijian (later redesigned for book signings); two flapper dresses from Bob Mackie; a red tuxedo Ciampoli helped him dress for performances.

“I would buy more if I could,” he said. “I didn’t buy the stuff because it was Broadway actress Carol Channing. I bought it because it was very emotional for me on many levels.”

Ciampoli met Channing in January 2006, when she was 21 and was working for a theatrical producer who booked her for three performances of her solo show “The First Eighty Years the Hardest” in Tampa. He is assigned to join Channing and Kullijian during their stay. A little later, when she returned to California, she called to ask if she could be her full-time personal assistant.

As part of her job, she would drive through a large garage in Modesto – costumes, wigs, letters from people like Joan Crawford and Barbara Walters – filled with her life’s artifacts. Much of this material was destroyed by water, insects, and rats, and at one point rented a 1-800-GOT-JUNK dump truck.

“You wouldn’t believe what we threw,” he said. “Old phone books. Pictures and scenarios. Scrapbooks.” But some were saved – “notebooks without mouse poop” – and went up for auction.

Ciampoli never saw Channing in “Hello, Dolly!”, where she performed on Broadway and on several tours, and she performed nearly 5,000 times. And now? You guessed it. “I started imitating Carol,” he said. “I’m not just a fan. I’ve had a lot of personal relationships with them.”

“My bedroom in Palm Springs was right next to them,” he added of Channing and Kullijian, who died in 2011. “They were like grandparents to me. I used to sit in the bedroom and watch old TV shows – Andy Griffith.”

Brig Berney logged onto her computer on the morning of the auction with her eyes on a large item: the 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony, which Channing won for taking “Dolly” on tour again. Berney was the company director for this revival, handling the show’s day-to-day business affairs, from salary to travel.

However, this was far below the list of trophies on the block, and Berney, now the manager of “Hamilton” company, decided that it was too risky to wait for him at such a competitive auction.

Instead, he snatched his special 1968 Tony with a winning bid of $14,000.

It now sits in “a lovely old music stand” in the living room of her Manhattan apartment. “If you have a Tony Award, you can display it in an honorable place,” he said. “There’s no point putting it in a drawer.”

Also on the shot: the needlepoint fans sent to Channing and a Theater World Award naming Channing a promising personality of the 1948-49 season.

Berney had met years before he started working on Channing’s shows. “hello dolly!” He arrived at the Morris A. Mechanic Theater in Baltimore in 1978, and Berney, a young man with wide eyes, struggled backstage to get his show signed.

When they reunited nearly 20 years later, he had undoubtedly forgotten about this encounter. But he was charming and patient as she scolded him with questions from a theater fanatic, she said: “How was David Merrick? What was it like opening ‘Dolly’ in New York?”

“I liked to ask questions,” he added. “He liked to talk, and I like to listen.”


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