I’ve always regarded Carol Channing as a walking alarm clock—tall, cherry-lipped and dinner-plate-eyed with a head as big and yellow as a sunflower—tick tock, tick tock. But according to director Dori Berinstein’s new documentary, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, the frazzled dodo captured best in legendary caricatures by her friend Al Hirschfeld was a superficial image she cultivated for the entirety of her professional life, aided enormously in the effort by the only two famous and important roles of her career—gold digger Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! She invented them both, but her greatest invention has always been herself. Offstage, out of makeup and eyelashes and wigs like 20-pound piles of white farmhouse insulation, she was about as dumb as a brain surgeon turned rocket scientist, with a roaring IQ and a humanitarian heart as big as her bustier. Real life, as it turns out, was not always a turkey dinner. Like Judy Garland, she was no stranger to tears. Director Berinstein is too much of a fan to reveal it all. The result is cinematic Botox—a puff piece masquerading as a biopic, designed and edited for fans, drag queens and loyal chorus boys she always treated like family members because in reality she had none of her own. As a serious documentary, it is charming, sycophantic, peppy, endearing and, it must be admitted in all honesty, ultimately one-dimensional.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Carol Channing. Read More