Saturday, February 2, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: One Mississippi

To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

In honor of her birthday this week, a reminder of why Miss Carol Channing is (a) divine and (b) the Queen of Camp, Broadway Division. No other performer, I think, combines so much skill with so much self-awareness, assurance, and flat-out eccentricity.  She has been playing the role of Carol Channing for 60 years or so, and it's safe to say that no one could ever do it better.  The miracle of it is that she has been able to channel that extravagant persona into genuine characters:  her Channingness, if you will, proved far more adaptable than you might think, so that when she played Dolly, she was Dolly, or Lorelei, or any of her parts.   She's a camp, but not a stunt.

Here she demolishes, in sequence, two kinds of show-biz survivors (not to mention two kinds of speech impediments): first, Dietrich in her glam-grandma phase (I adore how the Channing grin fights for dominance with the Dietrich pout in what really is a masterful impersonation) and then the myth-ridden once-upon-a-timer (Cecilia is a hoot, but with just a shade of a dark side; there really were ladies pretty much that deluded, after all...).

I can't believe I've never seen this clip before - is it something everybody knows about and I've been mysteriously in the dark?  If so, I'll never forgive you for not telling me before.  Enjoy.


  1. I've been looking for this special for YEARS. I remember watching it one evening with my grandparents on good old WETA channel 26, the Washington, DC public television station around 1988. That was my first experience with Carol Channing, and it left quite an impression on my fourth-possibly-fifth-grade self. I kept trying to find it, but eventually gave up and thought I'd imagined the whole thing.

    Of course much of the humor was lost on me at the time. Although I'd heard of Marlene Dietrich, a Blue Angel was one of the Navy's cool planes that rattled the windows and did tricks in the sky.

    There's a terrific bit --the one I remember most-- from this special with her delivering a monologue while incrementally ramping up her sibilant S's until she's whistling each word. Thank you for unearthing this gem!

    1. You didn't watch the second half of the video - the immortal Miss Cecilia Sisson!

  2. Wonderful! Never saw it before. She's a true original. Absolutely bonkers. Crazy like a fox. And a real talent.
    I met her once on the street in the theater district in NY.
    "Hello, Miss Channing. I'm a big fan."
    "Well hello. Thank you. Who are you?"
    "I'm Bill."
    "We'll, of course you are! Isn't that wonderful."
    Exactly the kind of exchange you'd want to have with her.

    Saw her do Dolly on Broadway in a revival around 1995. She was in her mid 70's. I thought she'd be far too old and awful. She was wonderful and had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand.

    1. I saw that production, too, and was equally thrilled and astonished. While I'm normally scornful of most standing ovations (they seem to come at the end of every half-successful production for which tickets cost more than $20), I have to say she earned hers - and that's realizing that she got four. During the first act. I lost count once the big "Dolly!" number got under way...

    2. who are you?

      isn't that the best?