Carol Channing Still Going Strong at 90, Fights Cutbacks in the Arts

Carol Channing is being honored in Houston.
Carol Channing is being honored in Houston.
Courtesy of Channing Productions

Best known for her long-running Broadway version of Hello Dolly, actress/singer Carol Channing says that even in the depth of the Depression, her San Francisco public middle school had the arts. So she really doesn't understand why so many public schools these days, claiming the need for cutbacks because of the national recession, are dumping music, poetry, visual arts and dancing.

"We had the arts and they changed us completely," the three-time Tony Award winner told Art Attack. The 90-year-old Channing is on her way to Houston to accept the Anne Morrow Lindbergh Award for Living With Grace and Distinction from the Huffington Center on Aging at a luncheon at the River Oaks Country Club on October 26. A question-and-answer session will be part of the event.

That night she'll step over to the Barnes & Noble store in the River Oaks Shopping Center to give Houstonians an advance look at a patriotic CD she's just done, entitled Carol Channing: True to the Red, White and Blue.

During a lively interview with Channing and her 91-year-old husband Harold Kullijian -- on speaker phone they each chimed in as the spirit moved them -- Channing said a large part of her effort criss-crossing the country urging schools to retain the arts is because of Kullijian. "It's the dream of his life," she said simply.

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For his part, Kullijian said, "In this case, where public schools have constantly eliminated the arts, they have basically taken away one of the basic catalysts to learning. And all over the world, the better educational systems of the world have been shown over and over again to have the arts in their curriculum."

The two founded the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation for the Arts, and spend their time urging local school boards not to forsake the arts and deciding where best to apply the money they raise.

Channing quoted liberally from Albert Einstein and his discovery of how to split the atom. She said Princeton asked Einstein to appear one time before a meeting of physicists to explain his theory of relativity.

"He came in and brought a violin case. They asked him to speak for an hour. He said, 'Instead of speaking for an hour, I'm going to do a violin solo and maybe you will begin to see and feel the harmony of the universe.' Well of course they didn't. I can't imagine what Princeton University thought. At the end of that, he said, 'Most every great physicist and scientist, most every one of them is a good artist and a fine artist. And those that aren't artists, don't get it.'"

Dolly in a 2010 production with the Dolly Boys
Dolly in a 2010 production with the Dolly Boys
Photo by Peter James Zeilinski
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