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Daniel Day-Lewis spoke with poet, Eileen Myles in this 2002 interview. Photography by Terry Richardson.
 

Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.



Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.


Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.


Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.
 
  JERRY HALL
STEPHANIE SEYMORE
MARC JACOBS
  ASIA ARGENTO
DENNIS HOPPER
ABEL FERRARA
BRIAN WILSON
WILL OLDHAM
DJ SPOOKY

Carol Channing, 2000

WITH DAME DARCY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHERYL NIELDS



Dame Darcy Reads the Palm of Carol Channing



Dame Darcy:  Are you right-handed or left-handed?
Carol Channing:  Right-handed.  But I broke this about seven years ago ... the wrist and the whole thumb socket.

Darcy:  Oh, no!
Carol:  Well, I keep rolling off the stage.  Because I’m near-sighted.  And I can’t wear contact lenses.  I’ve tried and tried.  Ever since I was eighteen years old.  I have too much oxygen in the eyeballs or something.  That’s what somebody told me.

Darcy:  Have you ever had a palm reading before?
Carol:  No, and I’m very excited.

Darcy:  So am I.
Carol:  Are you?

Darcy:  Yes.  So here we go.  Your lifeline isn’t really dark, and I think part of it is because you’re thinking all the time.  You experience what’s here and now, but you also have another world in your head that you’re simultaneously living in.
Carol:  Yes.

Darcy:  You’re kind of in a dream ...
Carol:  In a dream world.

Darcy:  A little bit.
Carol:  You’re right.

Darcy:  [laughs] I’ve seen travel lines on people that look like a tree, with branches everywhere.  Yours seem like there are a couple of paths that are more well-trodden ...
Carol:  Should I tell you?

Darcy:  Yes ...
Carol:  Well, I played Houston eighteen times — the last time I counted.

Darcy:  Really?
Carol:  That’s touring in the theater.  So the places I go, I’m there fifteen and eighteen times.  It’s a rough life and it’s a good life.  To anyone else it would be tiring.  But I get excited with it.

Darcy:  Well, you have a rambling soul, right?
Carol:  I don’t know.  I really don’t.  I have no perspective on where I’m different than anyone else.

Darcy:  You are one-hundred percent an original.
Carol:  But you see life through your own dirty windows or your own clean windows.  I’ve never been somebody else.  So I don’t know if I’m any different. [laughs]

Darcy:  Now, this is your love line.  You have three chances for love.  One was when you were very young — maybe eighteen or twenty.  That wasn’t a chance for marriage, but it might have affected the way you thought about relationships for a while after that.  You had another chance for marriage in your thirties, and there’s a chance for love when you’re older.  But in general, your love lines aren’t as strong as some of your other lines.
Carol:  You’re right so far.  I just don’t think about my personal love life as much as I do about the script I’ve got in my hand.  You know what I mean? [laughs]

Darcy:  Well, you’re very hard-working and focused on your career.
Carol:  You see that?

Darcy:  Just from knowing your work.  But it’s apparent on your hand too.
Carol:  You mean that it’s the whole world to me and whoever I’m married to doesn’t matter that much?

Darcy:  [laughs] Yeah.  It seems more about portraying your characters and singing your songs ...
Carol:  Yup.
Darcy:  It’s not like you’ve led a loveless life, that’s for sure.  But your career has always come first.  You couldn’t have the body of work that you have without working so hard.  It takes a lot to get there.
Carol:  It takes probably more than you’re aware of giving —  for actors especially.  They think about their parts, work on their parts, stay in the theater all day and night, and give more than they realize they’re even giving.

Darcy:  Because they’re not clocking in.  You have to stay ’til it’s done, and that could be three or four in the morning.
Carol:  That’s right.  And it doesn’t bother any of us ... [laughs]

Darcy:  That’s life.
Carol:  You have no other life.  You go to your hotel, you go to the dressing room, you wait there, you do a matinee, you take a nap trying to get yourself together for the evening show, and there are interviews every other day, and then a picture with the mayor.  But that’s what’s expected of you.  I remember once when a movie star came to do a show on Broadway, and said, “This no life.  This a jail sentence.  You can’t see anybody.  You have to watch every word you say after the shows.  You wear your voice out.”  And I thought, “Where in the world have you been living?  On vacation or something?”

Darcy:  You have some pretty strong spiritual lines, and a lot of them — the ones coming off the thumb.  In some ways you remain youthful and childlike, and you always will.
Carol:  Really?

Darcy:  With some people, even if they’re really young, they have a lot of lines that already seem worn out.  You have the opposite of that.  You’re able to just transcend anything negative that’s going on around you.  Your line doesn’t go all over.  Yours is definitely a straight track.
Carol:  Well, I was hellbent from the time I was seven years old.  You know how derring-do children are?  They dare each other to do dangerous things.  But I said, “No, I’m sorry, I’m going to need that foot, I’m going to need that hand, I’m going to need it later on — I just know it.”

Darcy:  That’s so funny!
Carol:  And now when I’m on the stage I think, “Thank God.”  They were all breaking their ankles and all that.  They don’t guard against a certain day when they’re going to need them.

Darcy:  Children don’t think that way.  That was really sage of you ...
Carol:  From the crib on.  Now, my cousin is a daredevil.  Here he’s eighty-five years old, going on eighty-six, and he rides a glider all over Southern California.  He just takes chances on everything, and he gets awfully close to those mountains.

Darcy:  Well, if you’re going to do it, that’s the way to go.
Carol:  It thrills him.  It doesn’t thrill me.  I need this body.  I’m not going to be able to tell this story without the face, the voice, the body, the arms or neck.  You see, actors don’t have a violin or a piano or a paint-brush.  They’ve got their bodies, their voices, their faces.  This is our Stradivarius.  And I knew it from the time I could walk.

Darcy:  Did you grew up in Texas?
Carol:  No.  San Francisco.  I was in love with San Francisco.  I still am.

Darcy:  Everybody I know there totally loves you.
Carol:  Well, that’s because I come from there.  I went to Lowell High School.  They named the school auditorium the Carol Channing Theater.  That’s the thrill of my life.  When my son went to Stanford he would go and check for me, and he’d say, “Yes, the sign is still there.”  I thought they only put it up when I was in town.  But he said, “No, it’s there all the time.”

Darcy:  That’s so sweet.
Carol:  Oh, it’s a great school.  It was a public school.  But you had to have the highest grades in San Francisco to go there.  Most of the kids were just bright to begin with, but I had to work like crazy!

Darcy:  I have to tell you, this is like the most shining moment of my life — just to be meeting you.
Carol:  Really?  I don’t understand!

Darcy:  Because I’ve been a fan of yours ever since I can remember.  I really loved Hello, Dolly — the way that you act and dance and the way you sing.
Carol:  Oh, I feel wonderful!

Darcy:  I make dolls, and I’m also a doll collector.
Carol:  Ohooohhh!

Darcy:  So I got obsessed with that, because you look so much like a doll in Hello, Dolly.  Everybody looks kind of like a doll in that.
Carol:  You know, eyelashes do that — the false eyelashes.

Darcy:  There was a picture of you and ... who was it?  There are two of you in the dressing room ...
Carol:  Oh, Elizabeth Taylor.

Darcy:  And you both have these giant diamond rings.  Carol knows what’s good! [laughs]
Carol:  Elizabeth Taylor was across the street.  Richard Burton was doing Hamlet, and she got a little sick of the soliloquy every night, so she used to run over to us to see the jazzy girls in Hello, Dolly.  It was a real jazzy show.

Darcy:  When did you start doing that?
Carol:  Oh, January ’64 we opened in New York.

Darcy:  Are you going to do it again?
Carol:  No.  I did it one last tour, and it worked out fine.  But I’ve done it to death.

Darcy:  Now you’re doing a lecture tour?
Carol:  Yes.  It’s an autobiographical lecture.  First I talk for ninety minutes, and then questions and answers for a half-hour.  That’s always the best part.  It comes to life, because it’s what the audience wants to know.

Darcy:  Where’s the most interesting place you’ve been with that?
Carol:  Montreal.  But all I knew was high school French.  They’re supposed to be bilingual, but they really speak French.  So I learned the whole opening paragraph in French — and they were laughing.  Then I did a song, “Voulez-vous de la cane au sucre?”  I thought, “That sounds nice — ‘Would you like some sugarcane?’”  But it’s the filthiest thing that ever happened.

Darcy:  Really?
Carol:  Apparently.  They were all embarrassed.  They were beet red. [laughs]

Darcy:  Why is that?
Carol:  Well, I had learned it phonetically, and when I asked what it meant they said, “Of course you know what it means.”  I said, “No, I don’t.”  They said, “Of course you do.  It’s filthy.”  You see, it’s not just double meaning, it’s triple.

Darcy:  Meanwhile you’re just thinking about sugarcane.
Carol:  That’s right.  I thought it was just a nice little song, you know, for dessert.

Darcy:  When is your birthday?
Carol:  January 31st.  It’s the same as Tallulah Bankhead’s, and she was born at eight-thirty at night and so was I, so for years we celebrated our birthday as often as we could together.

Darcy:  Oh, wow!
Carol:  Oh, yes.  One year John Gielgud gave us a birthday party, and another year it was Cyril Richard ...  Different people used to do that. Do you know what she sounds like?

Darcy:  Of course, from all the movies, the way she phrased everything ...
Carol:  [goes into Tallulah Bankhead voice] “Listen, darling,  everybody great was born after us.  Napoleon Bonaparte was born after us.  Julius Caesar.  Jesus Christ Almighty.  And don’t let those Roman calendars fool you!” [laughs]  If I was overworked and couldn’t sleep I would say, “I don’t want to take a sleeping pill.  They’re habit-forming!”  But she’d say, “I’ve taken them for 367 years.  They’re not habit-forming.  I ought to know.”  Oh, she was marvelous.

Darcy:  In my mind she seems just young forever.
Carol:  When you think of Mae West and W.C. Fields and Tallulah ... those people who are so exaggerated, they can’t get old!  I was in grammar school when W.C. Fields was popular, and I just thought he was great.  It never occurred to me he was about eighty years old.

Darcy:  You have that real ageless thing too.
Carol:  Oh, thank you.

Darcy:  I’d love to hear more about your childhood.
Carol:  Well, San Francisco is the most wonderful school for a child to grow up in.  We had exhibits of Rodin and Matisse, Dadaism, and the whole tribe of French painters.  They had exhibits constantly, because there’s an audience for it there.  It was just sheer drama to grow up there.  It’s a spectacular looking city.  The two bridges ... I watched one of them being built, and I was a school officer, so I got to go out on the Golden Gate Bridge while they were building it.  We’d go as far as it would go, and we’d stand in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it would just stop right there.

Darcy:  Did do you always want to go into theater?
Carol:  From the first time that I was on a school auditorium stage.  I was about seven years old.  Somebody nominated me for Secretary of the Student Body, and you were supposed to get up on stage and tell your fellow students why they should vote for you.  But I couldn’t think of one reason why they should vote for me.

Darcy:  No!
Carol:  Well, I was an only child, and most only children do this — they make up wonderful, eccentric, funny, silly people and they take them home with them in their imaginations.

Darcy:  Imaginary friends.
Carol:  Yes.  So I would also listen to how people spoke, and I could imagine different voices.  There was Miss Berard, the principal of the school.  I just loved her.  I used to find every excuse to go into her office.  She had adenoids, I found out later, and she sounded like Julia Child.  So I didn’t have to tell the students who it was.  [goes into Miss Berard voice] “Go to the polls and vote for Carol” is what I told them to do.  Because I thought, I’ll just do what I do best, so I did everybody in school who was exciting to me.  Mr. Schwartz, the chemistry teacher — he blew up the chemistry class — just everybody I thought was funny.

Darcy:  How great.
Carol:  I was standing in the middle of the stage, and I realized that what I thought was funny, everybody else thought was funny too.  And suddenly I was no longer an only child.  They were just laughing and laughing.  I never knew they all thought Mr. Schwartz was funny.

Darcy:  Did he think it was funny?
Carol:  Oh, he loved it!  Miss Berard loved it.  It wasn’t cruel.  You can’t do anything if you don’t love the subject you’re doing.  Even if it looks like biting satire.  You’ve got to be crazy about the person.
     And then I did Jack Matsumoto.  He was a Japanese boy.  He was fourteen when I was seven.  They sent him to this country in order to learn English.  We sat right next to each other for three years.  I thought he was just wonderful.  He painted watercolors, and I would give him a quarter from my allowance for them.  He later became Admiral Matsumoto who blew up the fleet in Pearl Harbor.

Darcy:  No!
Carol:  Yes.  He’s the Admiral Matsumoto who blew up our United States fleet.  I knew him for three years as a child.  I just thought he was fascinating.  He had that “ill wind that blows out of the East” expression on his face.  You know, the face behind the beaded curtain.  He had a certain reserve ...

Darcy:  Even at fourteen?
Carol:  Oh yes.  He knew what he was here for.  Isn’t it amazing, that he knew — I know he did.  To find out all he could about Americans and how to handle them, and all their foibles and their weaknesses and their strengths.  He didn’t speak any English, but he learned quickly.  They’d give it to us and it would take us a week, and they’d give it to him and he’d get it immediately.  I think the people who sent him over just knew that he was a brilliant little boy, and they wanted to make the most of him.  I walked home from school with him, if he’d have me.  I’d say, “Can I walk home with you?  What’s it like in Japan?  Could you paint me some cypress trees?  I’ll give you a quarter for each watercolor.”

Darcy:  That’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard!
Carol:  Would you put it in your article?

Darcy:  Yes.
Carol:  Jack Matsumoto, if you are still alive, your watercolors would heal anything.

Darcy:  Oh!
Carol:  Would you put that in there?

Darcy:  Of course, we will.
Carol:  They would heal any grudges — even the atom bomb.  They would.  They’re so beautiful.  Those cypress trees reaching out to the ocean the way they did ... Oh!  And he was homesick.  I know he was.  He was lonely.

Darcy:  That’s amazing.  And you were just seven.
Carol:  Yes.

Darcy:  Did you eventually win the school election?
Carol:  Oh god, yes.  It was holy chaos.  They just yelled, screamed ... they were terrible.  And the teacher said, “Will you all PLEASE be quiet,” and they wouldn’t shut up.  And all of a sudden, in the middle of the stage, I realized that this was the safest place in the world.  You know, to actors it is.  We’re not so good one-on-one.  But in the center of the stage, in unity, we are experiencing one emotion, all of us, simultaneously, and we’re under the spell of that emotion.  When I was doing the voices of Miss Berard and Mr. Schwartz, I was just soaring because everyone was laughing their heads off.  Oh, I got to try out everything as I was growing up, and on an audience that isn’t courteous.  They let you know what’s not funny.  They let you know if it gets boring.

Darcy:  Did your voice have a funny character at that age?
Carol:  I have no idea.  It sounds funny to me right now.  I’ve heard it on records, and I can’t stand it — nobody can.  Nobody wants to hear their own voice.  They say, “That’s not me.”  But your friends say, “That’s you, dear!”  And it is you.

Darcy:  On tape I sound like a hillbilly! [laughs]
Carol:  You’re not a hillbilly.  No, I don’t get that impression.

Darcy:  Oh, thank you.
Carol:  Good Lord, no.  Just look at your socks.  They’re so chic!  They’re absolutely the most chic socks I’ve ever seen.

Darcy:  They’re not as chic as your outfits in Skiddoo.  Those really take the cake.
Carol:  That was Rudi Gernreich.  He was way ahead of his time.

Darcy:  That yellow outfit you wore!  It was like a lemon that you unpeeled.  And you had a Napoleon outfit in another scene ...
Carol:  Rudi Gernreich didn’t usually do costumes for movies, but he did those for me.  Just my outfits.  Nobody else’s.

Darcy:  That’s my favorite of all your movies.
Carol:  It’s the strangest thing, your thinking of Skiddoo.

Darcy:  It has a real cult following.
Carol:  A cult following of what?  People your age?

Darcy:  All my friends love that movie.  You and Groucho Marx — what a combo!
Carol:  Oh, he thought it was terrible!

Darcy:  My favorite scene is when the hippies are swimming by the side of the road, and you’re attacking Groucho’s yacht.  And then you did that song on the pool table and attacked everybody on the boat.  When I’m sad, I think about that scene, and it makes me laugh.  It’s just so great.
Carol:  And you know other people who feel this way about it?

Darcy:  Oh, totally.
Carol:  At the time, I thought, “This is going to be the worst movie ever made.  I hope nobody ever sees it.”

Darcy:  It’s hilarious.  It’s one of my favorite movies of all time.
Carol:  Well, okay.  I believe you.  I just never saw it, that’s all.

Darcy:  You should see it one day.
Carol:  Well, now, you said that I’m going to live a long time?

Darcy:  You’ve got an incredibly long life line.  And you get stronger as you get older.  You’ll keep going forever.
Carol:  Well, people are living to one hundred now as a normal thing.

Darcy:  You might be one of them.
Carol:  Yeah, but how ugly you get when you’re beyond a hundred.

Darcy:  People have a lot more character when they get older.
And I think character is always better than beauty in the end.
Carol:  Oh, I agree.  But now everybody’s getting plastic surgery.  All the society ladies ...  I keep wondering who I’m talking to.

Darcy:  [laughs]
Carol:  Someone who was great all the way to the end was Marlene Dietrich.

Darcy:  I love her in The Blue Angel.  I wish all of life could look like that — that stage with the seagulls being pulled up and down with string during the nautical sequence.
Carol:  Wasn’t she fabulous?  To me, that’s a true talent to be able to create yourself that way.

Darcy:  She made herself into an idol.
Carol:  Dietrich’s daughter, Maria Riva, lives right down the road from here.  We’ve always been friends.  She’s a writer.  She wrote Marlene, the book about her mother.  It’s a work of art.  It really is.  And oh god, the things she’s told me about her mother ...

Darcy:  For instance?
Carol:  Well, she could never get John Wayne into bed with her.  Maria told me that it drove her crazy, not getting him into bed.  That’s the only person she couldn’t get.  She got everybody she ever worked with!!  And sex wasn’t even such a driving force.  It was just ego.  That scene when she looked at John Wayne — “What I could do with you if I had you alone” — that wonderful look on her face ... Oh!  And you adore her.

Darcy:  Of course.
Carol:  You get the whole quality of her glamour and also her arrogance.  And she was bisexual, so she could say, “If you don’t like me, John Wayne, I can go elsewhere.”  That’s her attitude! [laughs]  You can’t grab ahold of her.  She’s not constant.  That’s part of her fascination.  I just think she’s great.  And she’s probably the opposite of me.  I’m a Girl Scout, you know.  And she just tries EVERYBODY out.

Darcy:  Did you ever work with her?
Carol:  No.  But I knew her.  Maria and I were always friends.  To think of Dietrich now, it’s funny, in this age of emancipated women, all we have are such little-bitty sex kittens.

Darcy:  I know, I don’t like the new Hollywood trend ...
Carol:  Now if I live as long as you say, am I going to have to play little old ladies?

Darcy:  You won’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. 
Everything is looking great.
Carol:  Is it comedy mostly, I hope?

Darcy:  Yes.
Carol:  Good.  I never had to do anything I didn’t want to do.  Every part I had, I was madly in love with it.  So many people, when they’re under contract, like the movie stars used to be, they’re always stuck with the same parts.  But I always got to do just what I wanted.

Darcy:  That is lucky.
Carol:  Well, I notice it usually sells tickets, too, if a person is doing just what he wants.  Also, they tell me what the times are.  The audience tells me what’s exciting now.  They always do.  An audience doesn’t hear anything but what they relate to.  They just don’t hear it.

Darcy:  When you’re performing, do you see a group of people as a mass, as one thing?  Or as individuals?
Carol:  My father was editor-in-chief of all the Christian Science publications, and he would go around the world lecturing.  And I would ask him, “Can you tell that they’re with you more in the upper right balcony, and they’re not so much with you down here?”  He said, “Oh yes, you can tell.”  He said that when you send it out, they send it back, and it gets stronger and stronger, and finally you can almost walk over it like the Golden Gate Bridge.  He said you could absolutely walk over the strength of the communication to the audience.

Darcy:  Did you go to the theater when you were a little kid?
Carol:  I used to deliver Christian Science Monitors backstage at the Curran Theater.  There was a stage door on the alley, and I could barely move the bolt on the door, so I must have been very little.  My mother lifted it for me, and I went in.  I thought, I’m on holy ground.  It was overwhelming.  This is a mosque, this is a temple, it’s a church, a mother church.  And then I saw the stage.  I had never seen a show before, and I wondered, “What happens on that stage?”

Darcy:  What was the first show you went to?
Carol:  I was seven and I said, “I’ve got to go see Ethel Waters.”  I’d saved my allowance and I got a ticket and sat down.  The lady said, “You can’t possibly see; do you want to sit on my lap?”  I didn’t think anything of it.  I wanted to see Ethel Waters, so I just sat on her lap.  A total stranger! [laughs]  Then when Ethel Waters came out!  BANG!  She was dynamite.  And it was FUNK.  It was purely funk.  I had never heard funk before.

Darcy:  Wow.
Carol:  She stood there, and she was towering over me.  There was a silhouette of a man hanging from a tree with his head and his feet still, but dangling.  My father was a newspaperman — and they were not allowed to speak of lynching at that time.  They could not do it; they wouldn’t allow them.  And here was this song, written by Moss Hart and Irving Berlin, no less — the two greatest.  They said, “This is the woman’s going to do it.”  And she did.  She sang about a lynching.  [Carol begins to sing] “Supper-time.  I should set the table ’cause it’s supper-time.  Somehow I’m not able ’cause that man of mine ain’t come.  Children will be yellin’ for their supper-time.  How will I keep from tellin’ that that man of mine ain’t comin’ home no more.”  And he’s hanging there right behind her in a silhouette on the stage.  He’s just hanging there.

Darcy:  My god!
Carol:  At the intermission, the people were looking through their programs and stretching their legs, and I thought, “They don’t know!”  But I was just like ... Wow!  It was blood-curdling.  And she was monumental.  All I thought was, “When I grow up, I want to be Ethel Waters.”

Darcy:  Your first wish.
Carol:  And I didn’t get too far from it.  Isn’t it wonderful?  Be careful what you set your heart upon, for you shall surely get it ...  You know, she became my son’s godmother.  Ethel Waters was friends with my husband before we were married, and when we had Chan she said, “That’s my godson.  I’ve decided ...”  And this little tow-headed boy, he and Ethel Waters would march to the farmer’s market.

Darcy:  Your life is so magic.
Carol:  It’s magic, isn’t it.

Darcy:  It is.
Carol:  Does it show?

Darcy:  Definitely.
Carol:  And it’s all there.


 
© index magazinegelatin1
Carol Channing by Cheryl Nields, 2000
© index magazinetobias
Tobias by Matt Ducklo, 2000

© index magazinegelatin0
Suck and Blow by Matt Ducklo, 2000
© index magazine

Carol Channing by Cheryl Nields, 2000
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