With this morning’s passing of Broadway legend Carol Channing (1921-2019), just two weeks shy of her 98th birthday, The Al Hirschfeld Foundation pays homage to the star with its release of the work of another long-lived New York theater icon. Artist Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) – who described himself as a “characterist” – created his signature pen-and-ink line drawings of the multiple award-winning actress/singer/dancer/comedian throughout her career on the stage, from her portrayal of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949, which she later reprised in the musical Lorelei in 1974, to her famed role in Hello Dolly! in 1964, and its revival in 1995.
According to an anecdote provided by the Foundation, Channing credited Hirschfeld with being responsible for her stardom, when she appeared in the 1949 musical revue Lend An Ear. In June of that year, he made a composite drawing of Supporting Players whose Numbers Stop their Musical Shows, which included Channing in a cloche hat as “The Gladiola Girl.” When the team of Jule Styne’s upcoming adaptation of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes saw the drawing, writer Anita Loos purportedly said, “There’s my Lorelei Lee.” Six months later, Channing opened in the lead, and claimed that “Al Hirschfeld did that for me.”
Hirschfeld also captured Channing’s career-defining characterization of Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly!, with her Victorian-style gown, necklace, and headpiece, big eyes, mouth, and hair, in the show’s 1964 premiere and in the 1995 revival. His distinctive drawing would become the familiar logo for the beloved musical and a recognizable image to theater lovers everywhere.
Along with The Al Hirschfeld Foundation and fans around the world, we honor the life and career of Carol Channing; we will never forget her extraordinary contributions to Broadway, immortalized in the artist’s iconic portraits of her.