By Larry Clinton, Sausalito Historical Society
Broadway and Hollywood legend Carol Channing, who died recently at age 97, got her start right here in Sausalito. Here’s the story, as told in this space back in 2014:
Before she debuted on Broadway in 1949 as bombshell Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Carol Channing, a Bay Area native, spent some time here as an artist’s model. .
In a 1959 interview with the Marin News, Channing recalled how she had spent two weeks modeling for the Friday Night Art Group in Sausalito.
“They would only let you model for two weeks,” she explained, “then they got tired of you. When my two weeks were up, I told them I was having such a good time I wanted to stay.
“Norman Todhunter, who was also a member then, told me I could join, if I took up painting. So, I bought a brush and some paint. Funny thing, though; all I could paint was people.
“Everyone else painted things—you know, mountains and trees—but I painted everyone in the group. When I’d run out of members, I started all over again.”
While Carol shrugged off her efforts with brush and paint, Mrs. Francis Todhunter of Mill Valley, mother of the well-known illustrator and artist, called her work “downright amazing.”
“When we knew her, she’d never studied art at all,” Mrs. Todhunter said, “and suddenly she was painting as if she’d had years of training. Her work had a wonderful vitality; she had a way of projecting things on paper.”
As Sausalito News writer John Raymond described her, “Miss Channing’s stock in trade is a pair of large brown eyes framed with the world’s biggest eyelashes which protrude like the ragged fringes on a beach umbrella.
“With one blink of her incandescent orbs she can exhibit the naiveté of an innocent young maid bewildered by the exigencies of a cruel world, or suddenly assume all the worldliness of an olive bathing in a martini.
“Her voice is pitched somewhere in between a foghorn and piccolo, with an elasticity that runs the gamut from a resounding bass to a glass-tinkling soprano. Her audience loves her, and she appears to enjoy them thoroughly.”
Carol Channing returned to Sausalito in 1965 to attend the dedication of Channing Way in honor of her father. Shirley Elkington told the Historical Society that her father, George, had built the Channing home on Curry Lane in 1953. “When the Elkingtons developed a parcel of land off Prospect,” she recalled, “it was only fitting that the street be named in memory of the man Dad long respected and thought of so highly, George Channing. “
Miss Channing traveled out from New York for the ceremony, but insisted there be no publicity, as she considered the dedication a family affair. The accompanying photograph was shot by Ed Long, a long-time secretary of the Rotary Club and the Sausalito-Marin City Sanitary District.