LOS ANGELES – For older men – and they are mostly men – Carol Channing was something of an obsession. They waited through the Broadway stage doors in Tampa for her to emerge. They devoured the “Hello, Dolly!” Cast album as a teenager, watched her on TV and in movies, and at times dressed in drag to pose as her – the exaggerated red lipstick, the buzz of a nasal voice, the comedic performance with wide eyes and shine of puffy hair.
So there was an audience ready and waiting when much of Channing’s estate was auctioned off last month, more than two years after his death at the age of 97 in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
All 400 items sold out in eight hours, of course, and the auction, authorized by Channing’s heirs, raised nearly $ 406,000 from 6,000 registered bidders, with part of the proceeds going to charitable works. Fans took hold of the Tony and Golden Globe Awards, the dresses, the shawls and the shoes, the tattered scripts, the needlepoint cushions and the wigs. Some of these Channingabilia were quite pricey: a 1964 Tony for “Distinguished Achievement in the Theater” went for $ 28,125, while a glamorous red suit she wore parading down a staircase in the title role of “Hello, Dolly! ” drew $ 23,750.
“We’ve had celebrity auctions in the past, but it was different,” said Joe Baratta, vice president of development at Abell Auction Company, which manages the estate. “There were items that were worn, were used, were touched by her and gifts that were given to honor her career.” (300 more Channing items will be auctioned in September).
Given the pandemic, there were no thrills in person – paddles in the air, an auctioneer with a hammer on a podium. Everything was done online and by phone, with bidders and lurkers, in front of their screens. People who wanted to inspect the merchandise could go to the Abell warehouse in Commerce, a town just east of downtown Los Angeles. But most of the items were bought on sight.
By who? Here’s a look at three superfans who brought their checkbooks (or at least Venmo accounts) and walked away with a piece of Carol Channing’s six decades in public life.
David Turner: Hanging on to the “zing”
David Turner is an actor (newest Broadway show: the cover of “The Boys in the Band”) and a professional pilot who flies for Angel Flight East. As a student, he waited hours for Channing at the door of a theater in Hartford, Connecticut, after a “Hello, Dolly!” performance. He was a soldier; By the time she appeared, Turner and her boyfriend were the only two fans left.
“I didn’t say a word,” recalls Turner, 46, the other day. No autograph request either. “I felt it would be predatory. I just watched her move.
That night in Hartford his good faith in Channing was unmistakable. In 1972 he was already playing – and playing and playing – a song from the children’s compilation “Free to be You and Me” on which Channing played (more talking than singing) “Housework”. When he was 15 in New Jersey, he started pretending to be an 18-year-old friend who told him that when he had a cold he looked like Carol Channing.
He still does to this day and is hoping that one of Channing’s dresses he now calls his own can be put into use for a drag performance, assuming he can squeeze in.
“I do ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,'” he said of the song from his role as Lorelei Lee in the 1949 musical “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”.
It was Turner’s first auction, and he found it a little intimidating. But in the end, he had bought 25 items: a sketch of Al Hirschfeld of Channing, wide-eyed and with an exaggerated grimace; some dresses and costumes; a blouse monogrammed with his initials; a pair of tap dancing; and this Tony from 1964.
Truth be told, it made him a little nauseous – was it macabre? he wondered – before deciding that it was a good way to preserve the memory of someone who had been such a big part of his life.
“She had a way to get a zing part,” he said. “For me, being part of the auction was wanting to hang on to that feeling.”
“I loved him,” he added. “And Carol is in many ways a very strange person. She was the first person to really take anything weird and hook up her cart to it.
Nicky Ciampoli: Almost in family
Nicky Ciampoli lived with Carol Channing for the last years of her life. Don’t read too much about it. He was her personal assistant, a job he started while she was still on tour, and he stuck around as age caught up with her and she stepped out of the limelight.
Channing divided her time between Modesto and Palm Springs, and Ciampoli stayed with her in both places.
For $ 25,000, he collected 18 pieces to keep the memorabilia: the wedding outfit from her 2003 wedding to Harry Kullijian (she then reused it for book dedications); two flapper dresses by Bob Mackie; a red Ciampoli tuxedo helped her don for the performances.
“I would have bought more if I could,” he says. “I didn’t buy the stuff because it was Carol Channing, the Broadway actress. I bought it because it was very sentimental in so many ways for me.
Ciampoli met Channing in January 2006, when he was 21 and worked for a theater producer who booked her in Tampa for three performances of his solo show “The First Eighty Years Are The Hardest.” He was assigned to look after Channing and Kullijian during their stay. A little while later, back in California, she called to ask if he could become her full-time personal assistant.
As part of his job, he passed through a large garage in Modesto filled with artifacts from his life – costumes, wigs, letters from people like Joan Crawford and Barbara Walters. Much of this material was destroyed by water, bugs, and rats, and at one point he rented a 1-800-GOT-JUNK dump truck.
“You wouldn’t believe what we threw away,” he said. “The old phone books. Images and scripts. Scrapbooks. But some were saved – “albums that didn’t have rat poo” – and were auctioned off.
Ciampoli never got to see Channing in “Hello, Dolly!” And now? You guessed it. “I started pretending to be Carol,” he said. “I’m not just a fan. I had so much personal involvement with them.
“My room was right next to them in Palm Springs,” he added of Channing and Kullijian, who died in 2011. “They were like grandparents to me. I used to sit in his room watching old TV shows – Andy Griffith.
Brig Berney: Leaping on a Tony
Brig Berney logged into his computer on the morning of the auction with his eyes riveted on a large object: the 1995 Lifetime Achievement Tony Channing won for bringing “Dolly” back on tour. Berney had been the business leader for this revival, overseeing the day-to-day business affairs of running the show, from payroll to travel.
But it was far on the trophy list on the block, and Berney, now company director for “Hamilton,” decided it was too risky to wait in such a competitive auction.
Instead, he grabbed his 1968 Special Tony in a winning bid of $ 14,000.
He is now perched on “a pretty old desk” in the living room of his Manhattan apartment. “If you have a Tony Award, you might as well flaunt it in a place of honor,” he said. “No reason to put it in a drawer.
Also in her take: embroidery fans sent Channing and a Theater World Award naming her as a promising figure from the 1948-49 season.
Berney had met Channing years before he started working on his shows. “Hello Dolly!” came to the Morris A. Mechanic Theater in Baltimore in 1978 and Berny, a wide-eyed teenager, made his way backstage to get his program signed.
She probably forgot about this meeting twenty years later when they connected again. But she was, he said, charming and patient as he dotted her with questions from a theater fan: “What was David Merrick like?” What was it like to open ‘Dolly’ in New York?
“I loved asking questions,” he added. “She liked to talk, and I liked to listen.”