Carol Channing

By Tony Rizzo
HOLLYWOOD — This story should be a movie. Carol Channing won a Tony Award playing Dolly Levi in “Hello Dolly” on Broadway from 1964-70 and again in ’78 and ’95, and also a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for “Thoroughly Modern Millie” in l964. In 2000, in her memoir, “Just Lucky,” she wrote about her first love, at 15, Harry Kullijian. A mutual friend read it and nudged Harry to call Carol. Nine years ago, the thrice-married Carol moved to Palm Springs and married Harry.

On Dec. 21, Carol performed her act at The Aqua Caliente Casino in Palm Springs, with Harry at her side. The following Monday, on the eve of his 92nd birthday, Harry suffered an aneurysm and died. At least they had a chance to get it right before it was too late! She was the hit of the 2011 Tribeca film festival in New York as the subject of Dori Bernstein’s documentary, “Carol Channing: Larger than Life.” Happy 91st birthday, Carol (on Jan. 31), and many more!
* * *
Kaye Stevens, who passed away in late December at 76, was a magical person who lit up a room just by entering it. Discovered by Johnny Carson’s sidekick, Ed McMahon, she frequently guested on “The Tonight Show” and performed with the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr.) and on many of Bob Hope’s USO tours for the troops. I met Kaye when she played Jeri Clayton on “Days of Our Lives” in l974. We got along so well, she asked me to manage her career.

In l976, when the newly elected California Sen. S.I. Hayakawa was inaugurated, he wanted ONLY Kaye to perform at his ball, attended by Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy. Waiting to go on stage, Kaye asked me, “What can we do to make People magazine this week?” I came up with a plan.

The senator’s hobby was tap dancing, and two famous movie-musical tap dancers were in the ballroom: Gene Nelson, best remembered for the film “Oklahoma,” and Buddy Ebsen (then “Barnaby Jones” on TV), who danced with Judy Garland in MGM musicals. I knew Ebsen wouldn’t want to dance, so I suggested Kaye have the audience keep applauding until he got up. Kaye got them onstage, and they tapped to a standing ovation and across two pages of People magazine that week — in a photo I took!

The next time Kaye made People was when she posed for photographers, walking a friend’s sheep through Central Park in New York. As police led her away in handcuffs, she said, “But officer, this IS Sheep Meadow; where else should I walk them?!”

Send letters to Tony Rizzo’s Hollywood, 8306 Wilshire Blvd., No. 362, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

© 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.