Charles Lowe, producer of television's "George Burns & Gracie Allen Show" and, for four decades, husband-manager of actress Carol Channing, died Sept. 2 at the age of 87. According to syndicated columnist Liz Smith, he will be buried at sea by the Neptune Society, Sept. 20. Channing will not attend.
Lowe, Nebraska-born and a World War II veteran, married Channing in 1956 and produced five TV specials starring his wife. Until their acrimonious divorce last year, Lowe also was often the guiding force behind her career moves, including her Tony-winning turn in Hello, Dolly!.
To all appearances, no one looked like a greater supporter or protector of Channing than her husband of 41 years. Stories are legion about how audiences would shush him during Channing's performances, because he'd be applauding wildly and distracting those around him with his zeal.
Even James Kirkwood's biography Diary of a Mad Playwright, about the hilariously nightmarish problems and personality conflicts that beset the Carol Channing-Mary Martin tour of Kirkwood's play, Legends, showed Channing and Lowe as a united front. Lowe and Channing were constantly together, fighting for due compensation and making sure his Channing wasn't brushed aside in all the efforts to placate the memory challenged Martin.
They were an inseparable theatre couple. That is, until May 19, 1998, when, in a Los Angeles District Court, Channing filed for divorce, alleging that her husband ran through her money "like a drunken sailor" and physically abused her. Channing, 77, alleged that she and Lowe had sex only twice -- and that was on their honeymoon. Lowe apparently told her he was impotent. Channing's lawyer, Felder, told the press, "She's always looked so happy, but she was really hiding a great tragedy."
At a May 20 press conference, Channing told print and broadcast reporters that Lowe's worst sin was estranging her from Channing Lowe, 45, her son by her first marriage, who apparently pushed for Channing to divorce his stepfather.
That same day, Lowe told the New York Post Channing was lying about their sex life. "Carol's a very sexy woman," he said. "She wouldn't live with me if I didn't have sex with her." Lowe went on to say they had relations "frequently" until his stroke in 1997. There was no reported comment the charges of public humiliation and abuse.
According to the Associated Press, Channing went even further in her accusations, saying Lowe lied about his impotence and was spending her money on their friend, photographer Wallace Seawell. While Channing claims never to have cheated on Lowe, she says Lowe sometimes lived with Seawell in a "personal relationship." Denying the implications, Lowe said "Wally Seawell, he's out every night with a different woman. I can't believe that she would say that."
As of Sept. 7, Channing had not released a statement regarding Lowe's death, according to her attorney, Raoul Felder. Syndicated columnist Smith reported speaking to Channing (Sept. 10), however, with the actress telling her, "I hope Charles rests in peace. Regardless of the differences we had. I now want to go on with my life surrounded by love, and that I know I have from my son, my family and my friends. I feel no need for resentment or revenge where Charles was concerned...I need to be free."
-- By David Lefkowitz