To all appearances, no one looked like a greater supporter or protector of actress Carol Channing than her husband of 41 years, Charles Lowe. 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. To all appearances, they were an inseparable theatre couple.
Until now. May 19, 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, alleges that she and Lowe, 86, have had sex only twice -- and that was on their honeymoon. Lowe apparently told her he was impotent.
Channing's lawyer, Raoul 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 last year. 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."
Asked for details on the case, attorney Felder's office referred Playbill On Line to the Rubenstein Associates publicity firm, which had not issued a statement as of May 21.
As reported by both Associated Press and the NY Post, Channing's deposition notes that Lowe often humiliated her in public. "He tells me to shut up," Channing reportedly wrote in her 20-page petition. "[He] frequently squeezes my arms with great force, causing me to have regular pain and bruises."
Continued Channing, "I have been advised by my accountants that my husband is spending money like a drunken sailor, having spent upwards of $500,000 during the past year... My assets should be substantially more."
As an example, Channing noted that her Hello, Dolly! tour netted her $5 million, but she has less than $2 million in the bank. Lowe would tell her she couldn't leave him because their finances were so "intricately intertwined." The NY Post reports Channing has asked that her bank accounts and holdings be frozen.
Channing married Lowe, her second husband, in 1956. She made her fortune in shows such as Hello, Dolly! and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She also appeared in the film Thoroughly Modern Millie, and recently has appeared at many New York area events, including award soirees, charity fundraisers and tapings of "The Late Show With David Letterman."
Her most recent appearance was at a May 19 gala marking the 60th anniversary of Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. She's currently scheduled to take part in the BC/EFA-AmFAR Sweet Charity benefit at NY's Lincoln Center June 15, and she's scheduled to appear on the Rosie O'Donnell show on the Friday (June 5) just before the Tonys. Stay tuned.
-- By David Lefkowitz