Composer-lyricist Jerry Herman and book writer Michael Stewart collaborated on a musical based on Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker, with Ethel Merman in mind to play the title character. She passed on the role, though she would later headline the production's closing cast (see her 1970 Playbill covers here). The part, of course, went to Carol Channing, in what would become a career-defining performance.
The musical was a critical and commercial hit. It won a record-setting 10 Tony Awards, a feat unmatched for decades until The Producers won 12 awards in 2001. Carol Channing earned the Best Actress Tony over Funny Girl's Barbra Streisand, who would later play Dolly in the 1969 movie.
The production went on to play 2,844 performances, making it the longest-running musical of its time. During its six-year run, stars including Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey, Phyllis Diller and Betty Grable stepped into the iconic role.