PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Dori Berinstein, Film Director of "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life"

By Kenneth Jones
24 Jan 2012

Carol Channing and Dori Berinstein

A couple of people on camera say — and we all know — that there's a persona to Carol Channing, that she's, like you say in the title, "Larger Than Life." There's a quality of her being "on" a lot. What I loved about the film is that there's a lot of times when you see her not "on." Are your dinners with her even more candid than your on-camera stuff? Does she tell dirty stories?
DB: [Laughs.] No. I really think that the Carol you see on stage is very much the Carol you see off stage. She is just so full of life and so positive and funny and brilliant and, you know, so clever, and that is who I have dinner with. [Laughs.] It's very much the same person. Obviously, when we are having a relaxing dinner, [I'm] not pushing her to answer tough questions, but it's the same Carol.

What was the hardest part of the investigation of her, for you?
DB: Well, it really was such a challenge to figure out how to weave two storylines — what to include and what not to include. We had so much material, and there are magical moments that are on the cutting room floor, so to speak, because people don't go to five-hour movies, unfortunately. That was so hard to both tell the story of this extraordinary career and also weave together this beautiful love story. There are great moments of her professional career on film — stories by wonderful people we talked to. Many will be on the DVD.

There's that lovely moment in the film where she and Harry are in a limo in Times Square and he talks about being on leave from the service during the Korean War, when she was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and he says he almost stopped by her theatre. She is mournful, saying, "Oh, how I wish you had."
DB: [Laughs.] Yes.



 

Channing at the 2010 Gypsy of the Year competition.
photo by Krissie Fullerton

I love the intimacy of that. It's so naked.
DB: It is. And, it's real. Oh my gosh, their relationship was so powerful. They were like teenagers in love, you know. It was just beyond adorable, and you could tell the connection. Even though there was a 70-year gap, a day really didn't pass. They just picked up right where they left off.

Did she talk more about her parents than what we see on film?
DB: Oh, yeah. Yeah. She seemed to be particularly close with her father. She talks about her father all the time. I just had a wonderful brunch with her on Sunday, and she was talking quite a bit about her mother, actually. She loved her parents, and, I think, when you think about the time in which she grew up, to have parents that were so supportive of the path that she wanted to pursue — that was, I would imagine, an unusual thing for that time, but she had their backing.

How is Carol doing?
DB: Well, it's an extremely difficult time, as you can understand, particularly, having lost Harry — but, she's doing very well. It was wonderful to see her, and she looked great. And, under the circumstances, I think she's doing very well.

Is it overstating it to say that you're kind of a surrogate daughter to her?
DB: [Laughs.] We're very close. She decided that she is my children's spiritual grandmother, and they think of her that way.

Why don't we have creatures in show business anymore?
DB: Creatures?

Yeah. Carol Channing is a creature. She's called a "creature," I think, by one of your sources.
DB: [Laughs.] She is!

Did show business lose its taste for people who are unique?
DB: Jerry Herman and others certainly wrote extraordinary roles for women back in the day. There isn't as much of that kind of show being created right now, so I think that has something to do with it, but, yes. [Laughs.] I love what Bob Mackie [said] about her: "You don't say, 'Get me a Carol Channing type,' because there isn't anybody else like her!" She is really one-of-a-kind, and that's one of the reasons why I felt it was so important to tell her story.

(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)