Onstage & Backstage: When Carol Channing Went Missing, Why Was She Found Asleep Under a Car?

Seth Rudetsky   Onstage & Backstage: When Carol Channing Went Missing, Why Was She Found Asleep Under a Car?
A week in the life of actor, radio and TV host, music director and writer Seth Rudetsky.
Andrea Martin
Andrea Martin Photo by Monica Simoes

Well, my birthday was Feb. 28 but I have yet to open all my presents. I like to savor my celebration for as long as I can, and my theory is that if I don't open my presents, it isn't over. I did, however, open a few presents and one from James got me so excited! Weeks ago, we played this amazing game at Andrea Martin's apartment called "Facts in Five." This is a game Andrea has had since the '70's, and she still uses the scoring papers from when she first got the game, so you can literally see the scores of Eugene Levy, Paul Shaffer and everyone else from the 1972 Toronto Godspell cast. It's such a cool piece of theatrical history!

The game is like a combo of Scattergories, Celebrity and Trivial Pursuit. There are five subjects chosen (easy ones like "Actors, Old Hollywood" and obscure ones like "Foreign Leaders, European"), and then five letters are chosen. Players have three minutes to come up with an answer for each category using each first letter. So, if the letter is G and it says "Actors, Old Hollywood" you could put Gregory Peck or Farley Granger. The game was updated in the 80's to have more pop culture subjects, but I love Andrea's edition because some of the categories are so specific like "Units of Measure, Liquid" or "Plastics, Brand names."

On Andrea's birthday, James, Juli and I were joined by Matthew Broderick and Martin Short. I thought it was unfair for Juli to be competing with us because she's only 14, and each player has to write his/her answers and she's dyslexic! I warned her beforehand that the game is about knowledge of subjects she probably doesn't know at this point in her life as well as spelling so she shouldn't be upset if she loses. Actually, according to Andrea who overheard, I said, "Look, you're going to lose because it's about stuff you don't know and also you don't like to spell." Well, we played many hands and the winner was…Juli! Turns out, she's a Facts in Five savant! I was impressed as a parent and devastated/angry as a competitor. The fun part of the game is when people read off their answers because you can argue the validity of what you write. The most vociferous and hilarious arguer was Marty Short. For instance, the letter was "O" and the subject was "Crime Fighters." The other letters were B so people put down Batman and G so the Green Hornet was apropos. No one had anything for O…except Marty Short who put down Obama. Immediately Matthew told Marty that Obama is not a crime fighter. Marty said, "Really? I guess you don't think that ISIS is committing any crimes!" Brava argument! Anyhoo, I loved the game, and James got me the original version from 1967 for my birthday! I was so excited and immediately sent Andrea a photo of me holding the game with the caption "Look what James got me!" She wrote back "And…look what I'll be sending back to Amazon." Oh, no! It was hilarious, but I felt so bad! The good news is, she returned it and got me the most stunning shirt and tie that I wore for the Disaster! concert after party.


I had a blast from my television watching past join me on "Seth Speaks" this week…Jill Whelan! If you watched "The Love Boat" back in the day, you'd remember that she played Captain Stubing's daughter. She loved doing that show and told me that after the famous Carol Channing/Pearl Bailey/Ethel Merman episode, she and Ethel became pen pals. Remember being pen pals? It's so Dynamite magazine! She also remembers filming that episode and, at one point, everyone on the crew having to look for a missing Carol Channing. After much searching, they found her resting. Underneath a car. Literally. When asked why she was there, she responded that she was avoiding the sun. Hm…maybe it was an '80's trend? In the '70's, we took disco naps and in the 80's the ol' under-the-car nap? Question: Anybody? Answer: Carol Channing. She told me that her favorite guest was Olivia de Havilland. She had always been obsessed with "Gone With The Wind," so meeting the original Melanie was a dream come true. I asked if she found out any "Gone With the Wind" inside scoop and Jill said that Olivia told her that during the scene where Clark Gable had to carry her up the stairs, she pulled a prank during one take; when he bent down to pick her up he suddenly couldn't lift her. Why? She had tied sandbags to herself! I'm sure he laughed all the way through his hernia operation.

Jill sang on the show and has a great voice! She told me that when she was a kid she auditioned for and got cast in the Annie national tour as the Annie understudy! But she had to turn it down because she got cast on the TV show "Friends." That sounds amazing…till I reveal that this was not the '90's "Friends," it was the 1970's "Friends." Do you remember it? Exactly. Jill also remembers told us about film audition where she was simply asked to "make a funny face." That's all it took for her to get cast in "Airplane" as the girl who's being flown to a hospital for surgery. During a rousing number sung by Lorna Lembeck on the airplane, a guitar knocks out one of the tubes Jill's attached to and she had to make her signature face. Look!


On Thursday, I had the current cast of Avenue Q at the "Chatterbox." They gave me such fun information like…did you know that when the puppets change outfits, it's too difficult to take the little costumes off and replace them so the puppet in the different outfit is actually a new puppet! So, there are multiple puppets backstage throughout the show. At one point, after the so-called "puppet sex scene," Anika Larsen, who was playing Kate Monster couldn't get the proper Kate Monster puppet for the song "Fantasies Come True" so she had to perform it with the previous Kate Monster puppet. The Kate Monster puppet who is totally nude! Anika was so bonded with her puppet by that point in the run that she herself felt naked and eventually pulled the sheet off of the bed and got it wrapped around Kate Monster. Speaking of Anika, I just saw her in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical right before she's off for maternity leave. She was amazing….and pregnant-looking in her costume! I took a photo of her showing off her belly and me desperately trying to suck mine in.


I also had pianist Sara Davis Buechner on my SiriusXM show. Sara began her life as David Buechner and was the highest-ranking American prize winner at the highly competitive Tchaikovsky piano competition in 1986. As Davis, he had a great concert pianist career and was on the faculty at the Manhattan School of Music. David underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2002 and became Sara. Afterwards, she immediately lost her teaching job as well as her concert career. In 2002, people! She had to start teaching children at a school in Westchester and finally moved to Canada where she now has a thriving career again as a concert pianist and professor with tenure. She performed on my show and is, not surprisingly, an amazing pianist. I asked her how she dealt with doing competitions because they seem so scary to me and she said that during competitions and concerts she's excited to play for the audience. Excited? Not terrified? No, she said, because they're all there for a good time. They are? I thought they were there to judge me. It's such a great attitude. Speaking of attitude, she sassed me non-stop and I loved it. At one point, I demonstrated a bit of the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto and asked if she played it in concert. She told that yes she performed but also informed me that she played it much faster. Sass! Here's a video of her playing the Dvorak concerto.

Speaking of trans people, I went to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch again and it was so great. Lena Hall really shows why she won that Tony. Such incredible acting without saying a word…and/or while belting crazy high notes. John Cameron Mitchell was was fantastic. There is something so thrilling about seeing the performer who created and wrote a role. He recently injured himself during the show and has a cast on his leg which he keeps propped on a crate when he's sitting. He had non-stop hilarious puns like when he pointed to himself and his leg and told us we were seeing the original "cast" and then lauded the crate white way. So dumb but so funny! This all relates to an amazing email I got because of my SiriusXM show. I talk about Broadway all the time but of course, I also talk about my everyday life because it's all connected. This is a letter I got recently that was so incredibly moving to me that I wanted to share it here (I got permission from the writer to reprint it). I think it's very helpful in realizing the struggles some folks have everyday, the courage so many have to find and the bulls** that people make others go through.

Good Morning Mr Rudetsky,

I guess I should start by saying that we are great fans of you, my children and I are loyal listeners to SiriusXM radio and everything you all stand for. It is appreciation for the arts, but also for the stances you all take for different causes. I fall under the beautiful and wonderful umbrella of the Transgender. I am a married guy with two children but I am also a transgender male to female person. I live most of the time as Dad, but, when possible, I allow my feminine energy to thrive.

For you folks living in New York, the Transgender community is probably no big deal, but for the buckle of the Bible Belt, it is something entirely different. I felt compelled to write to you to express my appreciation in your being the advocate you are. I know it may seem like it is just the right thing to do and is not even an issue, but seeing how things in this nation are spiraling in different directions, and our representatives seem to be backtracking away from acceptance and openness to all people, I do feel there is still work to be done.

I will explain a little further: there are leaders who are putting forward legislation in Arizona with language that consist of making it a felony to be "caught" in clothing that does not match the gender of your birth certificate. In addition there is a public figure in North Carolina that is saying if he were in the restaurant with a transgender person he would not feel safe letting his daughters go into the public restroom, because he associates the transgender with pedophiles and possible rapist. I know that you probably see all of these reports in your advocacy work all the time so again it is not a new story, and you are probably wondering again, why I am writing to you. Maybe it is my perception, but it feels like those of us in the Transgender umbrella are still the misunderstood in our rainbow.

I applaud you and your diligence in speaking over the airwaves for the rights of us all. I applaud you for the battles you have faced and conquered and I applaud you for marching forward. I have lived through the dark periods of the gay rights movement when my father came out in 1985 and as he suffered the ills of AIDS. He was a gay man in the military and having to live in secret . At the time of his HIV Diagnosis he had to cautious, careful not to "come out" until he could retire from US Navy. I was a young nursing student at the time watching the changes in him and it was impossible to watch the deterioration. I have seen the great advances that have been made in acceptance, tolerance and finally the embracing and loving that has transpired. However, Being who I am, I see there is still work to be done, which again brings me back to the reason for this message. I am writing to you representing my children and myself for the words of love that you communicate on a daily basis. Now you are probably wondering, do my kids know about me as Transgender person, yes they do. Kind of a funny story, but how it is that I outed myself to them was a bit of a freak accident. My wife and I had bought an IPOD for my daughter and in linking our computers and my Ipad to each other, one of my pictures in feminine form popped up on my daughter's IPOD, and so the discussion happened, in my car, with my kids and my mother. NOT an ideal way of coming out as a TG but ok. I must say the kids are amazing, they just asked if that meant I felt different about them, did I love them any less, which of course it does not. Anyway, a little bit of a tangent there but whenever we are in the car listening to you, when we hear a song from Hedwig, or La Cage, or Kinky Boots, it has provided an opportunity for further understanding by them. Ok, this is a bit tangential and I do apologize. I will end this by saying to you sir. (as I hear you say often) BRAVA!! BRAVA Seth and thank you for reading.

I cried while reading that and I would love for my readers to honor that letter writer by becoming a member of a great organization like the Human Rights Campaign Fund or People for the American Way. Get thee to HRC.org or PFAW.org and peace out!

(Seth Rudetsky is the afternoon Broadway host on SiriusXM. He has played piano for over 15 Broadway shows, was Grammy-nominated for his concert CD of Hair and Emmy-nominated for being a comedy writer on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." He has written two novels, "Broadway Nights" and "My Awesome/Awful Popularity Plan," which are also available at Audible.com. He recently launched SethTV.com, where you can contact him and view all of his videos and his sassy new reality show.)

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