Bruce Honors Carol Channing In Cinematic Tribute, “Larger Than Life”

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Carol Channing: Larger Than Life
Reviewed By: Leslie (Hoban) Blake · Apr 25, 2011 · New York

Dori Berinstein’s loving cinematic tribute, Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, now premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a cornucopia of favorite moments from the nonagenarian’s 60-plus years in the spotlight, as well as a glimpse into her current personal life. In both cases, Berinstein shows just how smart, funny, and gracious the star is both on and offstage.

The film’s title has several meanings, from Channing’s height (at 5’9) to her gigantic smile, and outsized personality. She was literally too big for the screen, appearing in only a few films — including her Oscar-nominated role in Thoroughly Modern Millie — but she happily played to generations of theatergoers in such shows as Lend an Ear, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and her own signature magnum opus, Hello Dolly.

Many of Channing’s co-stars and admirers show up in the film, most with illustrative footage. After Jerry Herman, Angela Lansbury, and Chita Rivera speak, there are scenes of the trio honoring Herman at the Kennedy Center in 2010. Lily Tomlin, Bruce Vilanch, Tommy Tune, Barbara Walters, and the late Betty Garrett also share their memories, while Debbie Reynolds commiserates as one wronged wife to another. (Channing’s third husband robbed and left her.)

But most of all, the film is a love story that wouldn’t be believed if it weren’t true. Channing and her fourth husband (and junior high school sweetheart) Harry Kullijian, married since 2003, are like a real-life Romeo and Juliet gone right, holding hands and smiling like the teenagers they were back in the 1930s.

And make sure you stay until the very end: the sublime outtakes during the final credits are not-to-be-missed.