Legendary actress Carol Channing, the original Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” has passed away aged 97. Her career spanned more than five decades and included stage, screen and television. She will probably be most remembered for her iconic performance as the title role in “Hello Dolly.”

Carol Channing, alongside Yvonne Adair starred as Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” during its successful 2 year run on Broadway commencing in 1949. Darryl F. Zanuck, head of Twentieth Century Fox acquired the rights to turn “Blondes” into a big budget musical and whilst Carol was invited to Los Angeles for a screen test, it was generally assumed that the role of Miss Lee would go to Fox Studios reigning movie queen: Betty Grable. Of course ultimately, Zanuck had other ideas and decided to take a chance on their up and coming star Marilyn Monroe, after she had had huge success with her previous release, the 1953 thriller “Niagara.” In addition to that, Zanuck knew that he would be able to get away with paying Monroe much less than what Betty Grable would have insisted on.

Marilyn Monroe was cast alongside Jane Russell and the rest was history, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was a huge success at the box office and projected Marilyn into further stardom.

Sadly however, Miss Channing didn’t think too highly of the finished product:

“I do think it was one of her best movies, not funny, however. They didn’t use one word of Anita’s original book, which was hilarious and which was what constantly kept the stage musical on a higher level. Anita didn’t write the musical’s book. So where they didn’t insert the original book it was mundane. It was the stock formula for a dated Broadway musical. I followed Anita’s original Lorelei character ferociously…”

Thanks to Tara at Everlasting Star for sourcing the quote.

Nevertheless, Carol Channing is an icon in her own right and has earned her place in Hollywood as one of the true artistic greats. May you rest in peace.