The Moment



September 1938

Her body is guarded: chin tucked shyly down, one arm clasps the other which hangs from rounded shoulders; a thumb, unsure of where to position itself among the cast of fingers, awkwardly tucks inward; legs are modestly crossed with a skirt hem keeping the knees appropriately off-stage. She is standing in front of the pine boughs, with an embroidered peasant blouse and hair parted in the middle and pulled into puffs behind her ear. Heidi has wandered down from the Swiss Alps and arrived at Bennington College wearing bobby socks and saddle shoes.

Thankfully, two photographs were taken that day. Are you ready for your close up, Ms. Channing? Her eyes are looking with determination at the camera. The determination that led her here, "I wanted to go to Bennington and nowhere else...I simply had to go there." The determination that leads her to finagle an audition with Abe Lastfogel, president of the William Morris Agency during her second Field Work Term, or Winter Term as it was called then. Now the pine boughs and bavarian embroidery are distant distractions. The chin tuck is coy. The smile attempts to be demure but the curve of the lips and flash of teeth reveal a spark, a very Bennington sort of spark. Hello, Carol!

Decades later, she considers herself to be, in a way, still on her Field Work Term. Reflecting on the journey from the Vermont pines to Broadway stages she said, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body. But it gives you the floor and the foundation to build on, and forces you to plunge into wider territories of it than you ever would otherwise had had the nerve to do. It removes the fear."

From the Archive

Biography

In 1976, Carol Channing '42 was greeted enthusiastically as she returned to Bennington College to deliver the Friday night commencement address. She first came to campus in 1938 to study dance and drama and has been a frequent Bennington visitor and guest. She spoke fondly of her Bennington experience and Winter Term (Field Work Term), recalling that in 1940 she "hot-footed it to Broadway to get a job performing." Channing appeared in films such as The Travelling Sales Lady (1956) and Rip-off (1968). She earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for her performance in Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967). Channing is probably best known for her role in the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! (1964), for which she won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. In 1995, Channing was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Tony Award.

Sources:
Channing, Carol. Just Lucky I Guess. New York: Random House, 2002. Print.
O'Brian, Jack. "Carol Channing Loves her Alma Mater". Sarasota Journal 13 Aug 1975: 7-D. Print.
Channing, Carol. Entering Class Photographs 1938. Bennington College Archive: Bennington. Photograph.
"Carol Channing '42 back from NRT." Bennington Quadrille 1975: 16-17. Print.