Theater & Arts

Carol Channing had a memorable visit to Fresno in 2004 to help the Armenian Home

Carol Channing visit the Armenian Home for the Aged in April 2004 before performing a two-show benefit. Here, Nick Zakarian reacts with joy as he’s hugged by Channing during her visit as his aunt, Eileen Crowley, and his grandfather, Nubar Kazarian, also a resident looks on. (Zakarian was a resident of the home, too, disabled after being struck in a car accident by a drunk driver.)
Carol Channing visit the Armenian Home for the Aged in April 2004 before performing a two-show benefit. Here, Nick Zakarian reacts with joy as he’s hugged by Channing during her visit as his aunt, Eileen Crowley, and his grandfather, Nubar Kazarian, also a resident looks on. (Zakarian was a resident of the home, too, disabled after being struck in a car accident by a drunk driver.) Fresno Bee archive

Broadway legend Carol Channel has died at the age of 97, her publicist announced Tuesday.

In April 2004, Channing visited Fresno for two shows benefiting the California Armenian Home for the Aged.

She first visited the Armenian Home.

Highlights from The Bee’s coverage:

Channing flexes her star charm

Carol Channing, the consummate performer of stage and screen, took audiences on a nostalgic trip down memory lane Sunday during two performances of “Hello, Fresno!” at the Tower Theatre.

State Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, welcomed the audience to the theater. He also introduced Fresno native Mike Connors (born Krekor Ohanian), who was on hand to enjoy the show. Connors is best known for the 1970s TV series “Mannix.”

Poochigian then introduced Glen Roven, a four-time Tony Award winner who masterminded “Singular Sensations,” a New York series featuring stars of musical theater.

Channing’s Fresno performance was taken from her New York show in the “Sensations” series.

As Roven introduced Channing, members of the Fresno Gold Chorus stood near the stage and sang “Hello, Carol . . . it’s so nice to have you back where you belong,” to the familiar tune of “Hello, Dolly!” The audience rose to its feet and gave Channing her first standing ovation of the evening.

Dressed in a silver, sequin-filled dress that accentuated her thin, dancer’s legs, Channing, 83, didn’t look a day over 63.

Channing reminisced about growing up, recalling elementary school assemblies, songs from the all-girls Bennington College in Vermont, signing with the William Morris Agency, performing on Broadway and in Hollywood movies. She also talked about the countless celebrities she has known, including Joan Crawford, Ethel Merman, Tallulah Bankhead, Ann Miller and Sophie Tucker.

Introducing her signature piece, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from 1953’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” she explained that her character, Lorelei Lee, “brought virginity to every man that she met.”

Channing’s performance included “Before The Parade Passes By” from the Broadway version of “Hello, Dolly!”

In 2002, Channing published her autobiography, “Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts,” covering her years in show business. In it, she wrote of her junior high school sweetheart, Harry Kullijian. That mention led to a reunion between the two. Two weeks later, Channing and Kullijian, a former Modesto City Council member, were engaged. They soon will celebrate their first wedding anniversary. The two now live in Modesto.

Channing introduced Kullijian to Sunday’s audience and praised him and her new extended family through marriage. “I was an only child, but now I have 32 cousins here in California,” she beamed. “And I have another 15 in Philadelphia!”

They danced a soft-shoe number that ended with a kiss. She promised to return to Fresno in one year, and the audience gave her a third standing ovation.

The show ended with Channing performing “Razzle Dazzle” from “Chicago.” Even though she twice needed prompting on the words from Roven, the audience didn’t care. For a fourth time, the audience rose and offered her a standing ovation, this one sustained. A few fans offered her bouquets of red roses. Fresno City Council Member Tom Boyajian officially gave Channing a key to the city of Fresno.

– Peter Robertson, Fresno freelance reporter

Channing wows crowd at Armenian Home

It didn’t take long for actress Carol Channing to win over the staff and residents at Fresno’s California Armenian Home for the Aged during her tour there Saturday.

Channing, the 83-year-old Broadway legend, is in Fresno to help raise funds for the home, including a two-show performance today at the Tower Theatre.

“You’re just so cute!” she told 99-year-old Anna Tusan, one of two residents chosen to greet her and her husband, Harry Kullijian.

“Welcome to the California Armenian Home,” said a shy Tusan, who had nervously rehearsed her message for 20 minutes before Channing’s arrival. “I want to make sure I say it right,” Tusan told Elizabeth Manaselian, 81, the other resident chosen to take part in the welcome.

Tusan, the second-oldest resident of the facility in southeast Fresno, will turn 100 on July 8.

Introduced to Nikki Vartikian, the home’s administrator, Channing held her hand and slowly repeated her surname. “Vartikian ... what a beautiful name,” said Channing. “I love it.”

A few minutes later, she stood in front of about 100 residents, many of them in wheelchairs, and she joked about soon having to join them at the home. She was coaxed into singing the title song of one her biggest Broadway shows, “Hello, Dolly,” and also did a soft-shoe number, accompanied by her husband. And of course, she told her fans, she too is proud now to have an Armenian name.

“You can call me Mrs. Kullijian,” she said.

Last year Channing married Kullijian, 84, a prominent Modesto real-estate entrepreneur who has long been involved in charitable Armenian causes and whose sister, Lucille Pilibos, lives in Fresno. Marian Arakelian, a cousin of Kullijian’s, is a resident at the Armenian home.

– Louis Galvan, Bee staff writer

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