Home » One Legend Paints Another: Carol Channing, John Alvin, and the play Lorelei

One Legend Paints Another: Carol Channing, John Alvin, and the play Lorelei

We were saddened by the passing today of a Broadway, film legend, and certified character Carol Channing, who died at 97.

Known for her raspy singing voice, her huge smile, she is most remembered for her role as Dolly Levi in the musical Hello Dolly, but she was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar when she brought her sass to the 1967 film Thoroughly Modern Millie, which starred Mary Tyler Moore. She won a Lifetime Tony Award and was inducted to the American Theater Hall of Fame.

For a new show called Lorelei, in 1973, Channing reprised the role of Lorelei Lee, which she originated in the 1949 play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  The now famous classic film where Marylin Monroe sings Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend was based on the play, and Channing sang it first. Subtitled Gentlemen Still Prefer Blondes, it picked up with Lorelei, now a wealthy widow, setting sail on the SS Ile de France. It proved a popular show, often selling out, but it was more about Channing’s charm and star quality than it was about strong songs or plot, but at 51, she made it work.

John Alvin was hired to create the original play poster for a special charity engagement of Lorelei that happened as they were working out the kinks in the play early on, and he was told she absolutely loved the image he created celebrating her. He was a big fan of her work. He loved strong, engaging women on and off the screen, as anyone who has ever met his wife Andrea would attest.

We spoke to Andrea about the art, and she wrote, “John had graduated from Art Center College of Design a year earlier, and was just starting a freelance illustration career. He met a designer named Anthony Goldschmidt at a trade show, and Anthony had a job that he thought perfect for John. It was a poster for a  production of Lorelei starring Carol Channing. John had done one other play poster with Anthony for Dori Previn’s “Mary C. Brown and the Hollywood Sign.”

The technique that John used was based on a series of paintings he did his last semester of Art Center. It was highly influenced by the Art Nouveaux poster artist Alphonse Mucha. He did a very refined drawing and then had a sepia toned print made of it.  For this particular image, he used some of the handmade crow quill paper for the background. He then used transparent dyes to paint the image with his airbrush. It is a very subtle but pretty technique. He also designed and hand lettered the title art. “

As an early example of the art of John Alvin, who was already creating beautiful work in his mid-twenties, and as a lasting monument to the talent of Broadway legend Carol Channing, Lorelei certainly fits the (play)bill.

This art is available for purchase HERE.

Here are the pieces from Art Center John created that inspired Lorelei:

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