During my 25 years in TV Shopping, I had the opportunity to work with many celebrities. One of my favorites was Carol Channing. She had a line of fashion jewelry on and even recorded a version of “Diamonds are a Girl’s best Friend” changing the word “Diamond” to “Diamonique.”
They gave Carol video recordings of all the hosts. She chose me. QVC Executives must have pooped little blue BB’s when they heard her choice. According to them I was too far out for prime time. They were a bunch of miserable old farts and had their favorites. As I have often said, my fortunes changed when Barry Diller took over the company a few years later.
Our airings went extremely well until they started giving her tiny, non-flashy jewelry to sell. She was known for big and bold jewelry. Wasn’t the first time a TV Shopping buyer killed the golden goose with a bad idea.
Carol was a very nice but also a perfectionist. She insisted on rehearsing, which was odd considering the adlibbed nature of TV Shopping. We rehearsed in the studio for several days before she went on air. During her tenure, she would always meet with me to rehearse for a few hours before each airing.
We held these later rehearsals in her hotel suite. She traveled with her husband Charles and Wallace Seawell, a well-known celebrity photographer. They always had a huge suite at the Embassy Suites Hotel on Rt. 202, a few miles from the studio. I would go to their room, they’d order dinner from room service and we’d eat and go over strategies for the next airing. She was a very quick study and a lot of fun to work with on and off the air. (Carol had very serious food allergies and had to bring special organic food in coolers whenever she traveled.)
When we would rehearse, Carol, Charles and Wallace (who was a charming Southern Gentleman) were always dressed in white silk pajamas. I always wore my “uniform” at the time – khaki slacks, a navy blazer, blue shirt, red tie and Ferragamo loafers.
Carol, Charles, Wallace and I developed a friendship over the years. Carol even had a special surprise for me on my 40th birthday. I got to meet George Burns who was her close friend and next door neighbor in Beverly Hills.
Since I always felt overdressed at our hotel rehearsals, I decided to buy my own white silk PJ’s and wear them to our next hotel meeting. $150 for silk PJ’s? Did they come with a hooker? And another $100 bucks for matching leather slippers. Good grief! Okay, I bought them and wore them to our next rehearsal. I looked in the mirror and realized I looked like one of the characters in a Bruce Lee film – the chubby martial artist who always got killed first. But I figured it would give Carol and company a good laugh and make them feel more at ease than my corporate wear.
It was February and about 10 degrees that evening, so I donned my heavy overcoat and drove to the hotel, about 30 minutes from my home. During the drive I was thinking what I would say if the police pulled me over. Luckily, I didn’t have to use any of the unconvincing lies I came up with. No police in sight that evening.
Charles answered the hotel room door after I knocked. It was like the surprise ending of an O Henry story. You guessed it. He was wearing a Navy blazer, khaki slacks, blue shirt, red tie and loafers. So was Wallace. Carol was wearing a killer navy blue Chanel suit. There was an extended period of silence followed by lots of laughter. It was a hysterical moment and one of my favorite memories from my career in TV Shopping. We broke into spontaneous laughter several times during our rehearsal.
But like all things in TV Shopping, “But wait, there’s more!”
When I left, I was walking through the hotel bar area and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were sitting at the bar. It was a weeknight and they were the only people there. They were appearing at the old Valley Forge Music Fair (it’s now the site of a supermarket) and they had a line of cookware on an infomercial called “Gourmet Cookware.” It did quite well on the air for a short time. I had met with them earlier that day at QVC since I was working with them and presenting their cookware tomorrow.
I have been a Steve and Eydie fan for decades. They were as nice in person as they appeared to be on-air. They were impressed that I remembered their earliest national TV performances on Jack Paar.
Even though I had my scarf pulled up and my overcoat completely buttoned, Steve recognized me and called me over. He asked me to sit and have a drink with them. It was very warm in the bar and Steve asked me to take off my coat and stay a while. I hemmed and hawed for a few seconds and then said, “What the hell.”
You have to appreciate the humor of the moment. I’m sitting in a bar in Suburban Philadelphia with two superstars and I’m wearing white silk PJ’s. Steve and Eydie just stared for a moment and then Steve, using his spot on Edward G. Robinson impression, “So Steve, what’s the doll’s name? Which room is she in?” They thought I was having a hotel tryst.
I answered, “I was seeing Carol Channing.” That increased the laughter and Steve said, “Aren’t you a little old for her?” (He is one of the most naturally funny people I’ve ever met.) When we all stopped laughing, I told them the whole story.
We had a great conversation. As I was leaving, Steve told me to be careful since no policeman would believe the real reason I was wearing pajamas. Luckily, the drive home was uneventful.
Carol and I remained friends even after she left QVC. Sadly, her marriage to Charles ended with lots of hassles. She did remarry her high school sweetheart and they both live near Modesto, California. She was a great lady. I hope she and her new husband had much happiness before she passed. Along with most people, I will miss her. The world is less funny now that she’s gone.
I know the PJ incident had an impact on Carol. I met several of her friends through the years, both professionally and personally, and most of them talked about the pajama story and how touched she was at my gesture. They all added that she thought I was very nice but really wacky. I take that as a complement.
I did wear the PJ’s one more time in my life. But the woman I was meeting found them to be a bit too presumptive when I showed up at her door wearing them.
© 2017 Steve Bryant – No portion of this or any blog can be reproduced or copied and posted on any online site or read aloud on any audio or video media without the express permission of the author.