I was announced by Horace, a slightly overprotective and immensely curious Yorkshire Terrier. The house was filled with rich history, comfy hominess, beautiful antiques and a fresh pot of coffee. Outdoors in back, a cascading pond, mature plantings, a small vegetable garden and a perfect seating area awaited us.
“When I was thirteen,” began Richard Skipper “I read a book about creative visualization and placing your mind on a goal in order to achieve it. I did just that and later told my parents, and anyone in earshot for that matter, that I was moving to New York in five years.”
“I was king of impersonations. I would stand outside in the schoolyard and make my fellow students laugh, doing little acts and impersonating many of the current stars including Carol Channing.”
The mindful relocation announcement came in 1974, exactly five years later, almost to the day on August 5, 1979, Skipper arrived in New York.
Skipper, who now resides in Sparkill, with his husband Daniel Sherman, is an actor, entertainer, producer, blogger, coach and theater public relations expert. He has interviewed the likes of Tommy Tune, Debbie Reynolds, Morgan Freeman and other Broadway and Hollywood luminaries.
Originally from Conway, South Carolina, Skipper grew up on a tobacco farm and worked many summers on the land. Florence Epps, the town theater teacher, lover of literature and tireless proponent for children’s theater, told him that he did not belong in Conway—you have a career ahead of you, she said, but you must get rid of that accent.
“She was my mentor,” he explained. “She and her sister lived next door to one another but did not speak since her mail order husband ended up marrying her sister instead of Florence!”
Skipper, at eighteen with five hundred dollars in his pocket, began his life in New York on 86th street and Second avenue. “I came to New York to be an actor,” he recalled, “I grew up on variety shows, unfortunately that world was dwindling about the time I arrived.”
His parents did not take Skipper’s dreams seriously. He was the oldest of four with a Mother who was the oldest of sixteen and a Father who was one of ten children.
“When you grew up in Conway, you never left.” he said. “Nobody really understood me, I knew I had to leave.”
Skipper began playing at piano bars, perfecting his act. Shortly thereafter he heard about an audition for All American Boy and arrived for auditions. A few fellow actors recognized him as the Carol Channing impersonator and the musical director decided to write a Channing part into the show.
With no costume, wig, makeup or any idea of how to dress as Carol Channing, Skipper begrudgingly took the part. “I did not want to be pigeonholed as a female impersonator,” he explained. “I wanted to be an actor, but this was work so I had to say yes.”
The first night the audience was screaming in laughter. “They asked for an encore,” Skipper remembered. But this was an off Broadway show, not a nightclub act, there are no encores. The producers were not happy with Skipper stealing the show and cut his part.
The Channing costume went into storage for about ten years and did not come out other than every Halloween when Skipper would dress and act as Carol Channing.
Then in 1990 John Glines, a playwright and producer, called Skipper. He wrote Men of Manhattan and told Skipper he wrote a part for him. The character was obsessed with Carol Channing. And so, it turned out the character in Men of Manhattan would not be the only one.
Skipper began acting as Carol Channing from New York to Atlantic City to Las Vegas. “I never thought this would be my career for twenty years!” he said.
Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for 25 years, he called Skipper’s act– 95% dazzling perfect impersonation, plus 5% shrewd but loving impersonation= 100% hilarious, I certainly had a good time.
“I’m an actor and no matter how hard I work I will never be Carol Channing”, he commented. “Most drag shows are over-the-top and can be mean. My show was never that. I grew up loving Carol Channing. I wanted people to get as close as they could to Carol.
In 1994 Carol Channing was planning on performing her last revival of Hello Dolly. Skipper had never met Channing. His friend, Lee LaForge who was playing at the event tried to persuade Skipper to arrive as Channing. “I didn’t want to do it but I knew that if I didn’t, this would be one of the biggest mistakes in life I ever made.” said Skipper
I arrived and my friend Lee was waiting for me. Cameras were flashing all over the place. He took me to where Carol was seated and said,
“Carol meet Carol Channing.”
The first thing she said was “where did you learn to do this?” On queue and acting entirely as Carol, Skipper told her that he learned in Seattle Washington (where Channing is from) and on it went. Channing was then 78.
She asked where she could catch him perform and he answered, “upstairs in five minutes.”
The rest is cabaraet history. The two became wonderful friends from that moment on and Channing gave Skipper her blessing to act as Carol whenever and wherever he wished.
“I never made fun of Carol as some have.” he said.
I really love her.
At 93 years young, it appears that Carol Channing also loves Richard Skipper, the kind boy who came to New York with a dream to act, and did just that.
Skipper continues to perform and is busy writing a book about the 50th Anniversary of Hello Dolly. He can be reached on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RichardSkipper?fref=ts or on twitter: https://twitter.com/RichardSkipper