There are many iconic film and stage actresses that came out of the 1970s, and Stockard Channing is one of the most talented and beautiful. Born Susan Williams Antonia Stockard, Channing is best known for her role as Betty Rizzo in the hit musical film “Grease.” She is also remembered for her role as First Lady Abbey Bartlet on the television series “The West Wing.” Channing was nominated for an Emmy award for her performance on the show in 2000 and 2001 and finally took the award home in 2002.

No stranger to incredible accolades, Channing also won a Tony award for best actress for her role in the stage play, “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg,” in 1985. In total, she has received 13 Emmy nominations and 7 Tony nominations, making her an incredibly decorated performer. This talented star takes her craft seriously, and despite having come from such an iconic role as Rizzo, Channing has not gotten stuck playing the same type of characters.

Channing is a masterful actress who sheds a clever and realistic light on all of her roles. She was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the 1993 film version of “Six Degrees of Separation.” Channing played the same character in the stage version and received a Tony Award nomination for her efforts.

These days, Channing’s busy life has slowed down a bit. Her last film and TV credit were from the show “Difficult People” in 2017. The actress has been married four times in her life. She currently lives in Maine with her partner of over 30 years, cinematographer Daniel Gillham. Read on to find out more about Channing’s life and to see her stunning photos at age 78.

Growing Up

Channing was born on February 13, 1944, in Manhattan, New York City. She grew up on the Upper East Side and is the daughter of Mary Alice and Lester Napier Stockard. Her father was in the shipping industry and passed away in 1960. Her sister is Lesly Stockard Smith, and she is a former mayor of Palm Beach, Florida.

Channing started school at Chapin School in New York City and then later attended Madeira School in McClean, Virginia, which is a girl’s boarding school. The actress went on to study literature and history at Radcliffe College of Harvard University and graduated summa cum laude in 1965.

The star said her love for acting came in her junior year of college while performing on stage. “I sang ‘Pirate Jenny’ and I knew something incredible for the first time in my life had happened to me … It was crazy and mysterious. I knew that everything in my brain, in my creative side and my emotions, I somehow was able to make up this person and sing that incredible song and know what she was talking about which should have nothing to with my past experiences. It was very mysterious and it was irresistible and that was it. I was nineteen years old,” Channing told Broadway World.

Channing studied acting at the HB Studio in New York City and began her career performing in Off-Broadway productions with the experimental Theatre Company of Boston. Her Broadway debut was in the production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona — The Musical” in 1971. Then in 1973, she would perform on Broadway again, this time in “No Hard Feelings.”

‘Grease’

At the start of Channing’s film career, she co-starred with Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty in the 1975 feature film “The Fortune.” The movie was well-received by critics but was not a huge box-office success. Channing’s first role that made her a household name came in 1977 with the production of “Grease.” The actress was age 33 when she got the role of high school student Betty Rizzo.

Channing was in a difficult place when she was offered the role of Rizzo. She explained to Broadway World that she was not making very much money in Hollywood and struggling to pay her mortgage. Playing a character so much younger than herself wasn’t exactly easy either. Channing said:

“I was at the bottom of the barrel, bottom of the drawer maybe but I decided the only way I could do this was to look at her like she was a real person. I was so much older than she was in life, but I could not think about that so I sort of threw myself back to what I felt when I was her age, even younger. The complexity of adolescents and hormones and sexuality and all of that other stuff. Seeing that I really was older I think that added to the isolation of Rizzo.”

“Grease” has so many legendary songs. “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” for example, received an Academy Award nomination. Rizzo’s popular song “There Are Worse Things I Can Do” was also a hit among fans, but the song almost never came to be.

Channing told Broadway World, “I was very much in love with that song, ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do,’ and I fought for it and Pat Birch, who directed all the musical sequences, helped me. If you see the sequence it’s very simply shot and Allan (Carr) really indulged me and said, ‘go ahead just do it.'”

She continued, “When the movie was being cut together Allan really wanted to cut it because he thought it was a downer, maybe everyone else thought it was a downer too. It was because so much about what that character was. It got in there by the skin of its teeth. Pat Birch fought for it and the director as well. It’s in there and I’m so grateful that it is.”

According to iNEWS, Channing doesn’t exactly hold a lot of love in her heart for her role as Rizzo. She told the publication, “I’m the last person to ask about ‘Grease.’ I think it’s nice that people like the character and think I did a good job with her. That’s about it.”

The actress isn’t ungrateful for the role; she just had to work a lot to overcome being typecast after her time playing Rizzo. She also has a deep appreciation for acting and characters. “Do you know, when you’ve done as much work as I have, it’s not a question of having affection for (characters), you just hope you do a good job and then you’re on to the next,” she added.

Life After ‘Grease’


In 1979 and 1980, Channing starred in two failed sitcoms: “Stockard Channing in Just Friends” and “The Stockard Channing Show.” The failure of these sitcoms was very disheartening for Channing, and she decided to focus on theater moving forward.

Channing explained what she was going through during this challenging period of her life to Bomb Magazine back in 1988. She said, “I was making an obscene amount of money and I was miserable. I was cranky and spoiled and exhausted on top of it all. It was that thing of, when in doubt, do another job and get paid another hunk of money.”

At the same time, her career was stalling, Channing’s marriage was also falling apart. “I was married at the time to something that was turning into the classic horrible show business marriage. What I did was I left my marriage, I left California and I left my mega powerful agency at the time who didn’t really want to talk to me anyway because I was the first failure they’d ever had,” she told Bomb Magazine.

This hardship turned out to be a blessing in disguise because, in 1985, she would go on to stage in the stage play, “A Day in the Death of Joe Egg,” and win her first Tony award. “People thought of me as the girl from ‘Grease’ or the television show. I had this awful hole where I said, ‘Am I ever going to work again? Am I really any good?’ I didn’t work for nine months and then Arvin Brown called me and asked me to do ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg at Williamstown,'” Channing told iNews.

Channing played First Lady Abbey Bartlet on the popular political drama “The West Wing” and won an Emmy award for her role in 2002.

Acting as Craft

Channing is a very intelligent and clever actress. It makes sense that when prompted, she can go on and on about her love and respect for acting. She shared her thoughts on the pros and cons of stage versus screen acting with Bomb Magazine:

“The most self-determining, however, is definitely the stage. Film is much more baroque, complicated. I don’t think of myself as pigeon-holed so much in film, I just feel frustration. Some of the films I do have been films for television. So I don’t differentiate that much between the two mediums.”

The actress seems to prefer the stage because of the connection she is able to make with her audience. “You do a character but how much of it is on film, or how much of it is seen by an audience, is really up to the director, the piece, or the audience. And so, I just do these people. And flesh them out. I think anything else is not my job,” said Channing.

Acting for film and television is more technically involved than stage acting, according to Channing:

“There’s a certain amount of technical expertise you have to have—the camera, you have to find your mark and know where the light is—that part of your job is artificial. But beyond that, I just try to do these people as much as I can with the information given to me and what my imagination does when I’m doing them. I’ll never realize just how much is noticed and how much is perceived by the audience or by the director or camera.”

Despite being a seasoned professional, Channing still prefers to audition for her roles. “I like to audition because I want to see if I can do it. If I don’t think I can do it, if I’m really not sure, I’ll audition so I can be comfortable. And the other will be if somebody really doesn’t know or has a question. I would rather audition than take a meeting any day. I hate meetings,” Channing explained to Bomb.

Personal Life

Channing has been married and divorced four times but has no children. She married a man named Walter Channing in 1963, and her stage name is a combination of her maiden and married surnames. Channing decided to keep the name even after the couple divorced in 1967.

Channing’s second marriage was to Paul Schmidt, a professor of Slavic languages. They were married from 1970 until 1976. Her third husband was David Debin, a Hollywood writer and producer. The couple was only married for four years and divorced in 1980, which was the same time Channing was struggling with her failed sitcoms.

The star’s fourth marriage was to a businessman named David Rawle, and they were married from 1980 to 1988. For the past 30 years, Channing has been in a relationship with cinematographer Daniel Gillham.

Life Today

Today, Channing and Gilham happily live together in Maine. Channing used to have a home in Los Angeles that she would stay at while working, but she sold it in 2016. According to Variety Magazine, the home was located in Laurel Canyon and was sold for 1.895 million dollars. The actress originally bought the home in 2003 for 1.075 million dollars.

These days, Channing hasn’t been working as much. However, her IMDB page shows an unreleased project that is still in post-production, so we may be seeing more of her soon. Not one to take anything for granted, Channing said to iNews, “It’s wonderful I’m working, selfish old me, but I don’t think it’s a norm. There’s just the odd exception – and at the moment, I’m very grateful I’m one of the odd exceptions.”

This talented actress has had a career in show business for over five decades. Do you remember Channing from ‘Grease’ or any of her other projects? What is your favorite ‘Grease’ song? Let us know your thoughts, and be sure to send this on to your friends and family.

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