After all these years, I don’t think there’s ever been a more charismatic or relatable Rizzo than Stockard Channing.
Channing was a great artist and her singing was just fantastic in Grease – but nowadays, the 79-year-old looks almost unrecognizable
The first movie I ever saw Stockard Channing in was called The Big Bus and I thought it was hilarious. But back then, I could never imagine that she would go on and have such a remarkable career.
Today, Stockard Channing is best known for her iconic portrayal of Betty Rizzo in Grease, the 1978 American musical romantic comedy film based on the 1971 musical of the same name. Like many before me have pointed out, Channing was by far the best Rizzo out of all that have played the part.
Many probably also recognize Channing from the series The West Wing, where she starred as First Lady Abbey Bartlet. The experienced actress was praised for her instant chemistry with Martin Sheen, who played President Josiah Barlet.
“It just worked,” she told Entertainment Weekly in 2020.
“We had this chemistry from the beginning. I don’t know what it was, but we had it and it didn’t go away. It was a happy accident.”
Starring as Beth Rizzo
But let’s take a deeper look at the highlight of Channing’s career. Because in the name of honesty, she hasn’t appeared in any major motion picture since Grease, even though she has continued to act in films and on Broadway.
The 13-time Emmy Award nominee and seven-time Tony Award nominee appears to be totally fine with being most remembered for her portrayal of bad girl Beth Rizzo, one of the Pink Ladies in Grease.
But is that really the whole truth?
Back in 1973, Channing had little breakthrough starring in the TV-movie The Girl Most Likely to…, a black comedy about revenge.
“A lot of people talk about the G-word [Grease] and all of that, but back in the day, I had as many people stop me in the street about that one movie. Because it’s about revenge, and people would sit in their living rooms and go, ‘Oh, I’m the only person watching this’ or ‘this person understands me.’ I’m not kidding. It was a million years ago, and then it was the highest-rated movie of the week. Revenge always works,” she says.
According to Channing, she has only watched Grease only two times.
“I used to be grumpy about Grease because I thought it was a kids’ movie or something. But now it’s sort of amazing. I’m very proud of it,” she told The Times in 2019.
The Manhattan-born actress was 33 years old when she played Rizzo and playing a high school teenager wasn’t so easy for her.
”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 over, 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,” Channing told Broadway World.
Channing, who became interested in acting at an early age, was thrilled when she was offered the role of Rizzo, and her performance made her a top-ranking star in the late 1970s. She earned a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress, but the New York native had difficulty achieving similar success after Grease.
The beloved actress was handed two sitcoms of her own, Stockard Channing in Just Friends (1979) and The Stockard Channing Show (1980), but neither was successful and her career halted.
But with her look of Elizabeth Taylor and air of calm confidence, Channing didn’t give up and she continued to work as an actress, appearing in many highly-praised movies and stage plays. Her latest appearance on the big screen came was in Angry Neighbors, which premiered in 2022.