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Carol Channing

Actress Carol Channing arrives at an awards show in Los Angeles.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Carol Channing, born in 1921, was already a Broadway star known for her performances in "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" and "Hello Dolly" when she learned something surprising about her heritage. Her father, George Channing, had been a light-skinned black man.

And although Channing went on to become a well-known gay rights activist, being of mixed race was something she only briefly alluded to in her memoir "Just Lucky I Guess," which was published at age 81. In it, she recounted her father singing gospel music with her and flipping from one pattern of speech in the predominantly white community to a distinctly different pattern of speech in their home.

Nearly a decade later Channing, a three-time Tony award winner, seemed to change her mind again. On a 2010 episode of The Wendy Williams Show, Channing said that her parents "had many disagreements," and before she went off to college her mother thought "she would get even with me" and warned her that if she had a baby it might come out black. Channing admitted she did not know if the story that her father was black was true, but she hoped it was [sources: Parker, Williams].

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