The Brahmin

Bookmark and Share
Channing Chase '61
David Zaitz

It's easy to see why Channing Chase '61 gets typecast as a blueblood: the sleek blonde bob, the high cheekbones, and the air of cool elegance she radiates. But Chase is hardly a Boston Brahmin. Raised by Polish-American parents in Nashua, N.H., she was Valerie Waraska until early in her stage career, when she took to heart film critic Pauline Kael's opinion that an actor's name is his or her trademark and found her new moniker in a friend's Bennett College yearbook.

"Everybody falls into a type," she explains, "and it's very wise to find your type when you first come to LA, because people just don't know what you're about, so you have to tell them."

Since 2007, Chase has parlayed her "type" into a recurring role as Dorothy "Dot" Dykeman Campbell, the high-society mother of Pete Campbell, on the award-winning AMC series "Mad Men." In the 2013 season, Dorothy went missing at sea, possibly pushed overboard by her caretaker. Chase has no idea whether Dorothy has drowned or will reappear in the final season, which is being filmed now.

"My pet theory is that Don Draper takes up sailing to combat his alcoholism, and he just happens to be sailing by when I fall off the cruise ship, and we sail off into the sunset," Chase says with a laugh.

Channing Chase '61

Planning to become a teacher, Chase majored in English at UNH—there was no acting major at the time—but joined Mask & Dagger and acted every chance she got. Two UNH grads who hired her for the Keene (N.H.) Summer Theater told her she couldn't become a teacher; she was too good an actress. After the summer was over, she enrolled in acting workshops—and landed roles—in Boston and New York.

A theater tour took her to Los Angeles, and she decided to relocate to pursue television roles. She got her first bit part on "The Bob Newhart Show" and went on to play numerous character parts in movies and on TV, including "ER," "Home Improvement," "Family Matters," and "Cold Case." She also continued acting in a wide variety of roles onstage in California and New York, co-founding the Pacific Resident Theater. "Give me any role on stage," she says, "because no one can interrupt you and say, 'Cut!'"

Chase was nominated for a 2013 Emmy for her work on "Mad Men." Still, if the script calls for her to come back on set, she'll be lucky to get more than a week's notice. In the meantime, she's left guessing—like everyone else—about Dorothy's fate.

Return to UNH Goes to Hollywood

blog comments powered by Disqus