- a.k.a. Dolly: A Damned Exasperating Woman ( original working title)
- a.k.a. Hallo, Dolly! (German title)
- a.k.a. ¿Qué tal?, Dolly! (Mexican title)
- a.k.a. The Matchmaker (source material)
- a.k.a. The Merchant of Yonkers (source material)
- a.k.a. A Day Well Spent (source material)
- a.k.a. Einen Jux Will er Sich Machen (source material)
The Broadway of the early 1960s was lit with marquees of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, NO STRINGS at the Broadhurst. There were MARY, MARY; CAMELOT, sans original cast; Nancy Dussault in THE SOUND OF MUSIC. MILK AND HONEY did not have Jerry Herman’s name on the marquee, but it did proclaim “A Rousing Melodic Hit!” CARNIVAL! – with exclamation point – was first at the Imperial: the names of David Merrick and Gower Champion were most clearly visible. The show moved to the Winter Garden, the title – sans exclamation point – emblazoned in what would be called David Merrick red. The names of Merrick, Champion and Herman would soon be collected for a new show, a show that would always have an exclamation point in its title– on Broadway or throughout the world.
Hello, Dolly! is a musical with lyrics and music by Jerry Herman and a book by Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder’s 1938 farce The Merchant of Yonkers, which Wilder revised and retitled The Matchmaker in 1955.
It’s a myth that Wilder’s revision involved making the role of Dolly more important. The only way in which Dolly is more prominent is that she’s become the title character. In the introduction to Three Plays, Wilder correctly states that The Matchmaker is just a slight revision of The Merchant of Yonkers.
Hello, Dolly would play at the St. James Theatre (1/16/1964 – 12/27/1970).
What was not known was that the show would create history. Jerry Herman said to THEATER WEEK in October 1989: “The Detroit tryout wasn’t a happy time. Merrick over-panicked. It was a little lumpy–but it rang!” In October 1995 Herman told the same publication: “I was not really treated very well by Mr. Merrick.”
The producer’s thumbprint was ever-apparent. When Pearl Bailey gave the show a new lease on life beginning November 12, 1967, Merrick took an ad in the TIMES calling this “The Event of the Century.” When Bailey got a call to do the Ed Sullivan show (aired December 10, 1967), Merrick sent along the entire company. Mary Martin was well represented in the documentary “HELLO, DOLLY ‘Round-the-World” on February 7, 1966 and Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey toasted each other in their TV special, Carol Channing/Pearl Bailey on Broadway, on March 16, 1969.
Pearl said “Hello, to the first Dolly!”
After his passing, Merrick’s influence continued to be relived in a February 25, 2002 VARIETY feature: “Of course, the most popular model for replacement casting is the way David Merrick put Ginger Rogers, Pearl Bailey and Ethel Merman in HELLO, DOLLY! after Carol Channing went on the road.”
The original working title had been Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman.
How’s that for a title!? But after the successful Louis Armstrong recording of the number one hit song Hello, Dolly!, which came out before the show made it to Broadway, the name of the show was mercifully changed to the title that we’ve all come to know and love. To THEATER WEEK on October 23, 1995 Jerry Herman related the story of when his publisher brought the Armstrong record to Detroit and put it on the loud speaker system: “You know, you should call the show HELLO, DOLLY!“ The Messrs. Stewart, Champion and Merrick were present and the title was changed. There is no documentation in the piece detailing what type of demo record was used. It is known that the issued promotional 45 rpm recording did identify the show with its new, popular name.
Before the show opened on January 16, 1964 at the St. James Theatre in New
York, it had already had quite an interesting journey. The Matchmaker was an updated treatment of The Merchant of Yonkers starring Jane Cowl which was based on a Viennese trifle called Einen Jux will er sich machen (1842), (He Will Go on a Spree or He’ll Have Himself a Good Time), which came from in 1835 English comedy called A Day Well Spent.
Then there was “On The Razzle” .
On January 17, 1964 Howard Taubman of the NEW YORK TIMES wrote: “As a play Thornton Wilder’s THE MATCHMAKER vibrated with unheard melodies and unseen dances. Michael Stewart, Jerry Herman and Gower Champion apparently heard and saw them and they have conspired ingeniously to bring them to shining life in a musical shot through with enchantment.”
According to Pat Healy in the Metro Rock, “Republican candidate Barry Goldwater wanted to use “Hello Dolly” and change the words to ‘Hello Barry.’ Upon learning that the song was being appropriated for rallies, the show’s producer, David Merrick, an outspoken Democrat, reportedly approached the campaign and said they were violating copyright law. Word got out to the campaign of Goldwater’s opponent, Lyndon Johnson, and they tapped Carol Channing, who was playing the lead in “Dolly,” to record ‘Hello Lyndon.’ No one complained.”
A milestone in that journey was reached on September 9, 1970 after the 2718th show when Dolly Levi surpassed Eliza Doolittle as Broadway’s Fairest Lady: a cake was rolled out, the number of performances outlined in candles. The icing read “HELLO, DOLLY! Longest Running Musical in Broadway History.” It was Merrick’s day– and he had his thumbprint on it– by inviting the press.
Merman, still in her curtain wedding dress, helped blow out the candles, but she did not forget the show. Her last concert night on stage was in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1983. The eleven o’clock number was “Before the Parade Passes By,” prefaced with her recalling that she had agreed to extend her three month contract as David Merrick wanted to break the MY FAIR LADY record: “What could I say? He’s a nice man.” The comment solicited unintentional laughter.
On May 15, 1977 the “last” Broadway Dolly and the International Dolly descended two staircases in full costume at the Broadway Theatre. The occasion was a fund raiser for the Museum of the City of New York– it became the roof raiser of our time when Merman said “Well, Hello, Mary– still crowing?” And Mary Martin answered: “I’m still crowing strong. Er er erooo.”
My story is going to focus on those that were integral to the various productions of Hello, Dolly!both on and off stage and especially the women who played Dolly on Broadway, in film and in productions around the country and the world. The January 1987 PLAYBILL credits this production with the opening of Japan’s doors to Broadway shows. As Miss Channing said to her San Francisco audience of July 26, 1983: “Well, I did want to thank you dear folks for making an honest woman of me. You see, I always promised that someday, somehow, I would bring my HELLO, DOLLY! back to San Francisco again and again and again and now again! We are here on the American tour prior to going overseas to Copenhagan, Denmark; Heidelberg, Germany; Paris, France; Rome, Italy…. So, as we say ‘Join HELLO, DOLLY! and see the world!’”
Through these interviews the HELLO, DOLLY! story is preserved. On March 25, 1987 Jerry Herman told VARIETY: “I don’t want Carol Channing’s performance to be lost…. Can you imagine having the opening night of CAROUSEL or of SOUTH PACIFIC? It would be thrilling. I just think it’s the saddest thing in the world.” He repeated this in correspondence dated November 8, 1990, on the occasion of Mary Martin’s passing: “Unfortunately, we weren’t even sneaking video cameras into theatres all those years ago.” He lamented the loss of Merman, concluding: “I miss her a lot and now that Mary and Pearl are gone my list of Dollys grows shorter every year. Thanks again for writing. My best.”
The Theatre Guild and David Merrick had presented Ruth Gordon as Dolly Levi in 1955′s THE MATCHMAKER. Nine years later, thanks to the chemistry of the Messrs. Stewart, Champion and Herman– and most especially Carol Channing– a new dimension was brought to the character. Thornton Wilder had told Carol that he had re-written The Matchmaker for thirty-six years and yet never got it as desired until Michael Stewart, Jerry Herman and Gower Champion brought it to fruition.
Miss Channing related a quotation by Sir John Gielgud to tv host Charles Osgood: “You Americans forget your classic characters–I do Hamlet every fifteen years or so. You should continue to do HELLO, DOLLY! Our contribution to American art form is the American musical comedy– musical theatre.” And Walter Kerr offered that Carol Channing is “the only creature extant who can live up to a Hirschfeld.”
The specific contribution was brought to us by David Merrick and his Dollys. Another Hirschfeld featured him as a ringmaster presenting the ladies. Merrick’s promotional stunts are historic. But Carol Channing’s were just as fine, but impeccably subtle. Crafty as Dolly Levi, she would appear on the 1995 Tony awards: “I want to say thank you to you one and all” and miraculously segue to “Right now, we’re playing it in San Diego on our tour prior to opening on Broadway in October.” More thanks followed, but the sign-off was classic Channing: “And I’ll see you all in October!” And in November, who sang “Before the Parade Passes By” with full cast and costumes at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Merrick could be with royalty to promote the show– he could be with the press and be quoted that he was “shocked and disappointed” that Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge did not invite the whole 72- member troupe to a reception: Merrick noted that only four principal players were invited.
And of course, there are no David Merricks around anymore. Mr. Merrick was able to keep this musical alive on Broadway and in major tours and productions around the country as the world was quickly changing all around. This show came to Broadway just as the country was still reeling from the JFK assassination; people needed to be cheered up. Two forms of entertainment contributed to this: a musical called Hello, Dolly! and an arrival or invasion: The Beatles landed in America. The show is set as the 19th becomes the 20th century and with Vietnam, the assassinations et al., it took people back to an easier and more innocent time and place.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy would be assassinated during the run of the show on Broadway. The Vietnam War was raging. And popular culture was changing especially in the music industry and what people were seeking as far as entertainment. Hello, Dolly! had one purpose and one purpose only… to entertain. From 1964 until 1970, night after night on Broadway, a lady with a feathered headdress and a red evening gown, the likes of which had never been seen anywhere before, would descend the stairs at the Harmonia Gardens and audiences would be on their feet cheering. For seven years, those ladies were Channing, Rogers, Raye, Grable, Bailey, Diller, Merman, and from time to time Bibi Osterwald who stood by for most of these actresses.
While these ladies were appearing on Broadway, around the country Dorothy Lamour, Eve Arden, Michele Lee, Alice Faye, Edie Adams and Yvonne De Carlo were playing on tour. Carole Cook was leading the Australian company and Mary Martin performed in the International company: Before the international tour, the show would travel the United States. The DALLAS [Texas] MORNING NEWS of May 31, 1965 chronicled the tour which had begun in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April 1965 and continued to Kansas City, Missouri, and New Orleans, Louisiana. For its first week in Dallas, Texas, the show set a box office record and that milestone was broken in the final week. The next stop would be Memphis, Tennessee, where the run was already sold out.
The Closing night audience in Dallas, which included Jerry Herman and Josh Logan, would not let Mary off the stage, so after three standing, cheering ovations, she returned with a trumpet and played “The Eyes of Texas,” as the cast sang the lyric. The United States tour would end in Portland, Oregon, as detailed by the OREGON JOURNAL: “Portland is the last stop the show will make before… Tokyo.” At the September 9, 1965 closing curtain in Tokyo, Martin reprised the title song in Japanese and ended with “Louie, would you please tell these dear people how welcome they have made us feel in Tokyo.”
The Associated Press confirmed the Opening day in Vietnam as October 9, 1965. Merrick detailed the preparations on October 20 in the HERALD TRIBUNE: “The trouble always started at dusk. They wanted us off the roads then. We would line up six Army convoy trucks, which are absolutely flat, to form the stage and then we would build our ramp around them and use a kind of framework overhead for a proscenium.”
The tour played Vietnam for eleven shows. Okinawa and Korea followed. The UNITED STATES FORCES/ KOREA news release details the tour under the headline: “Curtain Rings Down on Hello, Dolly!” After the fifth performance Miss Martin offered: “We, the cast of DOLLY!, are not only saying goodbye to Korea tonight, but goodbye to each other as well. After more than 22 weeks on the road, most of the cast is returning to the U.S. while the principals will open DOLLY! in London. We have shared many ups and downs in the air and on stage. But most important we have shared the wonderful experience of being able to entertain. And no one deserves to be entertained more than our troops overseas. We are so proud of you all.”
Hello, Dolly!was made into a major motion picture starring Barbra Streisand, opening on Broadway and 49th St at the Rivoli Theatre during the Phyllis Diller run of the show.
With the movie and the Broadway show playing five blocks apart, Merrick had to call on Broadway’s heavy hitter: Merman. And on March 28, 1970 she opened. That night the television critics gave the verdict. Merrick couldn’t have said it better. Leonard Probst of NBC: “David Merrick, who keeps bringing in new talent to keep DOLLY! alive, is probably now working on Pat Nixon or Shirley Temple, but he’ll have to go a long way to top Ethel Merman.” Leonard Harris of CBS: “Jerry Herman’s new numbers fit him and Merman and that’s nothing to complain about– so HELLO, DOLLY! says Hello, Ethel!– and I think David Merrick has done it again.”
On May 20, 1971 Merman was the subject of Ralph Edwards’ THIS IS YOUR LIFE and guest Jerry Herman recalled: “Actually, Ralph, I wrote DOLLY! with Ethel in mind but she was so stubborn….” He was interrupted “I wasn’t stubborn– I was tired.” And Herman continued: “I had to eliminate two songs all together, because they were only right for Ethel. But it took six Dollys and six years to make Ethel finally come around, but she gave me the greatest thrill I’ve ever had in this business.” Merrick noted in the June 1971 READER’S DIGEST in a piece entitled “Ethel Merman–Queen of Broadway”: “She is the most thoroughly professional star I’ve ever done business with.”
Herman continued his sentiments on the June 24, 1982 MERV GRIFFIN SHOW. Merman had received the ASCAP Pied Piper Award at Carnegie Hall on May 10 and the moment was recreated for television. Herman spoke: “The first musical I was ever exposed to on Broadway was ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and simultaneously I fell in love with its star and the musical theater and I never dreamed that one day that lady would be standing on a Broadway stage singing my songs.”
On Opening night local New York television critic Stewart Klein offered: “Ethel Merman in HELLO, DOLLY! is a marvel and should be seen by everybody at least once.” Actually the words “at least once” are critical. Merman would like to say that she did not wear a chest microphone. But tapes confirm that sometimes she did. Study the title song and “Love, Look in My Window” carefully. If the words “I went away from the lights of 14th Street” are not drowned out by the waiters’ humming – and if “Love, Look in My Window,” sung far stage left is “Merman clear,” Merman was helped electronically.
Over the next three decades, from the time that she first descended the stairs of the Harmonia Gardens, Carol Channing would go on to do over 5000 performances of this iconic role, closing on January 28th, 1996 at the Lunt -Fontanne Theatre. On June 13, 1983 Channing told the DAILY NEWS: “This is an enchanted life. It takes pioneer blood. The point is not to make a role fresh for yourself, but for the audience. It’s like walking a tightrope every night.”
On March 5, 1978 the first Carol Channing Broadway revival opened at the Lunt- Fontanne. A Reviewers’ Reel preserves the line “a name I know as well as my own.” A World Tour began on July 26, 1983: “Dear, Dear People of San Francisco and Environs…. It’s a tremendous honor that tonight on our Opening night here that we have the great lady of the American theatre, Mary Martin.”
The 1978 revival of Hello, Dolly! closed on July 9th, 1978. The production starred Carol Channing and garnered a Tony nomination for Eddie Bracken.
David Merrick had wanted to produce the second Channing revival, but was turned down with a NEW YORK POST headline on April 26, 1995: GOOD-BYE, DAVID! Miss Channing’s final return to Broadway, again at the Lunt, opened on October 19, 1995, closing on January 28, 1996 after a two week extension. Over the stage door were these words: “Through This Door Walks a Broadway Legend Eight Times a Week.” The revival was chronicled on its Opening night with a two hour New York television broadcast: “Live from Broadway: Hello, Dolly!”
At her final New York curtain, Miss Channing said “But you’re just standing there. You’re not going anywhere!” It is hoped that these memories go everywhere– and that future generations can now learn of a classic American character. This book is dedicated to those who played Dolly on stage, those who knew her on stage– and to the audiences that cheered the show from the front rows to the balconies. May Dolly never go away.
The craftsman behind HELLO, DOLLY! was David Merrick. His red office was upstairs and next-door-to the St. James. He was “hands on,” his thumbprint on every cast change. VARIETY had cited his contribution in his obituary on May 1, 2000: “When business lagged for his long-running hit HELLO, DOLLY!, he returned it to sold-out status with an all African-American cast that headlined Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway.” Without the appearance of Pearl Bailey the show would have closed after four years. But at the Tony Awards on April 21, 1968, Jack Benny began to note a new era: “You know, a replacement in a Broadway show is not eligible to be nominated for a Tony Award, but if anyone ever deserved a special award, it’s Miss Pearl Bailey.” The same evening Merrick was cited: “This year he crowned his achievements with the concept and presentation of the all new HELLO, DOLLY! 1968.” On November 7, 1975 the NEW YORK TIMES headlined: “Back Where She Belongs– on Broadway.” But the DAILY NEWS offered a caveat: “Hello, Dolly! marks Pearl’s swan song.”
In that engagement, Bailey did the title song and stopped the proceedings, asking if we would like her to do “the whole thing again.” She re-climbed the stairs [from the back, out of audience view] and reminded us that “Dolly will never go away.” But in the DAILY NEWS piece, Bailey did admit that she would make an occasional appearance. On February 28, 1988 Bailey sang “Before the Parade Passes By” on IN PERFORMANCE at THE WHITE HOUSE. She concluded with a personalized version of “Hello, Mrs. Reagan” and then “Hello, Nancy,” explaining to Marvin Hamlisch that he would have said “The White House” but that she had been there so many times that it is simply “The House.” At her passing, CBS noted that she took the title song and “made it hers.” CNN confirmed that she is “best remembered for winning a Tony for the black version of HELLO, DOLLY!”
The hallmark of the show had always been David Merrick’s thumbprint. Even when reviewing Merman, the NEW YORK TIMES referred to the show’s casting history: “Mr. Merrick began pulling out aces from every sleeve to keep the show going. First there was Ginger Rogers, and then came Martha Raye, Betty Grable, Pearl Bailey and Phyllis Diller.” Merrick sent the show to Japan and Mary Martin offered: “If all the world is a stage, then this is one of the greatest sets ever designed.” The TIMES reviewed the Pearl Bailey edition, noting that after acknowledging her reception Bailey noted: “I have a few more words to say in this show.” On March 10, 1970 the paper again chronicled the show with a headline: “Ethel Merman Agrees to Take Hello, Dolly! Lead for 3 Months.” The run was extended and on September 10 the TIMES proclaimed: “Hello, Dolly! Cuts Longest- Run Cake.” The Closing was announced on November 30- and then extended one day– Merrick’s thumbprint on every step of the journey. On May 1, 2000 Merrick’s passing was noted in VARIETY as the “end of [an] era.” If all the world’s a stage, and if one man in his time plays many parts, Merrick was the architect who drew a blueprint called “Hello, Dolly!”
The show had first been offered to Merman who had turned it down: “Maybe I was rude; I don’t know.” It was ironically fitting that she would close the original Broadway run: “I didn’t open Dolly, but I closed her.” Impresario David Merrick had announced a Saturday night December 26 closing in the November 30, 1970 NEW YORK TIMES. But ticket sales were strong and a Sunday matinee was added. So Merman closed the original run with a curtain speech on December 27: “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going out for some Neapolitan ice cream!” It was 5:21 p.m., so documented by the DAILY NEWS. To paraphrase Dolly and Mrs. Rose: It had been a long time, a long, long time since the original VARIETY ad on January 8, 1964: “Season’s Greetings– Carol Channing Starring in David Merrick’s Production HELLO, DOLLY!” On December 27, 1970 the DAILY NEWS photographed Miss Channing, currently at the Broadhurst Theatre in FOUR ON A GARDEN, dashing across 44th Street- dodging the dirty snow- to go backstage at the St. James. The caption: GOODBY, DOLLY! The NEW YORK TIMES also headlined the Closing: “Broadway Bids Dolly Fond Good-By” and continued: “The First Fiduciary Trust of West 44th Street, otherwise known as Hello, Dolly! closed yesterday because of dwindling receipts.” Both papers quoted Channing’s remembrances of the dismal Detroit tryout. Merrick had seen Channing in SHOW GIRL and vowed to produce a show for her. On June 2, 1991 Channing told the Tony awards Playbill that she was so flattered, but Merrick had interrupted: “Oh, I wasn’t looking at you. I was counting the house.”
There will be more ladies to play Dolly. Each original brought her own thumbprint to the role– and created an American classic character. As Phyllis Diller said on her Opening night during the restaurant scene: “HAAAA! Anybody got a line??!” Merrick stood behind the orchestra seats, his right hand cupped his chin.
And this all happened once upon a time. At Carol Channing’s last performance in New York, the overture had finished with the title song. “Call on Dolly” brought out the star- she dropped the newspaper- called out “Dolly Levi!” as the applause exploded. Folding chairs had been added to the rear of the orchestra section- and an era was about to end. There was one performance to go.
Today on Broadway at Duffy Square is a structure of twenty- eight steps, so reminiscent of the steps that our Dollys descended at the Harmonia Gardens. One cannot but wonder if the design is influenced by that great entrance scene. The interviews that follow are the exact words of those who descended the Harmonia staircase– or those who met Dolly on stage
Many of the interviews actually remind me of the Harmonia Gardens’ restaurant scene. We’ve broken bread together, we’ve chatted- chatted more- and ate some more. Well, I did. Getting to know these people connected with Dolly has been a privilege. I am the one who has CALLED ON DOLLY…and those who have known her intimately! Me!!–Richard Skipper