Barbra Streisand starred in the 1969 film.
Set in the 1890’s in New York City and Yonkers, Hello, Dolly! tells the adventures of the widowed Dolly Levi, an entrepreneur and professional matchmaker who sets out to match herself with half-a-millionaire, Horace Vandergelder.
In her 1970 Las Vegas Concert at the International Hotel, Streisand spoke about Hello, Dolly!, saying, “This part has had the longest line of theatrical history connected with it.”
Although Streisand created a youthful and vivacious Dolly on screen, critics were quick to note that her stage predecessors portrayed Dolly as an older woman.
Hello, Dolly’s! original budget was $20 million, making it the most expensive musical to date. Streisand was well-known for her role in Funny Girl on Broadway and had just finished the film – her first – which had not yet been premiered on-screen.
“It’s not just a filming of the stage version. That’s not the way it was presented to me and I wouldn’t have done it. I wouldn’t have done it on stage, wouldn’t have wanted to. It wouldn’t have been right for me. But this movie as I get it is going closer back to the original, Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker.”
Matt Howe has done an incredible job documenting Barbra’s career and life in a manner much better than I can possibly do. Please checkout the Barbra Archives. I thank him profusely on the research he is done. Matt, I hope you like this chapter!
The 1835 John Oxenford’s one-act play, A Day Well Spent, was first performed at the Theatre Royal, English Opera House in London. It concerned two young clerks who left to mind their master’s shop, betraying his trust by locking the front door and donning their very best suits only to head out for a good time in London. There, a series of hilarious circumstances result in the matching and marrying of three couples.
Seven years later in Vienna, the theme was further developed – with full credit accorded Oxenford – in Johann Nestroy’s comedy, Einen Jux Will Sich Es Machen. In 1938 Thornton Wilder, the American author, used these plays as the basis for The Merchant of Yonkers, which was written expressly as a directorial project for Max Reinhardt and produced by Herman Shumlin for the Theatre Guild. This led to Thorton Wilder’s The Matchmaker.
Hello, Dolly! (1969) was based on Thornton Wilder’s 1954 stage play, The Matchmaker, which had been previously filmed under that title by Paramount with Shirley Booth, Shirley MacLaine, and Anthony Perkins in 1958. The production had won ten Tony Awards as a musical under the Hello, Dolly! title in 1964, and was still running on Broadway.
Twentieth-Century Fox had announced its purchase of the rights to film the musical on March 9, 1965 with David Merrick, the producer of the stage musical, to receive $2 million dollars and 25 percent of the film gross. Paramount Studios also received a substantial but undisclosed amount because it still owned the rights to The Matchmaker.
At 25, Barbra Streisand may have been an odd choice to play the middle-aged widow Dolly Levi in the film version, since the musical had won a Tony Award for Carol Channing. Channing had wanted the role, doing the film Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) as an unofficial “screen test.” Having seen the result, screenwriter Ernest Lehman felt her outsized personality would be too much for an entire film. Ethel Merman (for whom the musical had been written but who would not perform it until 1970) turned down the role outright and Elizabeth Taylor had briefly been considered, however rejected because she couldn’t sing. At the time, Streisand was shooting the film that would earn her the Best Actress Oscar®, Funny Girl (1968). Although the movie was still in production at Columbia, word of mouth indicated that it would be a huge hit. Unfortunately for Streisand, she was seen as an “up-start” by those in Hollywood who felt she had stolen the part from Channing when Richard Zanuck announced her casting on May 8, 1967. Richard Coe summed up the feeling in the May 11, 1967 edition of The Washington Post writing: “Would you believe Barbra Streisand for the screen’s Hello, Dolly!? Well, that’s the knuckle-headed fact…With all due respect to young Miss Streisand, the mournful Nefertiti is clearly not the outgoing, zestful Irishwoman whose vitality brightens Thornton Wilder’s mature, life-loving Dolly Gallagher-Levi. The perversity of not choosing to get Carol Channing’s musical-comedy classic on film is hard to fathom.”(Source TCM)
Timing is everything.
When Barbra Streisand arrived in Hollywood to start filming Funny Girl, she was already a star, thanks to several successful albums and television appearances and specials.
We will never see that type of a phenomena again. Barbra made her television debut on April 5th, 1961 on The Jack Paar Show. She did many appearances leading up to her first television special, My Name is Barbra on April 28th, 1965. Barbra made news in 1964 – the year Hello, Dolly! opened on Broadway – when CBS television announced a ten-year $5 million deal with Barbra to star in several television specials. This was also the year that Barbra was starring in Funny Girl on Broadway. Interestingly enough, she lost the Tony Award that year to Carol Channing for Dolly!
20th Century Fox Studios acquired the rights to Hello, Dolly! in 1965. Broadway producer David Merrick put a clause in the contract that said Fox could not release the film so long as the play was still being performed on Broadway (Merrick wanted to break the record for longest running Broadway show).
Filming was completed in July 1968 and editing began.
Unfortunately for Fox, Dolly was still running on Broadway! They negotiated with Merrick to release the film. Fox agreed to pay Merrick for any lost income that the Broadway show would incur, and released Hello, Dolly! in December, 1969.
When it was announced that Barbra would be playing Dolly Levi, there was a “thud” heard around the world! She was too young…but that voice! Jerry Herman had to have been pleased in anticipation of the soundtrack alone. Barbra went into filming right after completing Funny Girl. She was starring in a major film adaptation of what was already a major Broadway hit before her first film had even opened! Carol Channing was appearing in Montreal when she read about it in the paper.
No one even bothered to call her! She has admitted over and over that she felt suicidal at the time. She felt as if someone had kidnapped her baby. Carol admits however, that although she feels Barbra was miscast in the film, no one could sing those songs like her.
Interestingly enough, it was Channing’s role as Muzzy Van Hossmere in the 1967 Julie Andrews musical Thoroughly Modern Millie that convinced producer Ernest Lehman not to hire her as Dolly. Reportedly, he found Channing’s bigger-than-life personality too much on the movie screen. (Incidently, Channing was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Thoroughly Modern Millie AND received the Golden Globe).
Filming was actually completed in 1968, three years before they were allowed contractually to open. Heavy negotiations began with Mister Merrick to allow the film to open although Dolly! was still running on Broadway.
Dolly was originally budgeted at $20 million. It ended up costing the studio $26, 400, 000 in 1968 dollars.
Producers considered other actresses (Elizabeth Taylor, who couldn’t sing, and even Julie Andrews).
Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox did many screen, makeup, costume, and set tests before beginning principle photography on Dolly. Director Gene Kelly also tested many character actors for the supporting parts, including Trisha Noble and Sandy Duncan as Irene and Minnie, and Laugh In funny lady Jo Anne Worley as Gussie Granger (Jo Anne was Carol’s original Dolly stand-by).
For Streisand’s screen tests, Hollywood artists changed her makeup, wig, and costumes as Dolly Levi. Some of the different looks were quite interesting!
The following is the New York Times Review
THIS may be the most superfluous film review ever written, with the possible exceptions of the notices for “The Sound of Music” or an esthétic-realist’s appraisal of the record of the first moon walk.
The screen adaptation of “Hello, Dolly!,” which began a reserved-seat engagement last night at the Rivoli Theater (after a private, somewhat violent, invitational premiere Tuesday night), is not invulnerable to criticism, but I suspect that Barbra Streisand is. At the age of 27, and for the very good reason that she is one of the few, mysteriously natural, unique performing talents of our time, she has become a National Treasure.
Casting her as Dolly Levi (the “née Gallagher” has been dropped from the film), is rather like trying to display Yellowstone National Park in a one-geyser forest preserve.
It doesn’t really work, but most people probably couldn’t care less.
Miss Streisand is at that point of her career where her public personality invests everything in which she happens to appear with an importance and a resonance that have no relation to the vehicle itself.
This “Hello Dolly!”, reported to be the most expensive musical film ever made, has some nice things in it, especially a gigantic Hollywood set that re-creates Fifth Avenue and a large portion of New York City circa 1890. It is a marvelous achievement by the sort of craftsmen who built D. W. Griffith’s Babylon on a Hollywood back lot in 1916. There also are a lot of lovely, artnouveau interiors and some idyllic, gingerbready exteriors shot in Garrison, N. Y., that masquerades as Yonkers.
Gene Kelly, the director, and Ernest Lehmann, the producer who adapted the Broadway book, have thus “opened up” the original show. In every other respect, they have been reverential to the point of idiocy, since, by preserving something basically thin and often witless on a large movie screen, they have merely inflated the faults to elephantine proportions.
David Merrick’s “Hello, Dolly!,” the musical adaptation of Thorton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker,” earlier called “The Merchant of Yonkers” (itself an adaptation of John Oxenford’s 1835 one-acter, “A Day Well Spent,” and a later Austrian variation by Johann Nestroy), is still going strong—it played its 2,422d performance last night at the St. James—largely, I think, because it’s been a practically perfect, sentimental showcase for any number of no-longer-young female stars.
The Broadway musical is, basically, a one-number show — the great title tune sung to Dolly, the invincible matchmaker, and by her, when, after an absence of undisclosed duration for undisclosed reasons, she returns to the Harmonia Gardens, where she belongs. It’s a moment of extraordinary theatrical artifice in that it evokes an emotion for which there has been absolutely no preparation.
There also are some other pleasant songs (“Before the Parade Passes By,” “Elegance”), but the Jerry Herman score is generally so routine that it’s difficult to distinguish between it and the ones he wrote later for “” and “Dear World.” The book, a farce designed to be framed by a proscenium, is serviceable nonsense about the ageless matchmaker, her campaign to win the stingiest, richest man in Yonkers for herself, plus some subsidiary adventures involving juveniles and ingenues.
Miss Streisand’s obvious youth and real sexuality obliterated any sense of nostalgia in the “Hello, Dolly!” number and add a curious ambiguity to other aspects of the role, including her speeches directed to Mr. Levi, her late husband. (I had the odd feeling that she must have been married to him at the age of 8 and lost him at 10).
The star, a fine if limited comedienne, impersonates Dolly as a teen-age Mae West, circling around the role and finding laughs occasionally, but never quite committing herself to it.
One result is that her best moments, with one exception, are provided by those songs that have nothing to do with the role as written—a new song, “Love Is Only Love,” on which she can exercise her sweet-tough upper register, and “Before the Parade Passes By,” which is done in the Streisand-Sousa manner.
The exception is the wise and funny “
,” the song by which she irrevocably traps the irritable merchant (Walter Matthau). As in “Funny Girl,” Miss Streisand does not lip-sync her lyrics very well, which contributes to the detached cool of her performance.
Matthau gives a good imitation of W. C. Fields to Miss Streisand’s Mae West, but the picture is not his, nor is it the youngsters’—Michael Crawford, Marianne McAndrew and E. J. Peaker. It belongs to Miss Streisand, who visits it looking great (and something like an eccentric kewpie doll) in Irene Scharaff costumes, and to the production designer, John DeCuir.
Gene Kelly, who directed two classic musicals with Stanley Donen (“Singin’ in the Rain” and “On the Town”), here acts like a caretaker of a big, valuable property.
Kelly and Michael Kidd, his choreographer, have protected everything Gower Champion gave the original, and added nothing to the heritage of the musical screen except statistics.
Vincent Canby, The New York Times (December 18th, 1969)
Irene Sharaff won five Academy Awards for costume design: An American in Paris, The King and I, West Side Story, Cleopatra and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
She was also nominated for five Tony Awards.
Sharaff designed West Side Story costumes (both stage and screen versions) as well as Funny Girl—again, costumes for both the stage play and film.
“I see everything in blocks of color,” Sharaff said about her style, “rather like a painting. If I have a leitmotif, a logo, I suspect it is associated with the colors I prefer: reds, pinks, oranges.”
For Hello, Dolly!, Sharaff designed the iconic gown that Dolly Levi wore upon her return to the Harmonia Gardens restaurant. (It’s said that Streisand requested the color of the gown to be changed from red to gold so as not to compete with the much-circulated publicity photos of Carol Channing—Broadway’s Dolly—in a scarlet-colored gown for the big number.)
“My characterization of Dolly Levi in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ is something realized after much soul-searching of my own private impression of that incredible Yonkers matchmaker. When I did my first film, ‘Funny Girl’, I was recreating a part I had played for months on Broadway and in London.
I searched for the parts in myself that were right for Dolly and that’s what I used. There was a big struggle in the beginning. I didn’t want to play this role because the part of Dolly that is me I don’t like to be shown. But once I accepted the fact that I was going to do it, from then on, it was fun.”
The following text in this section was taken from the “Hello, Dolly! Journal” and was written by Jack Hirschberg.
“It is evident that mere size and cost need have no direct correlation with the entertainment values of a stage or screen presentation. Many a theatrical musical comedy, costing half a million dollars to mount, has closed within a week. Indeed, some have even been spared the hurt of a Broadway opening. Similarly, many a motion picture, costing more than enough to finance a small pocket republic revolution, has never risen above the bottom half of a multiple-run double bill.”
On the other hand, durability through the decades and repeated success in a multiplicity of formats offer strong indication of a vehicle’s intrinsic worth and deep appeal. Hello, Dolly! reaches you with impeccable credentials. Give or take a few weeks, the story, in essence, is 135 years young.
HELLO, DOLLY!, screenplay by Ernest Lehman, based on the stage play by Michael Stewart, which was adapted from “The Matchmaker” by Thornton Wilder; directed by Gene Kelly; produced by Mr. Lehman; released by 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation. At the Rivoli Theater, Broadway and 49th Street. Running time: 148 minutes. (The Motion Picture Association of America’s Production Code and Rating Administration classifies this film: “G—Suggested for general audiences.”)
Dolly Levi . . . . . Barbra Streisand
Horace Vandergelder . . . . . Walter Matthau
Cornelius Hackl . . . . . Michael Crawford
Orchestra leader . . . . . Louis Armstrong
Irene Molloy . . . . . Marianne McAndrew
Minnie Fay . . . . . E. J. Peaker
Barnaby Tucker . . . . . Danny Lockin
Ermengarde . . . . . Joyce Ames
Ambrose Kemper . . . . . Tommy Tune
Gussie Granger . . . . . Judy Knaiz
Rudolph Reisenweber . . . . . David Hurst
Fritz . . . . . Fritz Feld
Barber . . . . . Richard Collier
Policeman . . . . . J. Pat O’Mally