Bobbie Freeman with her memories of her productions of Hello, Dolly (Betty Grable, Ginger Rogers, Dorothy Lamour, Ethel Merman)
Bobbie Freeman, now Jaramillo, is happily married to her husband of forty-seven years, and running a successful dance studio in Denver. However, her career started out by auditioning for Hello, Dolly! A week later, she had her Equity Card and was on her way to join the Betty Grable company. She would go on to share the stage with Ginger Rogers, Dorothy Lamour, and Ethel Merman! Not bad for a young girl dreaming of a career as a dancer from Louisville, Kentucky!
Bobbie arrived in New York on her birthday, September 13th, 1966. On September 23rd, she auditioned for Dolly. They were looking for a new girl dancer for both Carol Channing’s company, now on the road, and Betty Grable’s company. Ginger Rogers was into her second month on Broadway.
Bobbie was sent out to join the Betty Grable/Max Showalter Company as a dancer and to understudy for Ermengarde. Bobbie knew nothing about Dolly prior to auditioning. She didn’t even know who David Merrick was. Bobbie’s life is divided into four sections. First, there was her ballet career in Louisville, which was huge. Then there was her theatrical career. Stage three was raising three beautiful girls. Now, in her fourth stage, she is a dance studio owner. She was raised in Louisville as a ballet dancer. She joined the Louisville Civic Ballet at the age of nine and worked her way from corps de ballet to prima ballerina, appearing in such ballets as Giselle, Les Sylphides, Pas de Quatre, Carmina Burana, and The Nutcracker.
She has danced and worked with such legends as Mia Slavenska, Andre Eglevsky, Lupe Serrano, Royes Fernandez, Toni Lander, and Fernand Nault and has been mentioned in the book “Who’s Who in the Ballet World”. Bobbie began teaching dance at the age of fifteen and at age eighteen operated her own dance school. She also studied voice and piano at the prestigious Gardencourt at the University of Louisville.
She went to New York with the idea that the world of ballet was a little too narrow for her. She wanted something a little bigger. She had studied voice and she was also a tapper. Her first audition was for A Joyful Noise. That show lasted ten days. That show was with Michael Bennett. She went to audition for Dolly, and although she was non-Equity, she made it to the final two to read for Ermengarde. Having never seen the production, she made a mess of her reading. She thought the character was a sexpot as opposed to “Awwwww!!!!!!”
Bobbie wrote the number down wrong! When she called the number, she got a janitor. Bobbie was as green as green could be. She knew nothing. Linda Otto was the casting director. She sent Bobbie a telegram, they did have her address. The telegram said that if she was interested in doing this production, she better go in and sign the contract. She went in, read EVERY word of the contract, and signed it. Linda said, “Oh my God! I’ve never seen anyone read a contract, ever. They usually just sign.” That’s how that happened to be.
Bobbie doesn’t remember the length of time between signing and flying off to start Dolly, but it was relatively soon thereafter. She flew to join the company in Kansas City. She remembers walking behind Betty Grable and thinking that she was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Her waist was like twenty inches. Bobbie couldn’t believe her luck. She thought this was the best ever. There was a boy in the company who had been in the ballet company in Louisville. He had choreographed a production of West Side Story, in which Bobbie played Anita, for the University of Louisville. He took Bobbie under his wing. Bobbie appeared on the outside to be this confident gypsy who had been around. That was her “M.O.” But deep inside, she had no idea what she was doing there. She was just used to rehearsal and hard work.
She started out on the road with Betty which ended up in Vegas. When that closed, she went home for a few weeks. She joined Ginger Rogers’ company which opened in Denver where she now lives. Her husband, also in the theater, is from Denver. They became an item when they were part of Dorothy Lamour’s and Ginger Rogers’ shared company in Las Vegas. When that run ended, Bobbie returned to New York where she was eventually brought in to do the Ethel Merman company Broadway company which ended Dolly’s seven year run.
Bobbie says Hello, Dolly was the most wonderful experience of her life. It changed her life. It gave her everything a kid could possibly dream of in this business. She got to travel. She got to meet interesting people. She made money doing it! She was so lucky to go to New York. We’ve all heard the horror stories, however, of what can happen to a young woman on her own in the Big Apple. Some women, and men, end up starving to death. In Bobbie’s case, in ten days after arriving, she was off like everyone in Dolly, on an incredible adventure. In Betty’s company, she went on twenty eight times as Ermengarde.
In Ginger’s company, she understudied Irene Molloy. That was a major achievement for someone who considered herself primarily a dancer. She understudied Ermengarde, Irene, AND she made extra money because she was part of the horse!
I asked Bobbie if she has revisited the show since closing with Merman in 1970. She hasn’t. Her daughter saw Carol Channing’s last touring production in 1995 in Dayton, Ohio and loved it so much she went back twice proving that there is STILL an audience for this show. It was a national tour that she saw but Bobbie doesn’t know who was starring. Looking ahead, Bobbie doesn’t know who could play Dolly today and sell tickets. I was lucky to get this interview with Bobbie. She very rarely discusses her past. When she mentions Betty Grable today, sadly, there are those who have no idea who she is or Dorothy Lamour.
After Dolly, They both continued successful careers in the theater. Her husband, a prop man, was offered a job with the national tour of I Do, I Do starring another Dolly alumni, Mary Martin, and Robert Preston, who would have been a wonderful Horace Vandergelder.
When that tour ended, he and Bobbie got married and his career was nonstop doing about fifteen musicals! He was involved in Company from the beginning. He also worked on Jesus Christ, Superstar from the beginning. Bobbie went on to do productions at the Westchester Dinner Theater, Meadowbrook Dinner Theater, she also went back home to Kentucky and starred in two productions at the Beef and Boards Theater. She did children’s theater.
Bobbie says Hello, Dolly!is absolutely among the top five shows that she did.Gower is absolutely a major part of that show. Bobbie remembers rehearsing in Denver for the Grable company.
Dance captain Lowell Purvis, rehearsed everyone over and over and over again. They had to be exactly right like a well oiled machine. When you get a job as a replacement, which is what Bobbie was, in Betty’s company, you wear THEIR costumes. The girl that Bobbie was replacing was three inches taller than Bobbie was. She was thinner than Bobbie was, not that Bobbie was overweight. Bobbie weighed about 105 or maybe 110, tops. Her show size was a seven. Bobbie’s was five and a half. Bobbie was wearing her shoes until her shoes were ready. Bobbie fell down three times. One time going off, so no one saw it. The shoes were so humongous on her feet the way that she was meant to.
With Gower’s choreography, you really have to move. So here she is clunking along in these size and a half too big boots trying to move. She aptly nick named herself, “the fall down girl.” Once she had her own shoes, all was right with the world.
Bobbie was a good performer and loved her work. She was a valuable performer.
Every night was like opening night for her. She realized that for some, sitting in the balcony, those tickets are expensive still for some. Bobbie says it was her obligation to always perform at peak performance which was never difficult. It was never work for her.
Bobbie absolutely continued to tweak her performance after getting the “job.” She never wanted to phone it in and always wanted to be her absolute best. She always wanted to improve. When she got the job understudying Irene Molloy in Ginger’s company that was a big thing for her, a dancer. She got to go on. Irene in that company Mary Nettum. She had small children at home and was out of the show from time to time. She had weekly rehearsals as her understudy, but to actually go on was a big deal.
The orchestra changed keys for her which is virtually unheard of. The night she went on Van Clyburn was in the audience. He asked to meet her afterward because he was so impressed. A groan normally goes through the audience when the announcement is made, “Tonight, the role of…will be played by.” He knew Bobbie was the understudy and he went back and was so delightful and wonderful. Bobbie still has memories of his huge hand extending out to meet her. Bobbie has so many memories as Irene Molloy but going on as Irene ranks up there above all others. Her future husband was backstage that night, but he told her that the stagehands were all straining to see what was happening on stage during Ribbons Down My Back to see who was performing because it was a different sound. Lucia Victor gave Bobbie the latitude to bring her personality into play.
Mary Nettum was more of a soprano. Her style was very reminiscent of Eileen Brennan. They lowered the key for Bobbie. Bobbie doesn’t know if they sent to New York for different arrangements. She does know that they adjusted for her, which meant a lot. She was eager to go on. Because of Nettum’s situation, they knew that Bobbie would be going on. She didn’t let on to Van Clyburn that she knew she would be on that night. She did not take that moment away from him. She was well rehearsed.
The one thing that Bobbie adopted from her experiences with Dolly that she has carried forward throughout her career is discipline. She shares this with everyone who was lucky enough to be part of the Dolly family.
You had to perform whether you felt like it or not. You have a responsibility to your audience AND your fellow cast mates. The audience has paid financially and with their time to come see this show. You HAVE to give them the best you can be.
Betty Grable: Awesome
Ginger Rogers: True Professional
Dorothy Lamour: “I loved her.”
Ethel Merman:” I did not her well. She came and went through the back door.” It was awesome to be on a stage with her. That voice was quite something. She separated herself. The feeling of a touring company verses a Broadway company is very different. In one of my previous chapters, a member of Betty’s company spoke about taking her bowling. When Ginger Rogers Company was in Hershey, Pennsylvania, they took her bowling. Because of the number of people involved the cab driver hept driving back and forth until he got everyone to the bowling alley! Ginger got to know everyone in the company.
Betty’s hairdresser’s fiancé was the one she was replacing. Bobbie ended up going out with them on social occasions.
Betty was a real human being. She was very nice and very insecure. She couldn’t understand “what it was all about, the leg thing.”
Bobbie’s husband used to tease Ginger unmercifully. He would put the mirror in front of her and say, “Would you like to see something funny?”
She reacted quite well to that. Only he could have gotten away with that.
Bobbie has never ever seen any other woman play Dolly except those four.
In Vegas, they had to make the show shorter in order to do two shows every night. They did two shows a night, seven days a week, one at eight and one at twelve.
With Dorothy, they cut the show a little bit, bringing it in at one hundred minutes. With Ginger, she did the full version but talked twice as fast. She didn’t want anything cut.
The Dolly number never failed to stop the show. Bobbie thinks there are several variables in play here.
The kids jumping over the orchestra pit brought audiences closer in than had ever been done before. Just seeing those great ladies descend the stairs certainly didn’t hurt either!
Bobbie loved the Horace’s she appeared with as well. Max Showalter was awesome. His real name was Casey Adams.
Showalter performed as Horace more than 3,000 times opposite Carol Channing, Betty Grable and Ginger Rogers. Jack Goode, Merman’s Horace, was another wonderful man. Bobbie has nothing but positives for all of them! Coley Worth played opposite Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Lamour in Vegas when they split the performances. He was a wonderful Horace Vandergelder in 1967. Then, there was the awesome David Burns who also toured with Ginger when she took it on the road.
Jack Goode was good friends with Cary Grant. They had appeared in a couple of movies together. One night, standing in the stairs in the backstage areaof the St. James Theater was Cary Grant. Jack introduced Cary Grant, as if he needed an introduction! Cary told everyone that he was headed back to California and that if anyone in the cast were interested in going for the weekend, they could go as his guest…on his private jet! No one gushed. They had more dignity than to do that. They were respectful and gave the many celebrities that came backstage their space.
It was a wonderful moment but no one took him up on his offer.
Bobbie once went to Jerry Herman’s home here in New York. She can’t remember why. She is guessing that it was during the Merman run. It was just Jerry, his aunt, and Bobbie.
The business started changing drastically in the seventies. That’s why Bobbie, and her husband David Jaramillo, left New York. The last show David did on Broadway was Lorelei with Carol Channing. That was 1974. Musicals were more and more rock musicals. The new voice on Broadway was Andrew Lloyd Webber. In Bobbie’s era, she considers Follies the last great musical. Everything was moving to more nudity on stage. There was also much more drugs available backstage during this free thinking era before everything came crashing down all around us. When David was working on Jesus Christ Superstar, a STAR of the show said, “Hey man? Would you like some coke?” one night backstage before going out on stage. David said, “No thanks, I’m not thirsty.” Bobbie and David’s life together in New York had been successful and they decided to have a baby. Superstar was nominated for four Tony Awards and although there were no winds, they both felt there was job security. A part was held and the Jaramillos attended, Bobbie was pregnant at the time. Even at the party, there was a lot of nudity and people wrapped in cellophane. It was definitely a long way from Hello, Dolly! They had gone through the drug era in San Francisco totally untouched. Perhaps their naivety helped.
Hello, Dolly! will always have a special place in Bobbie’s heart. Bobbie met her husband during her run in Dolly. They have letters from Dorothy and Ginger when the marriage was announced. When Bobbie called Dorothy to tell her that they were getting married, Dorothy said, “Honey, it will never last. It’s a show business marriage.” They are now coming up on forty-four years. Dolly made Bobbie feel extra special forever.
The snapshots were provided by Bobbie Freeman
Alan Eichler is a theatrical producer, talent manager and press agent who has represented numerous stage productions, produced Grammy-winning record albums and managed such singers as Anita O’Day, Hadda Brooks, Nellie Lutcher, Ruth Brown, Johnnie Ray and Yma Sumac.
Alan’s very first job was as apprentice to Lee Solters and Harvey Sabinson in the fall of 1963 (October), working his way up from the mailroom at $55 a week to full publicist with his own assistant and secretary. He originally was going to be an English teacher but decided he wanted to be a press agent when he realized what that entailed. He went from office to office until he was hired by Lee Solters and Harvey Sabinson. They had the biggest company in New York at that time.
It was actually called Solters, O’Rourke, and Sabinson. There was a third partner involved. (Jimmy O’Rourke). Harvey ran all the Broadway shows. He had several press agents under him. Lee Solters ran all of the non-theatre events which included personalities, movies, and television.
Alan was in the mailroom which serviced everything: stuffing envelopes, press releases, getting clips out to clients. There was a typing pool, secretaries who were constantly busy with all the projects. This office handled all the Merrick shows. Harvey had a hot line, a private phone in his office, Lee’s office as well that went directly to Jack Schlissel over at the Merrick office. Everything went through Jack Schlissel at the time. They were all “screamers” back then, even the press agents. Schlissel would call all day long and you heard all this screaming back and forth. Harvey handled the show. Carol was a personal client of the office as well, and Alan can still picture Charles Lowe sweeping through the office, briefcase under his arm, for his periodic meetings with Lee Solters.
Lowe seemed like the “big time” to Alan and Carol was such a big star. He knew
that Lowe was the power behind Carol. They both impressed Alan. Lowe never spoke with Alan. He never dealt with anyone in the office except for Solters.
Harvey and Lee both dealt with Schlissel who was, according to Alan, a “maniac”. Harvey was a true gentleman. Lee was very “New York, very Brooklyn”. He was a brilliant press agent but very brash. Somewhat of a Larry King type. As genteel as Harvey was, when he lost his temper, he would throw desks across the room. He would have these tirades that were caused, most of the time, by Schlissel. When Harvey left this office, he headed the League of Broadway Producers, the organization that runs the Tonys.
Schlissel was known as Mister Merrick’s “hatchet man”. He did all the contract negotiations, he would fight with the stars. He would basically do all the “dirty” work. Although Merrick was behind it all, he was also above it all. He never “got his hands dirty”.
When Alan started, the office was abuzz with news of “Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman,” which was in danger of closing in Detroit prior to its Broadway opening. Alan says it was a thrill to see its transformation into the smash hit “Hello, Dolly!” and to get a chance to experience every new Dolly right through Ethel Merman. Despite rising costs and ticket prices, a higher average of quality productions made 1964 a happier year on Broadway.
Alan eventually moved up from the mail room to handling all of the “clips” for the show. This office handled a lot of clients. They would mark all the different “breaks” in the papers. There were many more newspapers at that time. It was Alan’s job to get those papers out to their clients.
It was a full time job just doing clips. Then, Lee taught Alan how to do “column items.”
He eventually worked his way up to being a press agent, they weren’t called publicists back then.
He went to several events that Carol was involved in but did not have any direct dealings with her. As far as all the Dollys were concerned, Alan felt they brought their own take to the role. “Carol was Carol.” The show, of course was not written for Carol. That’s history. But she made it hers and it became her show. When Alan moved to L.A.years later, he ended up handling the 1982 revival of “Dolly” and Charles and Carol became intimate friends. The following comments are not to put Carol down. Alan realizes the circumstances for Carol must have been very difficult. However, he feels that many of the charges being brought against Charles over the years since the last days of his life and beyond are not true. Alan says that Charles never stole from Carol. He said that Charles did not do anything wrong. They slept in one bed.
He is not saying they had an “intimate” relationship but that they certainlywere together all the time.
He says anyone who toured with them or knew them on a closer level will back up his statements.
Moving ahead to when he worked with them in the eighties, he used to visit them every Sunday morning. They would watch the news programs together.
Charles and Carol referred to each other as “baby” and “daddy”. Then they would go out to lunch or have lunch in their room and Alan would teach her how to use the timer on the VCR.
Their business was a partnership. It was Charles Lowe Productions. Carol was fifty percent of the company.
All the money went into that production company.
Her career was a product. The two of them were a business together. Whenever she had an appearance scheduled, she would write out whatever she was going to say. She would rehearse it. Sometimes, she would rehearse it to Alan as if he were the audience. Charles Lowe was Carol Channing. When he had a stroke, Carol “freaked out”, and Chan, her son, went to get her and took her to Florida.
That’s when her “head was turned around.” Alan says he thinks she freaked out that Charles was no longer going to be able to take care of her.
She said she couldn’t take care of a sick old man. She stayed at the hospital with him the first couple of nights. She was devastated. Wallace Sitwell came in to take care of Charles. Charles was in very bad shape. After the stroke, he was unable to talk although “he came back a little” before he passed away. Alan says that Charles died of depression and that Wallace took care of him until he died.
It was a very bad time. Whatever happened there, happened. Alan says the way that Charles has been “bad mouthed” all these years is unfair. Alan is not saying that Charles was the perfect husband but he feels that Charles “never did anything wrong to Carol”. Alan said that these charges are unreal, especially some of the statements made in Dori Berenstein’s documentary. They keep talking about her terrible marriage and her terrible husband.
Charles was not that at all. He was very headstrong but so was she. He never made her do anything she ever wanted to do. Nobody but Charles Lowe could start a standing ovation like he did. He would run down the aisles starting the applause. All during Legends!, Alan and Charles would sit in the front row and Charles taught him how to stand up and lead the standing ovation.
And now, back to Dolly…Carol was Carol and wonderful. She put the stamp on that role and how it was supposed to be played. Dolly itself is the ideal star vehicle. He has never seen a show that was more of a star vehicle for someone. Hand-tailored that is so adaptable to so many people.
Carol’s entire performance was spectacular. Ginger’s special moment, for Alan, was coming down the stairs in the Harmonia Gardens. “Nobody ever came down the stairs like Ginger Rogers.”
She had such star quality and glamor. When she came down the stairs, she did a kick on every step. Just the right way so that the dress moved the right way. You can get a sense of that in the picture to the right. When Ginger was doing the show, 44th Street was packed with people every night waiting for her to come out.
Cops were on horseback. He had not seen anything like this except when Richard Burton did Equus. You couldn’t move on 44th Street, it was so crowded every night.By the time Ginger Rogers took over, Alan was experienced enough to be sent to the St. James Theatre to cover late-night photo shoots. Back then, whenever they knew a celebrity was coming to the show, they would send a photographer to shoot backstage photos. Ginger would make the photographer go up to the top of the staircase in the hallway and shoot down!
Carol’s preferred technique for posing was to point to something imaginary over to the side as if she was showing something to the person she was with, but it was in fact just to get the right angle to her face.
When Martha came into the show in February 27th, 1967, there was a lot of anti-war sentiment at that time.
Martha would wear her American Legion uniform and she would march in patriotic parades. There was a lot of hostility towards her because of that. Also, she opened cold. She had never done the show before. She didn’t want the critics at her first performance which Alan went to. It was filled with her people. “All the right-wingers came out.” It was an exciting night for her.
When she came out on the cart and put the newspaper down and said “Dolly Levi”, the entire audience stood up and cheered. It was an exciting opening night. That was a Monday or Tuesday. The critics didn’t come until Thursday. They saw a regular audience. A “tired” audience like when a show is running a long time. It wasn’t that she wasn’t good, she was. It was just that that excitement wasn’t there. She never did great business. It was ok, but it wasn’t great.Therefore her option wasn’t picked up, which she was very disappointed about. Alan said she was an excellent Dolly. Probably among the best. Martha was on a three month contract and was let go after her contract was up.
Martha Raye was hysterically funny. She stayed in character but she would do her slapstick like walking into the horse in the opening number. To Alan, her defining moment was her “Ephraim, let me go..” soliloquy.
He says she was heartbreaking and wonderful. Having heard this, I agree whole heartedly. She would have stayed if they asked her but business wasn’t great.
Then they brought Betty Grable in June of 1967. She brought the box officeback up and had a very exciting opening night. She also got the crowds back to the stage door. Not as big as Ginger’s, but respectable, nonetheless. Alan’s favorite moments with Betty Grable involve her talking to Horace about Ernestina Money. “You’ll know her Horace. She’ll be singing an old fashioned song, ‘Sweet Rosie O’Grady’” When she said Sweet Rosie O’Grady, she sang it a little bit.There were a lot of gay men in Betty’s audiences.
Alan said, “I think every gay man in New York came to see Betty Grable.”
The audience, that knew she had done the film Sweet Rosie O’Grady, would go crazy over that line every time.
His second favorite moment involved her walking around the run way her last time around in the Dolly number. Every other time, she did it as those that had gone before her had done.But on her last time around, she would reach down and hike up her dress revealing those million dollar legs. Seeing Betty Grable in the show, you were seeing Betty Grable. It wasn’t that she wasn’t good, but you never forgot you were watching Betty Grable. Her voice had gotten husky by then. It became more like a “personal appearance.”
Unfortunately, Alan never saw Bibi Osterwald do the show. Bibi would go to the theatre each night and would go out and schmooze with the audience as if she were making a personal appearance.
She was working with Kaye Ballard at the Bon Soire. He went to see Kaye Ballard when he was in his teens because he was a fan of hers and Thelma happened to be on the bill. He went back stage to get Kaye’s autograph and to meet her and Thelma was sitting in the lounge back where the dressing rooms were. They started talking. Alan was a fan of Ethel Waters and Thelma had been close to Ethel Waters. They started talking about that. They immediately had a rapport and became good friends. Although he was just working in the mail room, he tried to help Thelma. During his lunch hour, he would be calling talk shows and getting column items for her. He helped get her a few club dates in the city. Lee did not like Alan doing this and got angry at him. Whatever Lee’s reasons were, he didn’t like Alan doing this so Alan was sneaking around doing this. Eventually, Alan became a publicist and Dorothy Lamour became Alan’s own personal client in the office. One of Alan’s shows was the Hollywood Palace which taped in Los Angeles. Alan’s job, since his office was in New York, was to primarily get press releases out about the show. He never even went to a taping because of the logistics. Periodically the stars that were appearing on the show would come to New York and Alan would deal with them directly.That’s how he met Dorothy Lamour.
He first met her when she did the “Hollywood Palace” TV show, which he represented, and he introduced her to agent Tom Korman, who got her signed for “Dolly”. She had been living in Baltimore and was semi-retired. Her subsequent tour was a “bus-and-truck” company, with mostly one-nighters played in smaller cities and towns that the bigger tours had missed, often in high school auditoriums and sometimes gymnasiums. (Eve Arden had already done the First National Company, followed by Carol and Ginger and Yvonne De Carlo had done a previous bus-and-truck. Mary Martin also toured with her company.) It was very rough on Dorothy, but she was a trouper. The closest she got to New York was an engagement at the Lambertville Music Circus, an in-the-round tent near Camden, NJ. The first time she played it was actually Louisville, KY, filling in for Carol for two weeks while she vacationed. Dorothy played that run with a blonde wig, which Alan has photos of somewhere. Around this time, Ginger was asked to take the show to Vegas. Betty Grable had been the first Dolly to play Las Vegas, doing 14 shows a week (though she missed many of them), two a night.
Ginger Rogers, who had finished her Broadway run and was now on tour, was asked to bring the show back to Las Vegas, but didn’t want to play there. She said it was against her religion! Alan had heard all about this through talk in the office. She finally agreed but only wanted to do eight shows a week. Dorothy, who had already done Louisville, was asked to play the other six performances and she agreed, but switched to a brunette wig, becoming the “first” brunette Dolly. They actually rotated! Ginger got to pick the shows she wanted to do. Dorothy did have a few nights where she did the early show. Ginger had originally worn a red wig, but switched to bright yellow blonde with mounds of curls for Las Vegas.
At this time, Pearl was doing it in New York and Thelma Carpenter was signed as her standby.
Everything was criss- crossing. Before Dorothy went to Vegas, she played Lambertville, New Jersey. She wanted it publicized in New York but Merrick did not want it publicized that she was playing so close to New York. He thought it would hurt the box office in New York. Pearl Bailey was then at the height of her Broadway success, but Dorothy wanted New Yorkers to know she was nearby. The Merrick office was trying to keep Dorothy’s engagement a secret, so it wouldn’t compete for business. As Dorothy’s press agent, it was Alan’s job to promote her, which he did. Dorothy, had, by this time, become a personal client of Alan’s.
Alan went ahead and did his job promoting her and wasn’t sorry, though he was scared as hell.
At this time, Alan was upset about salary issues. He was only making $150.00 a week. He had eleven clients, a secretary, and an assistant. He was in the book keeper’s room one day and snuck a look at the books. His assistant, who he was training, was making $175.00 a week! Abby Hirsch, who worked in the office, got fired.
She went to work for Frank Goodman. He was was an American Broadway theatre publicist who handled Funny Girl and a few other things. So Frank Goodman offered Alan a hundred dollars more a week. He knew that if he went to work for Goodman, other than getting the salary increase, he could also bring Dorothy with him. He would be able to publicize her. He was totally enamored with Dorothy Lamour. His whole life was Dorothy Lamour. Dorothy was never offered the Broadway company. Dorothy did the tour, Pearl did Broadway and when Pearl’s company ended, they brought in Phyllis Diller in December of 1969. Phyllis was a good Dolly and stayed in character. One interesting side note is that when they were negotiating her contract, they asked her to come in and see Thelma play the role instead of Pearl Bailey, to get a truer sense of the show. Pearl was doing Pearl by that time. She was going in and out of character and did her “third act” during curtain calls. Alan had crossed Jack by promoting Pearl Bailey’s standby Thelma Carpenter.
Phyllis, unfortunately, did not do good business. It was Phyllis’ Opening night[Dec 26, 1969] that Merrick stood behind 3 empty rows of orchestra seats, right hand cupping his chin.
Then Merman followed Phyllis Diller in March of 1970. Alan loves Ethel Merman but never thought she was right as Dolly. He saw the last performance of Gypsy when he was a kid. He went to the last matinee. He had seen Annie Get Your Gun a couple of times. She was also a client of Lee’s during Annie Get Your Gun revival at Lincoln Center.
Alan says she was spectacular. When he saw her do Gypsy, he said she just walked through it and Dolly was the same way. There were some performances where she was exciting. She could walk through some shows and that “extra thing” just wasn’t there. She would go on “automatic pilot”. Carol would do that sometimes as well. There were times when Carol would “freeze” but she was still Carol. Merman, he did not work with, although he saw the show two or three times. He had left the Solters office by then. He did leave during the Pearl Bailey run to work with Frank Goodman so that he could promote the Lamour production in Lambertville and Carpenter was doing the Bailey Dolly matinees. He was trying to promote Carpenter when he got a threatening phone call from Merrick’s hatchet man, Jack Schlissel, who threatened him: “Her career is behind her–yours is in front of you. Be careful what you’re doing!”
Fast forward to 1988. Schlissel had left Merrick to go on his own, Alan did press for Schlissel’s production of “Bent” with Richard Gere–and he had totally changed. It turned out he was gay, he came out of the closet, and was a totally changed man. He couldn’t have been nicer to Alan!
Alan always loved Jerry Herman as a person. Charles and Carol worshiped Jerry. He was God to them. Charles was always very careful that he and Carol did as much as they could for Jerry. Alan was in the car with them when they did the Gay Pride Parade when Carol and Jerry were the grand marshals. For Jerry’s 75th birthday, Alan went on a “cabaret” cruise that celebrated him. It is obvious that he was grateful to Carol for the success she brought to Dolly.
Alan says that David Burns was so funny. He had like a Bert Lahr quality. We
don’t have those kinds of stars anymore like Cyril Ritchard or Bea Lillie or David Burns. There’s no way to describe them to anyone who never saw them. Walter Matthau also had that quality. They could do so much with a look or a take. Although, Carol and Ginger were different in their approaches to the role, David stayed the same opposite both. Ginger was the only one other than Carol of the Broadway Dollys that Gower actually directed. The others were directed by Lucia Victor. During the Hay and Feed Shop scene, Gower wanted Ginger to face up stage to comment on the “forest green shutters”. Gower could not get her to face upstage. She said to Gower, “Ginger Rogers does not turn her back on her audiences.”
The openings for Alan were always exciting. He loved Martha’s opening night although there was no press there. Betty Grable’s opening night was so outrageous because it was “so gay”! The critics were there for that one and got to see a great opening night. On Betty’s opening night, every time she did something, the audience stood up. Alan does not do theater that much anymore but he still is a publicist.
Alan is now mostly doing jazz and club work. Hello, Dolly! was Alan’s training time. He learned everything he learned working on press for Dolly. The whole “star” thing: How to work with a star and deal with a star. How to cover events, going to photo shoots, how to cover opening nights and how to cover celebrities coming backstage. When Ginger was doing the show and celebrities came to the show, afterward, he would go to the Associated Press and they would be in the paper the next day. You can’t do that today. If you had an opening night or a part or an event, the photographer would give you the roll of film and you would rush to the AP to get it in the next day’s papers. They would process it while you waited and if they saw something they liked, they would tell you and you would type out a caption and it would be wired out. You can’t do that today. The columnists were different back then. The Earl Wilsons and Dorothy Kilgallens and Walter Winchells worked at night.
You could call Earl Wilson at one in the morning and give him a news item and it would be in the paper the next day. Leonard Lyons made the rounds. You knew you could find him at Sardi’s or Sardi’s Wast or Twenty One at a particular time. You could walk in at twelve thirty in the morning and hand him a column item.
The opening in Las Vegas was both good and bad. It was Alan’s vacation time and he talked Lee into letting him spend his vacation there. He spent two weeks there with Dorothy. The hotel put him up. Dorothy and Ginger opened the same night. Dorothy opened the early show and Ginger did the second show. One of Alan’s other clients was Caesar’s Palace which had just opened. The Odd Couple starring Mickey Rooney and Gary Crosby was playing there. He was trying to get as many press people as possible to cover Dorothy instead of Ginger. Florabel Muir, the columnist who had taken over for Hedda Hopper in The Daily News, had come to Vegas for the opening. Alan took Florabel to The Odd Couple for the dinner show and then to Dorothy’s performance for the late show.
Other stars on the strip attended included Rosemary Clooney, Jerry Vale and Virginia Mayo (who was a doing a dinner-theater comedy next door at the Thunderbird). Ginger went over to Florbel at the party to say hello and hopefully receive a compliment. Like Hedda and Louella, Florabel had been writing for newspapers and magazines for years. Ginger came up to her and asked her if she liked the show, Florabel knew about the rivalry between her and Dorothy and said to Ginger, “I didn’t see you.” Ginger was a little taken aback and then she said, “But I just did it in Los Angeles for three months.” Without missing a beat and without changing her expression, Florabel said, “I didn’t know that.”
Ginger was very aloof during the entire Vegas run and was only seen at
showtime, when she would cover her head with a scarf and run through the casino to the showroom (which was the only way to get there). Dorothy on the other hand, was everywhere all the time–in the coffee shop, at the tables, etc., chatting with everybody in sight, including the waiters and hotel staff. She said the “bosses” like it when they see you mingling with the customers and gambling!
The biggest change Alan has seen in the industry since his involvement with Dolly is that you don’t have stars anymore. Musicals also didn’t cost multi-millions back then. Hit shows back then had a big star. Most of them were star vehicles.