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Emily Yancy

EMILY YANCY (Irene Molloy: Pearl Bailey/Cab Calloway Production of Hello, Dolly! 1967)

Jack Crowder and Emily Yancy (Life Magazine)

In 1966, Emily Yancy had just started in the business. She was brand new. She had been doing some club work.

Prior to that, she worked in medical research.

She started out in the business by being the opening act for several big names, Woody Allen, for instance. Emily always loved the stage. Her manager heard that they were looking for a standby for Leslie Uggams in Hallelujah, Baby! Emily got the job. She held that position for five months, around the same time that plans were underway for the Pearl Bailey company of Dolly to take over the St. James Theater. Emily was asked to audition for the role of Mrs. Molloy. The powers that be with Dolly had heard of Emily and also heard that she was great as Leslie Uggams’ standby. David Merrick and Lucia Victor were quite anxious to see Emily. She met with them twice. She was offered the role of Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly and that is how she fell into that wonderful life experience of doing that show.

Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey

Lucia Victor and the Merrick office were very smart in their casting choices. Physically, it was a rainbow of colors, not only the costumes, but the hues of the skin of the actors and dancers and singers, from alabaster to ebony. There were all kinds of different looks of what African-Americans can look like and it was just breath-taking. Emily sat out in the house and watched the scenes she was not in during dress rehearsals.

It was such a beautiful range. She has people come up to her still who tell her they saw her in this show. They tell her they were in heaven seeing this show and that they were so happy to see this production. Many of them were children when they saw this. George C. Wolfe said he saw this production when he was twelve and it is what prompted his desire to go into the theater.

Once she found out that she was going to be appearing with Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway. She was anxious. She was raring to go.

Working with Miss Bailey was very interesting. Emily learned a lot from her. One of the things Miss Bailey used to do, as I have written about previously, was her “third act.”

The cast got to meet the most important prominent people of the world at that time.

When they came to see the show, Miss Bailey would bring them up on stage. Seeing her interact with these greats was a wonderful learning experience for the cast. They all got to meet such luminaries and stars, Louis Armstrong, Leontyne Price, Ava Gardner, Tony Bennett, the President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, and many others. Miss Bailey was an interesting person. She loved doing the show contrary to published reports. She created quite an incredible Dolly. She was hysterical.

Emily also got to meet another president when she was starring in Man of La Mancha. Jimmy Carter used her dressing room.

Someone had said to Emily, “You don’t want to leave Hallelujah, Baby as a standby. This is a sure thing. An ‘all black company of Hello, Dolly’, as it was referred to at that time, is not going to run. ” Hallelujah, Baby! was the first and only time that Emily stood by for anyone. She knew that it was her forte into the Broadway community.

As it was the “all black company of Hello, Dolly” made history. It opened on November 12th, 1967 and played through December 24th, 1969.

During the rehearsal process, they were working so hard that she didn’t have time to think of whether or not this would be a success. She didn’t even consider whether or not there would be an official opening night party.

The show previewed in Washington DC at The National Theater prior to going to Broadway October 11 through November 8, 1967. On November 4th, President and Mrs. Johnson surprised the full house at performance of native Washingtonian Pearl Bailey. The Johnsons arrived in time for the second act. The Johnsons joined Bailey and Calloway on the stage for one of the many curtain calls. People were fighting for tickets in DC. It kind of dawned on Emily after the show opened, “Wow! This is great!” It was such a great show and everyone was at the top of their game. Emily suddenly realized they were creating quite a flurry of excitement. When it arrived on Broadway, that excitement continued.  She NOW knew this was going to be BIG! Everyone came down and the press went bonkers.

She never realized it was going to be as big as it was. Having never done a Broadway show before, she had nothing to compare it to. Morgan Freeman was also in the cast as Rudolph!

Of course, this show put Emily “out there”. It helped her quite a bit. Suddenly, people knew who she was.

Emily left before the end of the run to play Aldonza, Dulcinea del Toboso, on  Man of La Mancha on Broadway. Towards the end, she was rehearsing La Mancha during the day and doing Dolly in the evenings. When Emily first went into La Mancha, she was offered matinees. They liked what she was doing so much that she took over the role completely. Ernestine Jackson, who understudied Emily, replaced her.

Emily liked what she did with Mrs. Molloy.

She also loved working with Cab Calloway, “Mr. C.” He was quite a “little rascal.” Once he was taking bets from the company on a Triple Crown winner, Forward Pass, in 1968. Forward Pass was an American Thoroughbred Champion racehorse who is the only horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby to have been declared the winner as the result of a disqualification. Everyone in the company loved Cab Calloway. He was a learning experience for the company as well. Imagine having two dynamos like Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey to work with night after night!

Cab and Chris Callaway

Cab’s daughter, Chris, played Minnie Fay in this production. (Chris passed away in 2008). It was a loving company. They had a wonderful friendship. Emily is still friendly with many from that company.

They were the darlings of Broadway during that time. It was quite a wonderful time.

She looks back fondly on it, needless to say. They had a feature in Life Magazine with Pearl Bailey on the cover on December 8th, 1967. After Life Magazine, Emily thought, “I like Broadway!”

The one thing that Emily learned from this production that she has carried forward throughout the rest of her career is the element of hard work. She learned not to cut corners. You give it your all. She was always like that. She observed firsthand how hard Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway worked.

Of today’s stars, Emily would love to see Whoopi Goldberg take on Dolly. Emily even feels Margaret Cho would make a fun Dolly.

Emily has done a lot of stage work during her career. She considers Dolly her birthplace because she got a lot of attention out of it. As mentioned earlier, she had been singing in nightclubs interspersed with a few television appearances including The Tonight Show.

It happened all so quickly. All of her heart’s dreams were coming true.

Because it was such a learning experience, it affected her personal life as well as her professional life. It opened the world for her.

Emily brought her beautiful voice to this production which was perfect for Mrs. Molloy. She also, obviously, brought a new look to Mrs. Molloy. She also brought a great sense of comic timing. She contributed immensely to this production. She never “settled” into the character of Mrs. Molloy. She knew, even though she was essentially starting out, that you don’t go on “remote”. She kept trying to keep it fresh for herself. At that time, she was trying to just keep giving the character life. The freedom was in the fact that this was all kind of new to her. She had no boundaries. After a while, she got to realize that you just have to keep it moving, you have to keep HER alive.

Sometimes you’re as tired as a “son of a gun.” You still have to keep the energy up.

Her worst experience with the show was shin splints. She used to have to run on stage and make a sudden stop. After awhile, it took a toll on her tiny body. Her legs would hurt every now and then. “Shin splints” is a terribly sounding name and it hurts as terribly as it sounds.

Emily loved working with Lucia Victor. “She was a delightful woman.” She was very kind. Emily remembers her as being very easy going. Lucia was very happy with this company.  Jerry Herman was a sweetheart, “cute as a button.” She thanks him for the beautiful music they had to sing.

She was familiar with the title song and Before the Parade Passes By. However, Ribbons down My Back was one she was not familiar with prior to getting cast. When she first heard it, she thought it was pretty.

Of course, that song was not as popular as the other ones. She fell in love with it. It’s a beautiful song and fits perfectly into the story line. Dolly and Mrs. Molloy are almost parallel to each other in their quests to rejoin the human race. They are both trying to stay ALIVE and in touch with themselves. It is a “proud” song about surviving after a husband has died.

Why does the title song stop the show EVERY TIME? “That red gown doesn’t hurt!” Add to that those fellas AND the music and the production with the “waiters” jumping over the orchestra pit. Pearl Bailey brought the house down every time!

David Merrick was a true Broadway mogul. There was one time when Emily and Mr. Merrick had a little “challenge”. It was during the later part of Dolly. As mentioned earlier, she was rehearsing La Mancha and performing Dollysimultaneously. There would be no rest period between leaving Dolly and going into La Mancha. She got really sick at one point. She missed one show of Dolly, and Mr. Merrick wanted to dock her! She had missed no performances prior to that. She did what she was hired to do, so when he docked her for being sick, it was an insult. She had worked really hard on that show. She challenged him, and she won.

On Emily’s closing night, Pearl Bailey did make an announcement. She also gave her a watch.

Hello, Dolly was a birth for Emily Yancy as far as her heart’s wishes.

She had always loved the Broadway stage. She used to dance around her house to South Pacific and The King and I which she eventually did do.

Dolly was a dream come true. As an African-American, especially at that time, still is, the opportunities for an actor or actress were incredibly limited. To get a chance to play a role such as this on Broadway was quite an opportunity. The fact that it was so successful and helped get Emily established   was icing on the cake!

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