The road to this film goes back further than most people think. The birth of its musical origins derived from Austrian Johann Nestroy’s 1842 play,Einen Jux Will Er Sich Machen that American playwright Thornton Wilder eventually reconceived and rechristened The Matchmaker, which is the basis of Hello, Dolly! (1842), (He Will Go on a Spree or He’ll Have Himself a Good Time), is a three-act musical play, designated as a Posse mit Gesang, first performed at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 10 March 1842. The music was by Adolf Müller.
On stage, Hello Dolly! had been a grand old show sweeping the Tony Awards in ten categories in 1964 and was touted to be one of the greatest musicals ever to be filmed. The Matchmaker remains one of the great American plays from the latter half of the 20th century.
Is there anyone who doesn’t know straight forward light-hearted tale, which is blessed with winning songs by Jerry Herman, concerning a middle aged matchmaker employed by wealthy hay and feed merchant, Horace Vandergelder to secure himself a bride?
When Fred was working on the film Star! Starring Julie Andrews, Michael Kidd came up to Michael and said, “What are you doing next year?” Fred responded by saying he didn’t even know what he would be doing the next day. Michael then informed Fred that he was going to be doing Hello, Dolly! starring Barbra Streisand and asked Fred if he would like to be one of the dancers in the film. Michael wanted Fred to be on the “skeleton crew.” A skeleton crew is like a nucleus of about twenty dancers, ten guys and ten girls. They learn all the numbers and when the director needs fifty people in a dance number, they bring the other people on and they are taught the dances.
That way they save a lot of money. Michael was one to always make jokes. Therefore, Fred thought at first it was a joke. The film had already been announced in the Hollywood Reporter.
Star! was finished in December 1967. Filming for Hello, Dolly! began on April 15th, 1968 and lasted almost ninety days. There was a long rehearsal period prior to filming. The day that Barbra made her first appearance is a day Fred will never forget. Everyone had been anxiously waiting to meet her. Fred had never seen her. Please note that Funny Girl, the film, had not yet been released. For Fred, prior to meeting her, she was just a voice. When she first arrived on the set, the first observation was that she was not very tall. She was wearing a mini skirt and a nice blouse and white boots. Within five minutes, she was one of the gang.
Dolly would end up becoming a long period of work. Working with Michael Kidd is the greatest. Fred considers himself a Michael Kidd dancer. Working with Michael, you knew you were going to work very hard. Michael Kidd loved strong male dancers. Fred and Michael had also worked together on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Having Michael as choreographer, Michael was convinced that it would be a good movie.
Prior to doing the film, Fred had seen Carol Channing play the role. Fred does believe it is a good movie. We’ve all heard that Barbra was too young which Fred can see, as well. But as a movie, he thinks it is fine.
Being involved, you also have a different outlook from those that were not. There were of course some aspects of the show that were gone. Who decides what the final product will be? He does feel that Michael Kidd did a great job on the movie. The dances were not done as they were done originally by Gower Champion. With movies, everything is more visual. You can go anywhere. Instead of being a three person scene in a café, you can open up to include hundreds of patrons inside and outside the café. Then, you’re out in the streets singing and dancing. Fred can be seen in almost every number in the film. When they were filming Put on Your Sunday Clothes, the cast called it Take off yur Sunday Clothes because it was so hot! Fred is also in the Waiter’s Gallop and Dancing. The finale wedding was filmed at WestPoint. Most of the “principle” dancers were not part of Before The Parade Passes By. At the time that was filmed, they were rehearsing other numbers, and thousands of extras had been hired to film that on the back lot of Twentieth Century Fox. A portion of the Fourteenth Street set still stands today. The casting office went to the unemployment office to hire out of work actors for that sequence! The extras guild did not have as many people as they were requesting. They utilized five thousand extras! They did the same thing for the Harmonia Gardens to flesh it out.
Fred tells me that he cannot recall ANYONE EVER having to wait for Barbra Streisand. She was the consummate professional at all times and was just great. It’s easy for people to say that someone is temperamental…especially when they are not there to work with that person first hand…and it is doubly easy when it happens to be a woman. Streisand was disciplined from Broadway and she is a perfectionist. One day, she said something to a sound guys, as the cast and crew were standing there. She said something was not sounding right to her. The sound guy said, “Don’t worry, we can fix it.” And she said, “I just hear it differently.” The guy went, “Oh. OK.”
What she hears and what they put out mechanically are two different things.
Fred doesn’t believe that Hello, Dolly! is one of the five best musicals ever written. He believes the greatest musical ever written in Singing in the Rain. Maybe Dolly IS one of the five, it’s hard to say. If you are up against a hip hop musical, how do you compare the two? You can’t. He does believe that Hello, Dolly! is one of the most gorgeous musicals on the screen.
Set designer, John DeCuir won the Academy Award for his set designs. He died in 1991. The day Fred walked onto the set for the Harmonia Gardens, his heart stopped. It was the most beautiful place he had ever been in. It was absolutely exquisite. Everything was perfect. He does feel the film is a little too long.
He did not like Horace Vandergelder, not from the very beginning. When I asked Fred what he was like on the set, his answer was, “Next question!”
When the film first came out, Fred was talking with Alice Faye. She had a desire to play Dolly. The powers at be at the time that she was too old. Fred thought, “How could they say that to Alice Faye? She MADE Twentieth Century Fox! He feels that she would have been a great choice at that time. He says we’re not old. We’ve just been here longer!
The premiere in Hollywood was at Graumen’s Chinese Theater in December 1969. It was a great night and to finally see the finished product. At times, on that screen in 70mm, Streisand looked like the most beautiful woman in the world. In So Long Dearie and in the title number, they came in for these close-ups in which she looked exquisite. When you see pictures of her in the purple dress from Dancing and Before The Parade Passes By, that’s exactly how she looked on the set. However, on film she looks so tall, and she isn’t. She looked beautiful.
He danced his ass off in that movie, his words! He loves being a part of this film. He is thrilled that Michael Kidd asked him personally to be a part of it. He is a huge admirer of Streisand and in happy to have worked with her. He got to go to work every day on something he was loving. Gene Kelly was wonderful as a director. He was a wonderful man. Imagine, as a dancer, getting to work with two of the movies most prolific choreographers in one film! Kelly was always looking at the movie through that lyrical line to keep it moving. The line kept flowing.
Some numbers took a week to film. The Waiter’s Gallop and Hello, Dolly! took a couple of weeks. It was very involved and people were constantly getting hurt.
During the Dolly number, at one time, one of the dancers did a flip off of the steps onto a platform with a broom and hurt his foot. He was a blonde dancer. Michael asked Fred to take over that track. You see a blonde jump, and Fred, a brunette, land! There are several instances of that happening in the film. The choreography was hard.
Two of Fred’s favorite memories of the film both involve Put on Your Sunday Clothes.
When they were filming in Garrison, it was so hot that the street melted. They had remodeled the whole front of the town to look like 1890. They also blacktopped all of the streets. Then they stenciled it to look like cobble stones.
The day they went to shoot the number, the humidity was off the charts. In the middle of the number, Streisand screamed, “I’m sinking!” She wasn’t the only one. ALL of the dancers were melting into the blacktopped street! They had to stop shooting for the day because of this. Fifteen minutes after stopping, the street was melting down the hill like molten lava! It was that humid. Another memory also involving this number took place in the finale of this number on the train.
They are weaving in and out with the choreography. This is in three sections. As they got to the third section, and the train is chugging along, Streisand suggested that everyone hide in the little baggage compartment on the train. She also suggested that only two or three remain visible to the film crew.
When the production manager questioned where everyone was, they were told that the dancer/singers were taking a break and were at the other end where the train was traveling to. It was a mile from where they were filming. The production manager said, “For God’s sake, we now have to go back and get them!” All of a sudden, the doors burst open, and Streisand id the first one out. She said, “I had nothing to do with it! They grabbed me and pulled me in!”
Gene Kelly looked at everyone as they stood there shaking their heads. He knew this cast very well. He simply said, “OK. Let’s try it again.” They all thought, “God’s gonna get you, Barbra.” Later on, when they were singing with the playback, she went up on her lyrics drawing a complete blank.
She looked at one of the singers and said, “What are the lyrics?” He said, “What do you mean? I’m leaning on you! You’re the star, I’m nobody.” It cracked everybody up. It was all friendly.
I asked Fred if there was anything he learned from Dolly that he has carried forward throughout the rest of his career. He said, “Not to dance outside in high humidity in upstate New York in July or August!”
Fred believes Barbra is a great actress AND funny. Lucille Ball once said to Fred that she was not funny. He disagreed with her. She said that she had great writers to make her look funny. She said she simply read it and did it. He thought at that moment that one has to be a great actor or actress in order to do that. Barbra succeeded as Dolly as far as Fred is concerned.