Garrett Lewis: Cornelius Hackl, Mary Martin London Company
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Garrett Lewis was a featured regular performer on The Red Skelton Show for three seasons. His career began while still in college when he was offered the dance lead for a season at the Kansas City Starlight Theatre. After that season, he went to New York. His first Broadway show was My Fair Lady followed by First Impressions in which he understudied the lead as well as performing the part. David Merrick later brought him back to New York in the intimate Los Angeles revue, Vintage 60. Aside from his television work which included many major network shows at the time on both Coasts, he appeared extensively in clubs across the country, supporting such leading ladies as Anna Maria Alberghetti, Arlene Dahl, Dorothy Provine and others. He was a soloist in The Lido Show in Paris, and appeared as the male lead in Little Mary Sunshine in Paris.
A friend of Garrett’s, who was assisting Gower Champion on the Broadway Company of Hello, Dolly, told him that a new road company was going to be starting a West Coast tour and would be coming out to LA three months later to hold auditions. Garrett knew that Charles Nelson Reilly, an old friend of his, had played it on Broadway and most likely would continue with the tour. Garrett had only one experience in summer stock years earlier at the Kansas City Starlight Theater.
Also, in that show was Charles Nelson Reilly! Garrett also felt that he was the furthest from Reilly in type as one could imagine. His friend told him to just keep it in mind because they would be casting.
The Company was going to open the new Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA. It was built for opera and classic fare.
Hello, Dolly would be the first stage show booked there. This was Carol Channing’s first National Company. In addition to Garrett’s friend calling him and asking him to audition, he also got a call from the company stage manager, Pat Tolson. Garrett’s name had been given to Pat. Garrett was doing The Red Skelton Show on CBS at the time and did not think he could even fit an audition into his schedule. That was a five day work schedule. He was also preparing an act with Cyd Charise at the time. It was for a single gig, for him to partner her in Lake Tahoe. They were going to be recreating the Slaughter on Tenth Avenue ballet.
At this time, Garrett had an apartment on Newport Beach that he would retreat to on weekends. The auditions were being held on a Monday and Garrett said he would try and get there on his break. He was being very cavilier about it. He thought it was a long shot. On his way in to CBS on that Monday morning, he stopped at a local music store and picked up a couple of the songs from the show for his audition. He went to the audition and Gower said, “Well! It is lovely to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.” After the audition they talked for a bit and Gower gave him the big monologue for Cornelius and told him to go out and look it over. He went out, looked it over, came back in and read it, and Gower said, “Thank you.” He left and thought nothing more about it.
They hired someone else and they were in rehearsals. On Friday night, he and a friend of his, Howard Jeffrey, who was Jerome Robbins’ assistant, were having dinner at his favorite health food restaurant Marge and Gower Champion along with Blake Edwards is sitting nearby. Howard pointed them out and Garrett went over to say hello. Garrett wished Gower much success with Dolly and went back to rejoin Howard. Howard pointed out to Garrett that Gower kept glancing over at their table.
The next day, Garrett went to rehearsals at CBS. They were getting ready to tape and he was already in make-up. The stage manager came to tell Garrett he had a phone call. It was Pat Tolson asking Garrett to go and see Gower to audition again. They were rehearsing at the Equity Hall downtown. Garrett told him they were getting ready to tape. He asked how long it would be before they would tape. He was told he had about ninety minutes. He then told Pat he would be right down and went downtown.
He met Gower in the back of the theater and Gower told him he just wanted to see him again. Gower asked him to do the monologue again. He did, and, once again, he got “Thank you.” Garrett is wondering, “What is this all about?” Garrett felt put out. He had been called out of a taping for what he thought at the time was a waste of his time. By the time he got back to CBS, everyone had been looking for him. He was told he had a phone call from the David Merrick office. He was told he had the part and they asked him if he could start the next day. He worked out his deal and started rehearsals the next day. It was a Friday.
On Saturday, they travelled to San Diego to begin the tour there. The first performance was on a Sunday night. Garrett had one run through on Saturday before opening that Sunday night! Gower had replaced the actor who had originally been cast in the role. They played a week of “previews” in San Diego. Then they went to the Dorothy Candler Pavilion in Los Angeles for their official opening.
Garrett felt the role of Dolly Levi seemed as if it was written for Carol Channing. He had a great rapport with her and her husband, Charles Lowe. He found that with Carol, actors were pretty much on their own. They didn’t get much help or support from her. If something went wrong, she would deal with it. She seemed very happy with Garrett. They got along famously and he loved her. She was the ultimate professional and it was a wonderful time for him.
While performing the show in Los Angeles, Garrett also shot a couple of television pilots. From there, they went to San Francisco to play the Opera House. While in San Francisco, they were dark on Sundays. One night, they went to see famed female impersonator, Charles Pierce, who later became a friend of Garrett’s. Garrett and Harvey Evans thought they were being anonymous audience members. Shortly into the top of the show, Charles started singing Hello, Dolly as Carol Channing and went and sat on Garrett’s lap. He had seen the show! Charles recognized Garrett and Harvey in the audience.
While in San Francisco, one day on his day off, he went sailing off the coast of Sausalito. When he came back to his apartment afterward, there was a message for him to call Gower. He called and Gower asked him how he would feel about going to London. At the first run through with the Mary Martin Company at the Drury Lane Theater, Carleton Carpenter fell off the stage and hurt his hip. Garrett had never been to London and was excited at the prospect. He didn’t even own a passport at that time. Garrett was told not to worry about that and was instructed not to tell Carol. Gower said he would deal with it. Carol had really wanted to be the one to take Dolly to London at the time and was upset that it was Mary Martin instead of her. Carol would eventually take Dolly to the Drury Lane in 1979.
He did the show the next night and the morning after that, he received a passport from the David Merrick office. He did the show that night and caught the red eye to London. He was picked up at the airport and taken to The Savoy Hotel where Gower was staying. He practiced with Gower and then he went to the theater for an orchestra rehearsal. Gower brought the entire company together and introduced Gower and told everyone that he was not changing a thing. Garrett was stepping into everything that Carleton had done. Carleton was there that day and justifiably was not happy about the circumstances. Garrett was then taken over and introduced to David Merrick who was sitting on a folding chair on the side of the stage. Monday night was the first preview with the Queen Mother in attendance.
Garrett went on not knowing the blocking except what he rehearsed with Mary Martin in the Dancing number.
Mary Martin was different from Carol Channing but was equally wonderful.
Hello, Dolly!premiered in the West End at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on December 2, 1965 and ran for 794 performances. Champion directed and choreographed, and the cast starred Mary Martin as Dolly and Loring Smith as Horace Vandergelder, with Johnny Beecher as Barnaby, Garrett Lewis as Cornelius, Mark Alden as Ambrose Kemper and Marilynn Lovell as Irene Molloy. Dora Bryan replaced Martin during the run.
Garrett stayed with the show as long as an American could stay with a British Company at that time, one year. It depended upon the demand of one’s role in the show. If they could be replaced by British actors, they would be. The first people to go were Judith Drake as Ernestine and other players on that tier. Marilynn Lovell left shortly after that and Mary Martin left in May of 1966. Dora Bryan then took over the role of Dolly Levi.
Dora Bryan was a lovely lady and rehearsed forever! She started out playing it very much like Mary Martin and very straight with no English humor…at first. About two months into it, she suddenly became the Brighton Beach comedienne that everyone loved. Garrett didn’t know her prior to this and had no frame of reference. She was a Music Hall entertainer. She was famous for certain things. She began adding all of those elements to the show. Dora stayed with the show until it closed.
When Garrett left the show, he went to Spain and did a movie.
Garrett revisited Dolly several years later in Anaheim with players from various Dolly productions. He played opposite Joanne Horne as Irene Molloy. Patrice Munsel played Dolly. He then got a call to do it in Hawaii with Carole Cook. He thought Patrice Munsel was fine. He LOVED Carole! They shared a house in Hawaii. The director of the Hawaiian Company was trying to change everything from Gower’s original concept. Carole and Garrett went ballistic. They desired to do the tried and true. Their thought was don’t mess with success. They knew the show. Carole had starred in the Australian and New Zealand Companies. They were very copacetic as to what Hello, Dolly was and should be. They had two weeks of rehearsals.
Garrett was also responsible for hiring a young unknown to play Minnie Fay in that production. Her name is Georgia Engel. The auditions were held for the rest of the Company in Hawaii and Garrett thought she was terrific. There was something magical about her performance. They also became good friends.
Georgia actually developed a crush on Garrett. Her father was in the Coast Guard and there were several catered dinners with the Company and the Coast Guard on the base at Waikiki. It was incredible and Garrett also loved her…as a friend. Georgia had this innate gift to play that quality that the world has come to love. She was funny without being physical. It was that voice. Interesting side note, Georgia’s sister was Miss Hawaii.
The last time Garrett saw Georgia, he was designing something at Universal Studios and she was on the lot.
Looking back, Garrett was a very put together guy at the time that Hello, Dolly came his way. After Carol Channing was cast in Dolly, the rest of the casting was done to make larger than life cartoonish characters. Garrett brought a more realistic approach with a great sense of humor to the role.
Jerry Herman captured all of the qualities that work in a great musical naiveté; dreamers, those that are striving and desiring for more. This show’s story proves that it does happen. This show is about making one’s dreams come true. In the case of Dolly herself, she is a charming lady. This is an appealing character who makes her life work.
Garrett has had two careers since Dolly. Right after Dolly, he did a few movies. He was also cast in Applause with a run of the show contact but ended up not doing it. He has since stopped performing. He believes that one gets what they dream of in life. He desired to be on the stage desperately and he got it, but he didn’t desire it to the point that some people who go into the theater makes it their lives. He just desired to be a working entertainer. He didn’t want to be a STAR. He never waited a table in his life. He never had the will to just work at it. Opportunities came his way and he took them. At the beginning of his career, he went right from summer stock into My Fair Lady. After Hello, Dolly came along; he went right into STAR starring Julie Andrews at Twentieth Century Fox. After leaving performing, he became a designer for film and television which is what he retired at. He did too many things very well and it was never hard. He is not one to say one should concentrate on one thing. He thinks that if one has multiple interests and one can be expressed in those areas, go for it. He has designed houses for Barbra Streisand and Herbert Ross. That led him into designing movies.
When an opportunity presents itself and one is not prepared and does not take the chance, it may not happen again.
There are many fond memories of his Dolly days, but nothing compares with the night the Queen Mother came to see the show in London. That night, he also met the Queen and Lord Mountbatten.
When the curtain rises and the audience sings God Save the Queen, it is magic. The Royal Family is sitting up in a box stage right.
Garrett feels that he is an Anglophile anyway! He loved living there.
Hello, Dollyis obviously an experience that he will not soon forget. It afforded him the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. It took him to London. He became great friends with Mary Martin and her husband, Richard Halliday. It was a wonderful life changing experience. He loved it. Appearing at The Drury Lane Theater was a big WOW.
Lewis died Jan. 29, 2013 of natural causes at his home in Woodland Hills.