Jim Brochu’s Memories of David Burns and Hello, Dolly!
Jim Brochu is one of the finest actors working in the theater today. At a very young age, David Burns became a mentor. Jim was lucky enough to be surrounded by a Who’s Who of the greatest names in show business early on in his career.
Not only was he surrounded by these greats, they became his FRIENDS. The walls in his gorgeous apartment that he shares with his partner of 28 years, Steve Schalchlin, are covered with photos and testimonials of Zero Mostel, Ethel Merman, Lucille Ball, David Burns, and too many to mention here.
I was thrilled to sit down and discuss his memories earlier this week. It is of a bygone era that we will never see the likes of ever again.
Jim’s father, who worked on Wall Street, met “Davy” first. His father did some of David’s investments. Jim met David Burns very briefly after Music Man when he was 10 years old. He was Mayor Shinn in that production. They met again after Do Re Mi.
At that time, David and Jim were becoming friends although Jim’s father tried to keep him away from David because he had the foulest mouth that ever was. Pat Carroll referred to him as “Mr. Naughty”. Sondra Lee disputes that. She says he was “down and dirty”. Jim corroborates that. He said they were in an elevator once and he took his penis out and the lady in the elevator screamed. Later Davie said, Yes, she screamed, but she didn’t let go.”
|Jim and his Dad|
When Jim saw David in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum, David just “knocked him out of his chair.” He was the funniest man he had ever seen. Jim, by this time, was getting older. He went back stage that night wearing his military uniform which he thought was hilarious. “This fat kid in a military uniform!”
The souvenir program for Forum was out and Jim asked him to sign it. He still has it. He wrote, “To Jim, You’re always welcome. Davie Burns”. Jim asked, “Do you mean that?”
He said, “Yeah”. Well, if he meant it…whenever Jim came in from school during the run of Forum, he would go to the theatre. Jim went to military school on Long Island and would come into Manhattan on Friday nights, meet his father on Wall Street, and then they would go uptown for Jim’s father’s “night on the town”. They would go to Sardi’s for drinks. Then, Jim would go to the theater by himself and pick up David after the show and they would meet his father at Jilly’s which was right next to the Alvin Theater. It is now the Russian Samovar. It was a wonderful place.
One evening, Jim came in to find his father singing. His father was bombed, singing “Hey, Jealous Lover” with this lady, as he turned the corner, he realized, was Judy Garland!
She was as drunk as he was. She extended her hand and in that Garland tremulous voice said, “You must be Jimmy.”
|David Burns and Jim Brochu|
After leaving Jilly’s, they would end up at Toots Shor’s and that would end the evening. David would make the rounds with them. It was during Forum that they really bonded. It was during that time that David got the offer to do Dolly. There is a book that has it all wrong, according to Jim. The book says that David was part of the record deal. Something that Mister Merrick would not have done. David Burns was actually the third choice for Vandergelder.
The first choice was Burl Ives. Merrick thought he would be great in the role but Gower said he wasn’t funny. Merrick wanted Burl Ives and Ethel Merman. The second choice was Art Carney. Art did not want to do a play and by this point, Channing is on board. David had just won the Tony for Forum and he was getting $1250.00 a week. That was 1962 and great money!
Merrick called him up and said, “We want you to do Dolly! We want you to play Vandergelder. It’s very good for your career.” David responded by saying, “I don’t care about my career. It’s not a big part is it? I don’t want to do a big part. I don’t like big parts.” Mister Merrick told him that he would want to do this one. David said, “OK, how much do you want to pay me?” Mister Merrick said, “We’ll pay you what you’re getting now.” David said, “No. I want $2,000 a week.” Mister Merrick said, “David, that’s impossible.” David said, “I mean this from the bottom of my heart. Go F!@# yourself” and he hung up. A day or two later, Mister Merrick called him again and asked him if he would think about $1500.00? David answered, “Yes, I just thought about it. Remember what I said to you before? Go F!@# yourself? I’m saying it again. Go F!@# yourself.” The third time Mister Merrick called, he said come into the office. Soon as he said that, David knew he had the money. Not sure how much Carol was getting at the time, but Jim thinks it was $10,000 plus a percentage. David goes to Merrick’s office and sees Helen Nickerson, deceased now…she was Merrick’s secretary. She tells David that he can go in, that Mister Merrick was expecting him. He took off every stitch of his clothes except his cigar and his black socks and his black shoes.
He knocks on Merrick’s door. Merrick says come in. David doesn’t move. He knocked again. Merrick says come in. Again, David doesn’t move. This routine went on three times. Finally, Mister Merrick got up from his chair and opened the door. There is David stark naked. He looks at Merrick and says, “Any casting today!?!?!” He got his $2,000 and the rest is history. That’s the way he told it to Jim.
Jim watched two dress rehearsals. He got to see Martha Raye’s dress rehearsal. David did the first three weeks with her and then Max Showalter came into the show. Max, according to Jim, was a very sweet man. He was more aristocratic in the role than David. He wasn’t really right for the part. He was ok and movie audiences loved seeing him on stage. Jim remembers when they changed “Come And Be My Butterfly” with The Polka Contest. That happened when Ginger was doing the show.
|Nicole Barth on Right|
Songs about butterflies were all the rage in the 1890s, the time when
“Hello, Dolly!” took place. To satirize this, “Come and Be My
Butterfly” was written for the stage show at the Harmonia Gardens. The
song didn’t work (perhaps the reference was too obscure for most
theatergoers?), so the livelier Polka Contest was substituted after the
show opened on Broadway.
Here are the lyrics:
WHENEVER INSPIRATION FAILS ME
AND THE CITY LIFE CONFUSES
I FORGET WHATEVER AILS ME
JUST BY FOLLOWING THE MUSES
TO A SHADY GLADE WHERE THE ELVES ABIDE
WHERE THE WATER SPRITES AND THE NYMPHS RESIDE
BUT OH THE TWILIGHT OF THE EVENING IS
MY FAVORITE TIME OF ALL
THAT’S WHEN THE LOVELY WING-ED CREATURES
ALL DE LIGHTLY, SPRITELY CALL
WON’T YOU COME AND BE MY BUTTERFLY
AND FLY AWAY WITH ME
ON A PINK PETUNIA PILLOW
WE WILL DREAM AWAY THE DAY
WHILE THE NAUGHTY PUSSY WILLOW
AND THE SHY CALA-LILY
TICKLE US SILLY
IF YOU’LL ONLY BE MY BUTTERFLY
I’LL BE YOUR HONEY BEE
AND WE’LL MERRILY FLY AWAY, AWAY
YES, MERRILY FLY WITH ME.
The script for “Hello, Dolly!” published in
the Best Plays of 1963-1964 includes “Come And Be My Butterfly;” the
official play script substitutes “The Polka Contest”. The tempo would start and Vandergelder would discover Cornelius and Barnaby in the Harmonia Gardens and that’s when the chase would ensue. The butterfly girls would be standing there and the music would stop and David would scream, “Watch those feelers” and bring down the house! My friend Nicole Barth was one of those girls.
Jim would see the show so many times that David said, “You should get a job, you’re just standing there.” David got him a job with the Golub Brothers and they assigned him to the St. James Theater selling Orange Drink. Jim worked at the St. James Theater from the middle of Ginger’s run through the rest. Martha Raye, because David was still playing with her, was coming into the show and Jim was invited to the dress rehearsal. He remembers sitting there with Lucia Victor. He had a great picture of himself with David Burns and Lucia Victor that he gave to Lucia Victor. He didn’t copy it and Lucia is gone. At that rehearsal, Martha did not know the part all that well. She jumps off the cart and says, “Mrs. Dolly Levi!” She reaches into the purse and says, “There’s nothing in here but a mirror and a dildo.” Of course, everybody fell a part.” She couldn’t remember what she was supposed to say, so she said that instead. You could hear the orchestra fall apart. He doesn’t remember if Lucia thought it was very funny. She had a very short rehearsal period. Jim says it was her energy that carried her over.
Once again, the Polka contest went into the show with Ginger. Gower wasn’t too happy about Ginger’s performance as Dolly. Jim said she was ok but played Dolly “cute”. “Oh, Mr Vandergelder” done in a Betty Boop voice. Phyllis Diller was the greatest surprise because she played it straight. She didn’t sell well but this was towards the end of the run. Lucille Ball was offered the part but she also wanted the movie rights.
At one point even Jack Benny was offered the part of Dolly Levi.According to Phyllis Diller’s autobiography “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse“,
in the late 1960s Broadway producer David Merrick approached Benny with
the idea of him playing Dolly Levi in drag in “Hello, Dolly!” opposite
as Horace Vandergelder.
The intention was to turn Broadway on its ear
and revive flagging interest in the show, which had been running since
Danny LaRue, in 1982, played Dolly Levi in London as a big pantomime type of extravaganza. Danny had been approached by Merrick many years earlier, according to his autobiography, but was afraid that American audiences would not accept his type of humor. The idea with Benny and Burns never came to fruition.
Beginning December 26, 1969,she had a three-month run opposite Richard Deacon as the second to last in a succession of replacements. After Diller’s stint, Ethel Merman took over the role until the end of the show’s run in December 1970. Jim was at Merman’s closing night. He taped it from the second row. He knows there are a lot of versions floating around. He was sitting in the second row and he says there are parts where it sounds like she just took the recorder right out of his hand.
Although Jim did not see the show prior to landing at the St. James, he did read read the script when it was Dolly! That Damned Exasperating Woman.
He owned that script for a while but lost LOTS when he moved from LA
back to NY. He also used to own the Vandergelder costume, the purple
tails and Betty Grable’s “Parade Passes By” dress. He saw all the
Broadway Dollys. Carol Channing brought a “truth” to the role.
She was absolutely true to the part. She and David had a perfect chemistry. She adored him and he played to her.
|Here is Jim at 22 years old with Davy, Maureen Stapleton and Garson Kanin at Sardi’s for Kanin’s book party.|
David would “shoot his lines” to Carol upstage. He would deliberately turn three quarters to the audience. When they cut Penny in My Pocket in Detroit, he was over joyed. PARADE was written in Detroit, and replaced
Vandergelder’s song that ended Act One.
It was also at that time that the name of the show was changed to Hello, Dolly!after hearing Louis Armstrong’s 45 of that song.
In December 1963, at the behest of his manager, Louis Armstrong made a demonstration recording of “Hello, Dolly!” for the song’s publisher to use to promote the show.
As successful as the stage show and title song itself turned out to be,
however, the tune “Hello, Dolly!” became caught up in a lawsuit which
could have endangered timely plans for bringing the musical to the
Mack David (1912–1993), an Academy Award-nominated composer also known for his compositions for television, sued for infringement of copyright, because the first four bars of Herman’s were the same as those in the refrain
of David’s song “Sunflower” from 1948. As he recounts in his memoirs,
Herman had never heard “Sunflower” before the lawsuit, and wanted a
chance to defend himself in court, but, for the sake of those involved
in the show and the potential film, he reluctantly agreed to pay a
settlement before the case would have gone to trial. (Source Wikipedia)
Although she never went on on Broadway, Jim said that Carol’s standby,
Joanne Worley, was simply amazing in rehearsals. She is a marvelous
actress and was committed to the part. He still remembers her in her
white rehearsal skirt. Martha was a clown. She played it very broadly
and brought out the “Irish” Gallagher side in Dolly.
Betty Grable was lots of fun. Her dressing room door was always open.
Carol’s was closed. Ginger’s door was always closed. She was “one of the guys”. A phrase I keep hearing about Betty. She would be backstage in her “merry widow” and boots for her opening number and say, “OK, guys! What are we doing after the show tonight?” Jim said she was very sweet but that she wasn’t great in the part. He considers her one of the weakest.
They put more dancing in for Ginger and for Betty. Ginger was more in the “Dancing” number. Some of what Sondra Lee had done in that number went to Ginger when she came into the show. There was a two week interim when they were waiting for Pearl Bailey’s company to come in. Betty’s contract was up and she refused to stay with the show for those two weeks. Bibi Osterwald took over for those two weeks.
Pearl Bailey’s troupe was originally supposed to be a road show. After the success at The National Theater in Washington DC, he decided to bring the show to New York which was one of the greatest moves he made after casting Channing.
Jim says Phyllis Diller, who came in after Bailey, was one of the best. Again, she played it straight. She was not “Phyllis Diller”. There were none of the crazy laughs.
Jim said watching Connell in the role of Vandergelder was like seeing a “carbon copy” of Burns. David did, however, have a bit that when Connell tried to replicate it, failed. It was a bit that he would do with his eyes, harrumphing under his breath, with his jowls shaking. It was such a great bit that it would read all the way to the back of the house. Carol loved that bit so when that happened, it was at the wardrobe in Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop. “Stand aside, Mr, Vandergelder. It’s too dangerous.” They would be nose to nose and David would do his jowl thing. The audience would howl as Carol said, “I can see your muscles ripple ripple ripple.” The more she said ripple, the more he did his bit.
Last week, I interviewed Gordon Connell.
Gordon was David’s understudy but did not go on until 1966 when David
took a much needed vacation.
Jim was at the St. James Theater (he was
working in the concession at the time) the week Gordon went on. This was
opposite Ginger Rogers. David had a working farm in East Stroudsburg,
Pennsylvania and Jim drove him to the farm for his respite from Dolly.
|Cab Callaway and Pearl Bailey|
Pearl Bailey was not a nice woman. Jim said he was at Sardi’s one night. She was eating at the next table. This 10 year old kid went up to her and asked for her autograph. She said, “Not until I finish eating” and went on eating with that kid standing there with tears welling up in his eyes. She went on eating and talking while that kid stood there frozen. The mother finally walked over and took him away.
One of Pearl’s standbys was an actress by the name of Novella Nelson.
Novella was wonderful in the part. If Pearl didn’t feel like going on
any night, Novella was at the ready. Thelma Carpenter was the other.
Thelma ended up doing 121 performances. One night, Novella started the
show and Pearl found out Henry Kissinger was in the audience. In the
middle of the show, Pearl took over.
She said, “I’m feeling better, honey. You can go home now.” Novella was
still in the orange opening dress and Pearl came on in the green and
pink with purple sleeves end of Act One dress. One night, she didn’t
feel like changing clothes. She opened the show in her blue sailor So, Long Dearie dress. She showed the audience her costumes and told them where she would normally wear those costumes and in what scenes!
(I have heard this story from more than one source). Actor’s Equity was going to bring her up on charges because of the “third act” she was doing each night. She would make the entire company stand behind her while she did a 45 minute set each night after the curtain calls. She and Cab Callaway were having a great time. Actor’s Equity told her she could do whatever she wanted, but that the curtain was coming down at the end of the curtain calls. The “kids” went home as she and Cab proceeded to continue to entertain the audiences BRILLIANTLY! She would kick off her white pumps and audiences loved her for it. There was a love fest going on between her and her audiences at the St. James Theater. Too bad, that wasn’t happening behind the scenes. Jim only had a few encounters with her and she was always nice to him but he saw her other side as well.
And then came ETHEL! She wasn’t happy often off stage.
I asked Jim if he has ever seen any other productions other than the Broadway Dollys. He said he did see a production at a Catholic high school in Philadelphia! This school was originally denied the rights to Dolly. It was still on Broadway. Jim asked what Biff Liff what needed to be done in order to facilitate their getting the rights. Biff Liff who was Merrick’s associate producer at the time said he would put them on a list and soon as the rights became available, he would let Jim know. A week later, Biff called Jim and said, “This is a Catholic school, right? Do they want all the sets and costumes? We’re closing the show!” So this high school in Philadelphia got all the sets and costumes from the original production! That is how Jim ended up with the original costumes he acquired. He lost them many years ago at The Fountain Theatre at 5060 Fountain Street in Hollywood! If anyone has a purple tailcoat, please return it. The girl who played Dolly in this high school was a girl named .Kathleen Ann McCauley and she was terrific. She married her high school sweet heart, Gerald Thomas Hathaway. They had a daughter and named her Anne.
This was 1971. David Burns who was doing 70 Girls 70 at the time went with Jim.It was the week before he died. He didn’t see the show but went to the party afterward and everyone was thrilled.
Jim also saw Dora Bryan do it in London. Recently, Jim was on a cruise with Billy Boyle who was Barnaby Tucker in that production. Jerry thought that Dora was one of the best Dollys. Jim said she was wonderful. She was “jolly”. The cast recording captures that. She was even referred to as the “British Carol Channing”.