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Jo Anne Worley

Jo Anne Worley’s work covers television, films, theater, game shows, talk shows, commercials, and cartoons. Long before Laugh-In became a Monday night fixture, Worley had already made a name for herself as a musical comedy actress, performing in a variety of summer stock, regional theater and national touring productions.

Worley was born in Lowell, Indiana, the third of five children. In 1962, her father remarried and his second union gave her two half-brothers and two half-sisters. Always known for her loud voice, Worley once said that when she attended church as a little girl, she never sang the hymns but would only lip-synch them for fear that she would drown out everyone else. Before graduating from high school, she was named School Comedienne.
After graduating from high school, Worley moved to Blauvelt, New York, (near where I live), where she began her professional career as a member of the Pickwick Players. This led to a drama scholarship to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.

After studying at Midwestern for two years, she moved to Los Angeles to study at Los Angeles City College and the Pasadena Playhouse.
She was soon given her first musical role in a production of Wonderful Town. In 1961, she received her first major break when she appeared in the musical revue Billy Barnes People in Los Angeles; this production moved to Broadway, where it ran for only six performances. However, the New York Times reviewer wrote: “Jo Anne Worley has an earthy style that suggests she could be a rowdy comedienne.”

In 1964, Worley was selected to appear as a stand-in on the original Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! One year later, she created her own nightclub act in Greenwich Village, where she was discovered by Merv Griffin in 1966.
Impressed by Worley’s talents, Griffin engaged her to be one of his primary guest stars on his show, where she made approximately 40 appearances on The Merv Griffin Show.

In 1966 she appeared Off-Broadway in The Mad Show, a musical revue based on Mad Magazine. In 1967, her stint on Griffin’s show led to her discovery by George Schlatter, who soon cast her in Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.

In 1970, she left Laugh-In to pursue other projects and has made guest appearances on several TV shows, including Hot DogLove, American StyleThe Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Andy Williams Show, and different game shows such as Hollywood Squares.

She continued working in various movies, TV shows, and theatrical performances (original productions and revivals alike) over the years; and she also became known for her work as a voice provider for several cartoons, animated movies, and video games. Her voice work includes Nutcracker Fantasy (1979), the Disney movies Beauty and the Beast (1991), A Goofy Movie (1995), Belle’s Magical World (1998), and the voice of the Wardrobe in the video game Kingdom Hearts II (2005). She remains involved with Disney, making cameos in several Disney Channel sitcoms such as Kim Possible, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Jessie.

She performed in regional theater, such as the Melody Top Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she appeared in Gypsy: A Musical Fable as Rose (1984), Annie Get Your Gun(1982), Hello Dolly! (1980), Anything Goes (1978), and Once Upon A Mattress (1974).
She also appeared at the Welk Dinner Theater in San Diego, California in Same Time, Next Year in 1985.,Call Me Madamat the California Music Theatre, Pasadena, California, in 1987, and Nunsense at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, La Mirada, California, in 1991.

In 1989, she returned to Broadway to appear in Prince of Central Park, but the show was canceled after one performance.

Worley was cast as The Wicked Witch of the West in a 1999 musical production of The Wizard of Oz, directed and adapted by Robert Johanson, with Mickey Rooney playing the eponymous role. The production had a limited run at the Pantages Theater, Hollywood, California and at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, and she also joined the limited US tour.
Worley played Mrs. Tottendale in the Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone at the Marquis Theatre from July through December 2007.

From January 8 until August 24, 2008, she played the role of Madame Morrible in the Los Angeles production of Wicked.

Jo Anne Worley continues to perform today in several acting circuits in New York and Los Angeles, and she has also been active at times in the lecture circuit. She is currently President of and also serves on the Board of Directors for Actors and Others for Animals.

(Source: Wikipedia) I am hoping to interview Jo Anne for this project!

Joanne Worley auditioned for the role of Gussie Granger for the Streisand film (she would have been perfect).

The following is from an interview that she gave with BroadwayWorld.com

Your roots are really in musical theater. I mean, you were Carol Channing’s standby for the original Hello, Dolly!
That’s right. I stood by.

Which is different from an understudy.
Do you know the difference?

What’s the difference?
$500 a week. Or more [laughs]. Standby usually means a person who is not in the show; they are “standing by.” An understudy is quite often somebody who’s in the show, although sometimes they aren’t, who can step into that role if they needed to.

So how did Dolly come about?
Well, I had just closed the tour of the Gower Champion/David Merrick show Carnival in Chicago, and Carol Channing’s regular standby, Bibi Osterwald, wasn’t available. So they offered me the job knowing full well Carol would never be out, and Carol told me that. I really had a good time. I was a baby. It was a present, just getting a paycheck.

I gather you never did go on for Channing?
Oh, gosh, no. No, no, no, no. I was also, at the time, working at Second City here in New York. And because I knew Carol would never be out, and Second City was the kind of show I could get out of if I needed to, I would call the theater each night at half hour to say, “Is everything fine?”

Did you learn a lot from the whole Dolly experience?
Yes, I did. One of the most important things I learned—I was fortunate enough to be out of town with the show the last two weeks before coming to New York— was the process of putting in a big new number at the last minute; throwing out what I thought was a perfectly good number, but they had their reasons.

So you really got a bird’s-eye view of how director/choreographer Gower Champion worked.
That’s correct. I had such straight respect for him. When I auditioned for the national company of Carnival, I remember we were on the Imperial [Theatre] stage, and I did my number in a little yellow dress. He came up onstage afterwards and said, “You’re perfect! You’ve got the part! Except I have two guys in mind to cast opposite you as Marco the Magnificent, and one is tall and one is short.” Obviously, as I’m kind of tall, that meant if he cast the tall one, I would get the part. And if it was the shorter gentleman, I probably wouldn’t. Well, he cast the shorter one and I still got the part!

Congratulations! Was Gower Champion fun to work with?
Oh, gosh, yes! We laughed! And of course, because he was so handsome, how could you not have a crush on Gower Champion? Gorgeous, gorgeous. Now I know [his widow] Marge, we’ve attended spas together, so it’s kind of nice. Marge was also involved with Hello, Dolly! at that time. Of course, it was mainly Gower that I worked with.

And hasn’t composer Jerry Herman remained a close friend too?
Oh, my wonderful Jerry Herman! Well, I did Jerry’s Girls on a tour in upstate New York—myself, Denzel Washington’s wife Pauletta Pearson, and two other girls. When they said, “We’re going to do it with four ‘names,’” I thought it could never work! How are they going to decide who gets the good numbers? But with Jerry Herman, they’re all good numbers. That’s the secret.

It sounds like you had a lot of good times with Jerry.
Oh, yes, he absolutely loves to laugh. I remember once I gave him a rubber hand as a joke. I said, “Sometime when you play piano, have this in your sleeve.” And it was around Halloween, so they had one with a bloody stump. I said, “Then pull your sleeve up and have the bloody stump on the piano!” We’d laugh!

Jo Anne was certainly no stranger to the ins and outs of playing Dolly Levi; she spent six months as standby for Carol Channing in the original Broadway production.  "I love playing Dolly because she is not too unlike me," Worley said in an interview. "Some people call me the matchmaker of Toluca Lake, which is the area of California that I live in.