Home » Joel Craig

Joel Craig (Hello, Harry!)

Joel Craig’s familiarity with The
was just doing scenes from it in acting class. He had never done a production or anything like that.
In 1963, Joel was on tour with Irma La Douce, starring Genevieve. He was assistant to the director, Don Driver, and he played Frangipane, a Mec. They were touring all over the United States which used to be the custom. The show had closed in New York and this was produced by Jack Lenny and Nat Debin, who lather then became Michael Bennett’s agents.
They had been on tour for months and months. They came back to the city for two weeks. The day that Joel arrived back in New York, he went out drinking with his buddies till about four AM the next morning. He got back to his apartment, WASTED!
At ten AM, the phone rings.
Gower Champion
It is Pat Tolson from Gower Champion’s office telling Joel that Gower would like
to see him regarding a new show, Dolly: A Damned Exasperating Woman. Joel, in his drunken stupor says, “Who the f!@# is this?” He thought it was one of his friends horsing around with him calling him knowing he was ruined from the night before.
He says, “I’m asleep and don’t you bother me anymore”, and hangs up the phone. About three PM, he is still in bed. The phone rings again. Once again, it is Pat Tolson.
“Are you awake now?” Instantly, Joel wakes up! It dawn on him that this was not someone fooling around and that it DID indeed have to do with Gower Champion. He said, “Gower Champion would like to see you.”
Joel had done a show called Nowhere to Go But Up the year before in ’62 with Dorothy Louden.
Marvin Gordon had worked on that
show and was under consideration to be Gower’s assistant on Dolly. Marvin was an associate choreographer.
Marvin did a dance concert. At that time, this was a frequent event among choreographers. This was done at the Y on Eighth Avenue. Up and coming choreographers would gather money and present these revues with various dance numbers. One of Joel’s friends, Todd Jackson, was working with Marvin on this concert. Todd called Joel and said, “We need someone who can be a narrator and sing and can also dance.” This was a friend of Joel’s and he was happy to help him out. He went in and did this revue with music written by Judd Walden who was also the rehearsal pianist. Joel sang a few songs and tied the show together and danced in a couple of things also. Gower came to see that show to look at what Marvin did. Joel didn’t know even know that Gower was there. He found out about it later.
Moving back to 1963, Joel’s presence was requested at Showcase Studios where Gower was working the next morning at ten AM. Showcase Studios was a well known studio. Luigi used to teach there. It was the biggest studio and a lot of Broadway shows rehearsed there.
“Bring a pair of shoes.”
This was truly the VERY BEGINNING of the planning stages of what would eventually become Hello, Dolly! Joel goes to Showcase Studios and presents himself.
He knocks on the door at ten AM and Gower comes to the door. It was one of the big studios and Gower was there along
with Dance Captain Lowell Purvis and Ed Kressley, who was also a dance
assistant to Gower. Lowell would go on to become Gower’s assistant and Joel
would eventually become Dance Captain on Dolly once they started sending Mary Martin’s company out and subsequent Dollys. Gower
introduced himself by saying, “Hi! I’m Gower Champion.” He then turns to walk
into the room, turns around to Joel and says, “Did you bring your shoes?” In those days, dancers would get pretty “pissy” about their shoes. When Joel was
in Subways Are for Sleeping, he had a fabulous pair of green “Santa Claus” boots with ermine fur and tassels. In those days when you did a Broadway show, you would keep your shoes and wear them to dance class. It was like saying, “I’ve worked on Broadway and you haven’t.” That’s what you did. They were all custom made shoes. Everybody would wear their custom made shoes to dance class. That’s how you know who worked on Broadway and who wanted to work on Broadway.
Joel had a pair of two toned shoes that he had from appearing on the
road in West Side Story. That’s what
he put on. Gower said we’re doing this and started showing what he had already
been working on. Not a word is spoken about what is going on or why Joel is
even there.
Gower is working out steps and they are all dancing. It was just
Joel and the people Gower was using on pre-production stuff. They were dancing
and waltzing with each other. Peter Howard was playing the piano.
Jerry Herman had already composed most of the songs and they were dancing to arrangements that Peter Howard had already worked out.
They did, at that session, what became the prime steps for the audition and those steps went into the show and are in the show to this day. They did several
waiters sequences. Joel just danced all day. He knew Ed Kresley from Bye, Bye Birdie. He didn’t know Lowell although Lowell knew Joel. After about an hour of dancing, Gower said, “OK, everybody, take a break.” He then asked Joel to meet him out in the hallway.
Joel idolized Gower. Gower said to Joel, “I’d like you to be one of my people.”
He never said, “I want you to be in the show. I want you to be a dancer.” Joel
with his quirky sense of humor said, “Let me think about it… I’ll do it!” From
that moment on, it was a mutual admiration society.
Gower and Marge
They then went back in and danced for another two hours. At the end of the day, Joel said, “I have one problem.
I’m contracted for a tour of Irma La Douce.” Gower wanted to know when
rehearsals were starting. Joel told Gower that he had a contract that would go
right into a month of the beginnings of Dolly and that, therefore he might not
be available. Gower said he would take care of it. Joel said fine. He was
twenty three at the time. Joel went about his business. He had two to three
weeks before he was scheduled to depart once again with Irma La Douce.
They were supposed to reopen the show at the Coconut
Grove Playhouse. Joel had to restage it from the round to a proscenium stage.
They couldn’t just say, “Fine. We don’t need you.” They did. Accidently, in the
street, in front of the old Jack Dempsey’s, about a week later, Jack ran into
Gower who told him not to worry about the contract, it was taken care of. The
next day he got a call from Jack and Nat.
They said, “Here is the deal. We’ll let you out of the contract, but you’ll have to come down to Florida, stage the show, teach your part to your replacement, teach your replacement’s replacement, teach the new dance captain who is replacing you to run the show, and then we’ll let you out.”
Joel said OK. THEN he gets a telegram telling him
that rehearsals have been moved up for Dolly by a week!
He called up and spoke with Jack Schlissel, general manager, and informed him that he was down in Florida. Jack said, “Don’t worry about it. Do your thing and then come back to New York.”
Joel missed about five days of rehearsals. Mostly that time had been
focused on the singing. When Joel walked in, there was this feeling from the
cast of, “Get her! Pardon us who have been working away for four days!” It
turned out that Joel knew half the company. John Mineo and Joel had been in West Side Story together. Nicole Barth
and Joel had been in Nowhere to Go But Up
Joel still has all of his books with everything he needed as
dance captain. Those original books have Come
And Be My Butterfly
but not The Polka contest which was not added until
Ginger Rogers took over. The polka contest, once again, was created for the Mary
Martin tour. It would have cost a lot more money to put it into the Broadway
production by teaching the cast a new number, plus he didn’t want to get Carol
crazed. When Carol’s first national tour was embarking in San Diego in 1965,
the polka contest went into the show. They had a full rehearsal period. It made
sense for it to go into the show at that time. Joel’s original notes are very
detailed on the Butterfly number.
Joel was the dance captain for two years. He worked on both numbers. He has
never thought of the polka contest as part of the show!
The original company rehearsed for five weeks before
departing for Detroit. Once they got to
Detroit, they rehearsed an additional week before opening on November 18th,
1963. The mood after that first performance was not so hot. They thought they
were in a pretty good show, those who had done Broadway shows before. Joel had
done three shows with a total of sixteen performances.
He had also been in Subways Are for Sleeping, also at the
St. James Theater. He had been in flop shows before.
It was the first night and Joel went across the street to
get some Kleenex and other sundry items. While there, he sees a fourteen inch high Frankenstein
monster on the top shelf; this was shortly after Halloween. There was a button
that said “push me”. When he did, it made all the appropriate Frankenstein
sounds, THEN it’s pants fall down, and his face lights up red. He had to have it.
He bought it and got to the theater and decided to give it to Carol.
He knocked
on her dressing room door and presented to her as an opening night gift. She
put it on her dressing room table, pushed the button and let it go through its routine.
She thought it was hilarious.
She said she couldn’t wait to show it off to
everyone. On August 7th, 1965, Carol’s closing night with the
original company, Charles Lowe came to Joel’s dressing room and said Carol
would like to see you in her dressing room. She had, believe it or not been
cutting Joel’s hair for two years! Joel goes in to her dressing room. She is
sitting there wigless.
It was very rare to see her like that. They are hugging
each other and she says, “look at this,” and the Frankenstein monster is on her
dressing room table.
Two years later! She pushes the button, it has batteries
in it! It does its routine and she packs it up and takes it with her.
That same week on November 22nd, on Friday,
President Kennedy was shot.
Carol was rehearsing the eating scene and the rest of the
cast was getting ready to come on to run the Come and Be My Butterfly number which followed that. They were in
the Fisher Theater. All of a sudden, Shep Coleman pops his head up from the pit
and says to Carol, “Did you hear about the President?” An announcement was made
over the speaker system about what was happening. The entire cast had been excitedly
anticipating their appearance at The National Theater in Washington DC. The
Kennedys were slated to be at their opening night. Carol and Charles were
friends of the Kennedys. They were supposed to have a private tour of the White
House and meet the President and Mrs. Kennedy. A lot was planned.
When Shep announced Kennedy being shot, Carol never moved a
muscle. They told everyone that that was it for the afternoon and for everyone
to return at seven PM.
There was a restaurant across the street and everyone
converged there. Everyone was crying and they all got so stupendously drunk that
it was unbelievable. They drank till seven PM. Of course, there was no show
that night but there would be a matinee the next day. An entire scene where
Dolly is taking to Horace about Ernestina Money had been rewritten overnight.
David Hartman, who was the assistant
stage manager, was hidden on stage to feed them the lines in case they needed
it. Carol went up on a line and he is whispering it to her. Carol turned to
David Burns and said, “Horace, I can’t hear you. Those kids playing baseball
outside are making too much noise.” David then fed her lines to her. The
theater is packed that day. Everyone is crying. There are TVs in the wings
showing the news as it was all unfolding. The cast was thinking that the
audience was crazy. How could they be there? Gower called the entire company on
stage before the curtains went up. You could hear that usual buzz before a show
starts. Gower said, “We’re all really upset. At the same time, we all have been
given a gift. A lot of people think actor’s are good for nothing. Here we are
and nobody can do what we can do. There’s two thousand people out there and all
they want to do is forget about what is going on outside and only you can do
that. Only you can make them forget about it and that’s the gift that we have
been given as actors and this is where we can ease their hearts a little.” That
speaks to the grace of Gower Champion. They had a week of performances over the
next few weeks while the world was mourning. They would step off the stage into
the wings, see the news coverage on TV, and start crying again.

to right: Carol Channing, Paul Solen, David Burns, Alice Playten,
Igors Gavon, Charles Nelson Reilly, Eileen Brennan, David Hartman,
Sondra Lee, Gordon Connell, Jerry Dodge (Photo: Henri Dauman)

The guys would come in and sing an hour with the women and
then they would go home.
Then the guys would do the Gallop. The end of the Waiter’s Gallop, for two weeks in
rehearsal, ended with what was called the “mice”, where everyone was scurrying
around at the end of the number. The number ended with all of the waiters
throwing their trays into the center where David Hartman, as Rudolph, was
That was the end of the Waiter’s
for two weeks. All of these trays with the phony ice creams and
various props would land in the center of the stage with a crescendo. Gower
would laugh every time.
He thought it was the greatest thing he had ever seen.
Day Thirteen, everyone came in, they ran through The Waiter’s Gallop, and thought they were going to start on
something new. Then Gower announced the new ending for The Waiter’s Gallop! He then
showed them the Russian jumps and squats which became the end of The Waiter’s Gallop. Richard remembers
the entire company sitting there baffled. Was he kidding? The Waiter’s Gallop
never changed again from that point on, the same thing for the Dolly number. Once it was set, it never
changed. He staged it and that was it.
After two weeks of rehearsals, only two
numbers had been staged and they only had three more weeks. Everyone was
beginning to think they might be in trouble with Gower at the helm. Gower would
work out things with Carol during her lunch break. She would then go off and
work with Marge.
Rehearsals were held in the Mark Hellinger Theater. That was
the only time that Joel rehearsed a Broadway show that was not in a studio. He
was in Sweet Charity. They rehearsed
in the studio and Fosse used to sit on a ladder and watched everything in a
mirror and blew a whistle to make everyone stop.
Gower stood in the third row
or he would stand right in front. He used to make a tsk tsk sound when he wanted
everyone to stop. Some part of everyone listened for that sound. Joel remembers
being in orchestra tech rehearsals with a full orchestra and thirty guys
singing and then they would hear that sound and EVERYTHING stopped on a dime. Peter
Howard or Musical Director Shepard Coleman would immediately stop on a dime. He
didn’t need to blow a whistle.
He never yelled, ever. He never lost his temper,
ever. He lost his temper but the company never saw it. Carol had what was Julie
Andrews room when she was doing My Fair
and Gower had Rex Harrison’s show.
Charles Nelson Reilly had a room and Eileen Brennan had a room upstairs.
The cast had the dressing rooms. They kept the big fire doors closed. You
weren’t allowed to go into the theater unless you were absolutely quiet.
were not allowed to come onstage and drink coffee and shoot the breeze.
If you
wanted to come on stage and sit there and watch, you could. No one was allowed
to stand behind Gower. If you were in the audience, you couldn’t sit behind him
except Mr. Merrick. When there was a problem, Gower would say, “Lucia, give
everybody five minutes”, and he would walk off the stage to his dressing room.
The cast knew he was upset. He would stay in there. You would not hear a sound.
Everyone would just stand wherever they were. Lucia would say, “Take five”, but
nobody moved. He would come back and say, “OK, five, six, seven, eight”, and
everybody picked it right up where they left off. They accepted this discipline
from Gower. He did not treat this cast like chorus kids or cattle. Joel
remembers when the Dolly number was set. Gower said, “We will not do this
number again until we put the show together.” That was three weeks away. He
told the company that they were all professionals and he expected them to know
what they were doing.
The dancers didn’t have anything to do with the book
scenes, basically, until they actually started putting the show together. That
was the last week of rehearsals. When one works on a show, if you’re a dancer,
you’re lucky enough to meet the leads on the train.
There were also two casualties during the rehearsal process.
Jimmy Dybas was originally cast as Barnaby Tucker. Joel loves Jimmy and knew
him prior to Dolly. At that time, he was out of his league. He had done some
theater prior to this but not on this level. He was green and he carried what
came across in the auditions as a very juvenile quality. As the rehearsals went
on, that quality came across the footlights as more fey.
Gower was put off by
that. It wasn’t even effeminate, but it was not even juvenile. It wasn’t Bobby
Morse. Gloria LeRoy was the original Ernestina Money.
She is
probably best remembered for having played voluptuous Mildred
“Boom-Boom” Turner in the 1970s sitcom All in the Family.
LeRoy had a diverse career, with a number of
roles in film, TV and stage. Mary Jo
Catlett eventually took over that role. In the original script she had a name
other than Ernestina. Joel can’t remember if they got fired within the three
day rule. There used to be a rule on Broadway that they could fire you within
the first three days. After Jimmy was let go, he was replaced by Glenn Walken,
Christopher Walken’s brother. In Joel’s view, to this day, Glenn Walken is the
best Barnaby Tucker he has ever seen. His problem was “he couldn’t sing, dance,
chew gum at the same time.” Glenn was
not a trained singer or dancer. He didn’t have any style as a dancer.
Joel once did a production of The Music Man at The Walnut Street Theater in 1985. They were in
production when they frantically called Joel.
They had hired a guy who was
handsome, glorious singer, AND a great actor, and a wonderful dancer, but he
couldn’t sing and dance and act at the same time.
He could sing if he stood
still. He could act if he wasn’t singing or dancing. He could dance if he
wasn’t singing or acting.
Bert Lahr
Reviews were saying in Detroit that Hello, Dolly was worse than Foxy, a notorious flop show. Foxy was tailored specifically for the
talents of Bert Lahr, although his tendency to ad lib and insert slapstick
antics into the proceedings were stifled by the creative team, a mistake given
there wasn’t much humor to be found within the dialogue. Joel knew Foxy
and KNEW that Dolly wasn’t as bad as. Joel had such faith in Gower. There were
so many people in this company that were doing their first major professional
job and they were thrilled to be there. Then there were people like Joel who
had done flop shows and didn’t know the experience of a hit show except in road
companies of hit shows.
It felt that he did, however, have the upper hand of
how it was supposed to go in rehearsals. Hello,
opened in Detroit to mixed reviews and poor houses, and needed major
rewrites. At one point producer David Merrick threatened to close it there.
“He would use tactics like that to, he thought, to get the best work out
of people.
David Merrick
He would scare them into doing their best work. And he found out
from the good work we did on the road on Dolly, that we would have done it
anyway; because they were professionals and they saw what was missing. They
didn’t need to be told that he was going to close the show if new songs or
scenes weren’t added. Hello, Dolly
was Joel’s first Broadway show that was a hit. Joel said he cannot begin to
tell you what it was like to go to the theater after the first matinee of Dolly
at the St. James Theater in New York and see lines around the block. It brought
tears to his eyes especially with the track record he had. He felt like he
could move to a better apartment. It was exciting.
They were in Detroit from November 18th until
December 14th, 1963. There was a very strong possibility in Detroit
that the show would close. Gower told Merrick that he would give HIM the money,
buy him out, and produce the show himself. Once Merrick heard that, he thought,
“Maybe I should just let Gower keep on producing the show.” Gower actually did invest in the show. to save it. A decision Merrick regretted.
Joel never thought
for a moment that he was in a flop. Joel would very calmly say, “The first
three days I’m going to stage this number, the next three days I will stage
THAT number”, and so on. There were ten numbers in the show and only one had
been staged. How were they going to do this? He came in one day for the Sunday
Clothes number and Freddy Wittop came in with cloth swatches and everyone wore
these large swatches from the fabric that their costumes would be created. That’s
how the number was staged. It was staged according to which colors looked great
next to another. Joel used to do a wicked imitation of Gower until he was
caught. Everything that Gower did was visual. You would be dancing and he would
make that tsk tsk sound and everyone would stop.
He would walk up to people and
observe them through the frame of their hands as if they were making a movie. He
would then say, “OK, five, six, seven, eight…” the equivalent of action on a
film set. Joel has done a lot of shows where after the rehearsals, everyone
would go out and bitch about the rehearsals. This is the only show Joel was
ever in where they all went out and got drunk, but in this instance, they
practiced in the bar!
The first time that The
Waiter’s Gallop
and Hello, Dolly
was done three weeks later, and there were no mistakes. “Five, six, seven,
eight…”, and they went right through the two numbers. Everyone knew exactly
where they were supposed to be. Those two numbers ALWAYS worked. Gower KNEW
what he was always doing. The company didn’t always knew, but again,
There was a number that included a shoe shine boy, a
coachman (Mike Quinn), and a flower girl that ended up out of the show in
Detroit much to the happiness of the cast. It took place where Elegance is now in the show.
Vandergelder had a number before he entered the Harmonia Gardens. It was a
number where they were all asking for money and in Vandergelder’s gruffness, he
It was called You’re A Damned Exasperating Woman.
David Burns was a wonderful man. He was a consummate professional, which probably
is the best thing Joel has to say about anybody. In the theater, you probably
do two really great performances each week, two that are crappy, and four that
are up to standard, but you get out there and do them eight times a week. There
may be two when you’re really clicking and you look over and say, “What is that
guy doing over there?” If everyone has done their work well enough, no one will
really know that. The audience is watching not always a really inspired
performance as much as they are watching a really good technical performance.
It is virtually impossible to do eight perfect performances every week. The
only person that Joel saw do that was John McMartin. He is the “machine of
actors.” He is a wonderful actor. Joel
worked with him in Sweet Charity.
They were also in Follies together.
Every single performance was exactly the same.
John McMartin
BUT, it was always as if it was
the first time he was doing it.
The key is not being able to do it eight times
a week, but rather, to be able to do it eight times a week and make it look
like the first time every time.
The people doing it don’t have to believe it,
but the audience does. Now that they are paying a hundred and twenty five
dollars or more for a seat, this is even more important. A neighbor friend of
Joel’s and Suzanne’s is Jack Batman.
He is the guy who hired Joel for Music Man. They are long time friends,
living in the same building for thirty years. They just went to see Clybourne Park; Jack is one of the
producers. They spoke with him after the show. There are fifteen producers
listed. Some of those producers are actually three other people. What happened
to “David Merrick presents…”
Jack says it’s the money. Joel did three shows for
Merrick. Merrick had a man by the name of Myron Goldman who was Merrick’s money
Joel met Goldman several times. He was a quiet self-effacing guy. He wore
a porkpie hat and looked like a cop on a TV series. He would come to dress
Merrick would call Goldman and say, “I need a million dollars.” At that time shows only cost about a hundred
thousand to produce. Goldman would say OK. He didn’t ask what the show was
about. He lost his ass plenty of times. At the same time, he made his money on
lots of the shows that he put up the money for.
Here was a guy who put his
tastes on the line.
Interesting that on the original cast album, Nicole Barth is
seen on the original cast album in photos from Come and Be My Butterfly. Joel does not recall whether or not the
number was recorded. At that time, due to the size of Lps, there were also
limitations as to what would fit on the album.
They get to Washington DC, and after a week, they had a big
meeting. Gower knew that Joel was a trained musician. Joel had played sixteen instruments over his
lifetime to that point. At this meeting, Gower wanted to know who in the cast
could play instruments for a parade-y type scenario.
Gower turned to Joel and
asked him if he could play the trumpet. The entire company is sitting there.
Joel says, “Give me two weeks!”
That became a catch phrase among the
company. After that, Gower would always
say, “Bud out.” You could go in with any ideas, Gower was open. In the Gallop
number, the guys were always throwing in suggestions.
He was open to all. John
Mineo and Joel used to have a bit they did with the trays. John did it with a
big tray, Joel with a little one. They had a gimmick where a fake foot would
even pop up in a way that was physically impossible.
They could never get the
fake foot to come back down.
David Burns
That got thrown out, but there is a place in the
original staging where there is a cross that is still in the staging to this
day. Once the foot bit was gone, even though there was somewhat of the rest of
the beat, there was nothing to react to.
Gower loved stuff like that. In the Call on Dolly number, it originally took
place in Dolly’s parlor where she was handing out her cards. In the program,
there were three characters in this scene called “The Three Biddies”. When they
put the number “in the street”, Gower said, “OK, Let me see the number.” The
opening music, as we know it today, of Call
on Dolly
began. Paul Kastl, one of the dancers, in the parlor used to come
out and rest up against an upright piano. Now, that they are in the street,
Paul comes out and does the same movement he’d been taught.
Now, there is no
piano. He just rests his arm midair as if he was leaning against a piano.
The cut Come And Be My Butterfly
was such a fabulous move that Gower left it in.
As long as Paul was in the show
or any guy Joel put in the show, that bit was in. Joel would explain it to
future replacements that it had to be as if they were leaning on a piano. In later
companies, when a guy came out with that bit, Joel would think, “He doesn’t
have a clue.”
That is the fault of the people staging the show.
Back to Before The
Parade Passes By
…They learned it in ten days. They put it in with the
costumes from Penny in My Pocket
which is now cut. They were carrying banners quickly created for the number. The
costumes were not ready till they got to New York. Originally, the number was
done and THEN Carol has her soliloquy to Ephraim.
“Ephraim, let me go…” The act
ended on a somber note.
It was done like that for two nights and really didn’t
work either time. The third day, they came in to rehearse this once again. But
they didn’t REALLY rehearse. Gower came in and said, “We’re going to do this.
The orchestra will replace this piece of music. Carol will do whatever singing
she does, and the chorus will come on with, “I’m gonna raise the roof… Before
The Parade Passes By”, ba dum dum, and the curtain comes down. “So, all of you
stay in position, and walk back to your last positions.
Find your place and
that’s the end of the first act.” That night, in the back of the National
Theater, you see Jerry. Gower, Michael, everyone on the creative team.” The company finishes singing Before The Parade Passes By. They go
off. Dolly does her bit. They all
come marching back on. The music is playing and the cast sees the creative team
fall to the floor laughing.
With all this work, they forgot to put the song in
the key that the company is singing! The music is in the key that CAROL sings
which is about a fifth lower than what anyone else in the cast is singing.
Everyone realizes what is happening at the same time and the entire company
starts laughing. Everyone is marching, laughing, and trying to sing at the very
same time. The curtain comes down, and Gower comes running in the side door,
apologizing to the cast. They had simply forgotten to put the song in the right
keys for the company! They were getting
strange looks from the audience as to what was going on. They couldn’t
understand why the cast was dressed like they were or why they were singing in
those strange keys.
Phyllis Newman as Martha Vail & Orson Bean as Charlie Smith, in the
Original Broadway Production of “Subways Are For Sleeping” which opened
in 1961
A similar thing happened when Joel was working on Subways
Are For Sleeping
. Merrick locked Betty Comdon and Adolph Green and Jule Styne
in a room and told them they could not come out till they had a new script.
Betty Comdon and Adolph Green
This was in Philadelphia. When they went to Boston, they had a new first act,
but they had not put a new second act. They could see the audience looking at
the stage with a confused look. People who had disappeared from the script in
ACT ONE were being discussed in ACT TWO much to the confusion of the audience.
The entire trajectory from start to arriving at the St.
James Theater seemed pretty seamless to Joel. He doesn’t ever remember
thinking, Let’s get this back to New York as soon as possible and get this over
with.” Also, remember, there was a pall over the company and the world with the
assassination of the President which happened the same week they began
performances in Detroit.
Joel knew they were in a hit in Washington DC. It was New
Year’s Eve and a party was thrown for the cast by Merrick and Gower at the
Willard Hotel after the show that night.
At that New Year’s Eve party, an announcement
was made for everyone to listen to Louis Armstrong’s new recording of Hello, Dolly! They played it over the PA
system right after midnight. They heard that and new they were a hit. They also
knew they had a great show. Joel also got a vibe from Merrick. Joel had
previously done three shows with him. Joel never dreamed it would be as big as
it became. He also didn’t believe he was going to do this show for one week and
then he would be unemployed. Joel remained with the show until autumn of 1967.
Juliet Prowse
He left to do Sweet Charity. He did
Dolly with Carol and when she departed to California to lead her first national
tour, Joel had already become dance captain when he began work getting Mary
Martin’s international company in shape. Lowell Purvis was the New York dance
captain. Joel became his assistant. Joel would stage the various companies and
Joel would assist him. They would only work with the dancers two weeks before
Gower would come in. They would teach the dancers all the dancing. They would
have the dancers wear name tags with the names of the previous dancers. That
was the only way they could keep track of everyone.
When Carol was leaving the
show, Gower went to Gower and Mr. Merrick. He begged them to let him go on the
road with Carol. He loved the show but he had no real interest in remaining
with the show without Carol Channing.
They insisted he stay with the show.
Gower took him out to dinner. Gower told him he couldn’t allow him to go to
California. Gower needed him to teach Ginger the show. Gower took Joel’s swing guy and took him on
the road with Carol and made him the dance captain. Joel was furious and he had
to teach a new swing boy every single step in the show.
The nature of the show changed with Ginger. She was fine,
however, there was a spunkiness that she brought to the stage, and Joel spent
six weeks at the St. James Theater almost every day ten AM to six PM coaching
her. Ginger was a movie star. Joel didn’t even realize what a stupendous movie
star Ginger was until she arrived in Dolly. When Carol was in the show, there
was always a clump of people waiting outside the stage door for Carol. Charles
used to have a limo at the end of the block on Eighth Avenue. He would whisk
her out to the limousine and carry her away.
She didn’t stand around and sign
autographs. It had nothing to do with Carol; it was all Charles Lowe. Ginger’s
limo would park right in front of the stage door. There was never any question
of whether or not Miss Rogers would be walking through that door. MOBS of
people were waiting for her. The rest of the cast could barely get out the
door. She would come out and sit on the car until EVERY autograph was signed.
She was not playing a star; she WAS a star. This was a woman who had not made a
major movie in some time. Her last film
prior to Dolly was in 1957 Oh! Men, Oh!
She had been touring the county in 1964 in Tovarich. Carol came in, did what was required of her, got in her provided Limo, and went back to the Waldorf. Ginger was a very hard worker. Joel would arrive at the St. James Theater between nine AM and nine thirty. She would show up at ten AM. The piano player would also show up when Joel did and they were very straight as to what they would be teaching Ginger that day. One day, Joel is sitting on the stage and working on So Long, Dearie.
Ginger Rogers
He looks up to see her in the wings, She walks on and looks at his chair and says, “Look, Fred, a chair!”
He was dumbfounded; first of all, that she had a sense of humor about that.
She shared stories with Joel about the famed feathered dress from Cheek to Cheek. You didn’t go around talking about her career all the time, but from time to time, she would bring it up, and she spoke very fondly of Astaire. There was one time where Ginger was sick and unable to go on. Bibi Osterwald who had been standing by since the middle of 1964 finally got a chance to go on. Ginger’s husband, William Marshall, went to the theater and locked Ginger’s dressing room so Bibi could not get in. Lucia came in and said, “We don’t do that on Broadway. This is where Dolly dresses.” Bibi was let in and successfully did the show. Why not? She had rehearsed it for a year and a half! She knew the show and she was good to. It was a lot more fun in rehearsals with Jo Anne Worley, but Bibi was great. After Bibi went on, Ginger got very angry with the company because she felt it was disloyal of them to go on.
Ginger and David Burns
How could the company possibly do a show without her? This is not a knock on her but that is what being a real movie star is. She once shared a story with Joel about her going to RKO Pictures to do Kitty Foyle.
They built her a bungalow. It was very near her former studio. She had to go to the bathroom, she didn’t like her bathroom, so she drove to her former studio to go to the bathroom in her old bungalow! She then came back to the set to find the entire set in an uproar because they could not find her! THAT’S a movie star! When Katharine Hepburn was booked anywhere, the first thing she would do was go in and take a shower to see if she felt comfortable there. She said you can’t know you’ll be comfortable anywhere unless you shower there.
Only movie stars think like that. Ginger worked very hard but she started adding bits to Dolly. Once Joel went to Lucia and said he had some notes for Ginger. Joel was sitting out front watching and he noticed that she was deliberately missing her marks in the Dolly number. He went to Lucia and she said, “There will be no notes for Miss Rogers.” Joel said, “She’s getting in the way of the guys.” Lucia said, “Tell them to dance around her. The only time there will be notes for Miss Rogers is when Mr. Champion and gives her notes.”
So, every so often he would come back and all the things that had deviated from what she had been taught would be discussed by Gower.
It was odd that she would not accept notes from Joel; they got along very well. She thought of EVERYONE as grips. They were there to take care of her. THAT’S A MOVIE STAR. Broadway people don’t act like that.There was a definite shift in the mood of the company from Carol to Ginger. There was a love when Carol was in the show. With Ginger, it was another job. The two secondary leads also changed when Ginger came in.
Ginger and Gower
Patte Finley replaced Eileen Brennan and Will Mackenzie replaced Charles Nelson Reilly. The show changed. Jerry Dodge and Sondra Lee remained with the company.He thought, “How could those people in Fiddler on the Roof enjoy doing that show night after night in those drab colors?
How could anyone stay with any show for a long time?” Joel knew why people could stay with My Fair Lady for fifteen years. You go in, you put the clothes on and you look great, and you feel great. You know that everything you do. You’re not just a happy village somewhere. Everything you do counts. Years later Joel did La Cage and Music Man. With those shows, no matter how crappy you felt when you went to work, by the end of the show, you felt great.
Alice Playten (left),Charles Nelson Reilly and Co recording cast album
The reverse of that was Promises, Promises. No matter how good you felt when you went to work, at the end of the show you feel tawdry. That’s the show. It’s just sleazy. It doesn’t matter what you do. You don’t feel clean at the end of that show.Joel remembers being in the docket scene in which Reilly sings It Only Takes a Moment. Because Joel could sing AND dance, he was in every number. When his six months were up at the beginning, and they wanted him to resign into the next six months, he said only if he was out of the docket scene! All the chorus members had standard six month contracts. Sondra Lee said she signed a two year contract which she later came to regret. Principals usually signed for a year.
Charles and Eileen did not get along well and they were always f!@#ing up the scene. They tried to make everyone in the scene laugh.
Reilly was a lot like Zero Mostel in terms of doing his own thing. Joel also worked with Zero. They are geniuses. They also got bored real fast. Charlie Reilly in Detroit, and when they opened the show in New York, was just wonderful. He didn’t think he could sing, but he sang beautifully. Nobody expected him to be Caruso, but he sang well enough.
What happened is that it became about trying to get the people in the docket to laugh instead of what it was supposed to be. That’s what Zero used to do. It was about keeping themselves amused. It really didn’t matter about everyone else.
Joel cannot imagine why future audiences will not still be interested in Dolly. The show and the story are timeless. There are still guys out there who still want to go out for an adventure. Because of television and whatever, there is no longer that sense of going to New York with no idea of what it is, which is the premise of The Matchmaker. Nowadays, it is a twenty minute ride from New York City to Yonkers.
Carol was forty three when she opened originally in Dolly. There were twenty year olds in the chorus, including Joel, who thought at first that she was too old!
Gower at the recording for the original cast album
There were a couple of guys in the chorus in their upper thirties. Dancers in those days are not in the same physical shape that today’s dancers are. It wasn’t until Joel went into Follies and realized that all of the leads in that show were ten years older than Carol!
When he looks at pictures now of Carol then, he realizes that she was a young vibrant woman in the prime of her life. She was probably a little too young, when you think about it, the first time around especially opposite David Burns.
Joel would also put Hello, Dolly in the top three shows of his career.
The experience of Dolly was unparalleled in his life. Joel says he was nowhere close to being the best dancer in the show. He wasn’t even close. As a matter of fact, when he was made dance
captain, there were several in the company who were disgruntled about
it.There was stuff in the show that he couldn’t do. He was actually not
able to do it. He wasn’t good enough. It didn’t matter. He learned how
to do it to teach the others. Joel stood next to Carol all the time.
Gower would say, “Carol you stand here. Joel you’ll stand here.” Joel is
HARRY! “Hello, Harry…” He is the first one she greets when she
arrives at The Harmonia Gardens. Gower wanted that. Carol and Joel had a
great connection.The Hello, Dolly number ALWAYS worked. It is perfectly
constructed. Gower, Lowell, and Joel, and a few others constructed
almost that entire number in a studio at Showcase Studios. It, once
again, started out as Gower creating his audition steps. Joel didn’t
realize when he walked in on that early summer morning that Gower was
actually auditioning him as his assistant.It’s obvious that Joel had an amazing experience and loved the show.
There were things he was not crazy about.
He never liked the Dancing number. Joel and Gene Gebauer, another dancer, became thisclose to being left out of the number.
They were both on the sidelines. Joel didn’t do that type of “happy-go-lucky happy stuff.” Gower kept moving people around and staging things. All of a sudden, Gower shouts, “Where’s Gene and Joel?”
Gower realized that he left them out of about eighty percent of the number. He gave them a couple of crossovers at the end. The Polka was boloney as far as Joel is concerned.
The Dolly number was great. It was wonderful. You would finish that number and hear that roar from the audience! Joel has been lucky. He had a few more of those moments on Broadway. He remembers being at Sardi’s one night and Carol coming in and everyone standing up and applauding and whistling.
It was like Dolly coming home. Joel is very traditional about this kind of stuff. Twelve years later, he was starring in the revival of Very Good Eddie as M. de Rougemont and had a similar moment when HE walked into Sardi’s.
He had a big number that stopped the show. It was once again a Merrick show.
Joel is notoriously slow after a show removing his makeup and taking his time. Suzanne, his wife, and Joel walk into Sardi’s and she sneakily steps aside. Joel is standing there all alone and all of Sardi’s stands up and starts applauding. Thirty seven years later, Joel is still moved by this gesture from the theatrical community. One thing connects with the other and that is what the theater is all about. Joel did a show called Tallulah starring Helen Gallagher in 1984. Producers Mark deSolla Price and John Van Ness Philip had the opening night party at the Red Parrot on West Fifty- seventh Street. The Red Parrot was OPEN! They just had a roped off area for their party. Helen goes to Joel and says, “Wanna go to Sardi’s?” When they went to the producers and asked if the opening night party would take place at Sardi’s, they were told that was old-fashioned. Helen Gallagher announced that she was going to Sardi’s! Helen and her husband and Joel and Suzanne reserved a table for four at Sardi’s. When they walked in, everyone applauded. Then after an hour, they went to the “schlepper party”.
The theater is a special place to Joel with traditional opening night parties. He grew up in New York. He remembers seeing Ray Bolger in Where’s Charley when he was five or six. He was sitting in the third row. His parent’s took him. THAT’S how he was brought up.
When he decided to become an actor, instead of a doctor like a nice
Jewish boy should be, his whole extended family said, “What!?!?! An
actor!?!?!” He said, “Why didn’t you take me to medical conventions as a
little boy instead of the theater? Why should you be surprised now?”
The one thing that Joel learned from his experience from Dolly that he
has carried forward in his career is professionalism. He learned that
from Gower and from Carol and from Davie Burns.Joel doesn’t think much of Pearl Bailey’s company. Pearl Bailey is so
unique, but Pearl Bailey is Pearl Bailey. He thought the production was
awful.Joel loves Jerry Herman. In addition to Dolly, he has also played
Georges in La Cage Aux Folles in Chicago. They were supposed to be there
for three months. It ended up being five.
Joel remembers being on the train to Wolverine in sleeper cars, the entire company. There were several in the company who got drunk, including Joel, and they tore up every cocktail napkin in the bar and threw it over a couple of the guys and gals who were entertaining everyone with a Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy medley. Everyone almost got thrown off the train. Joel remembers walking past a compartment in which Phil Lang, who did the orchestrations, was sitting.
He was writing the orchestrations for Put On Your Sunday Clotheson the train, all of those orchestrations with the train sounds.The training that people have now going into the theater is astounding. When he started, in his first Broadway show, Subways Are for Sleeping, he remembers being in rehearsals with the vocal arranger.
In those days, there were twelve dancers and twelve singers. The singers sang. They stood in the back and sang. They didn’t move. They would say, “All the dancers sing the melody.” The singers would provide the harmony. Joel recalls walking into rehearsals for a Pepsi show he did. It was a big industrial, one of the last shows that Joel did, he walked into a chorus room to see the entire chorus reading music. In Subways, Joel was the only one they gave music to everyone else just had lyric sheets. There were arrows up and down alluding to whether the voice went up or down. His roommate at the time was Michael Bennett, also in the cast. Michael was tone deaf. Buster Davis was constantly rapping on the piano, saying, “Michael, this is your note.” Joel and Michael were in three Broadway shows together and Michael never sang a note.
He just moved his mouth. Nowadays, the kids in the shows have to know EVERYTHING. They have to have the training. The competition for the jobs now is stupendous. The big downside is that none of them have any idea to do once they’re out there. It’s ALL about training. Joel REALLY believes this. These people are trained to perform as far as their arms extend. Joel started out in 1957. Joel had been on the radio in high school. One day he ran into a guy that he’d been on the radio with. He said I’m going to this audition. Joel said, “I’’ come hang out with you.” They go to this audition. His friend went in and sang a glorious piece. After that, they came out and asked Joel to come in. He told them he was not there to audition. He didn’t have any music and he was not prepared. Joel says they must have been pretty desperate. They told him to just sing Happy Birthday, which he did and he left. He was either sixteen or seventeen.
He had just graduated from high school. They called him up the next day in Brooklyn and offered him a position in the chorus at The Cleveland Music Hall. He said, “I have to ask my father.” When Joel approached his father, his father said, “What are you talking about?” Joel’s father got on the phone with Jack Lenny, who was then a casting person and someone Joel worked with many times after that. Joel’s father let him go.
Jerry Herman and Carol
Joel was replacing someone who had been in an accident. They needed a baritone for forty dollars a week. He worked there for two summers while on break from college. After two years of college, Joel told his parents that he would not be returning to college. Show Business is what he wanted to do. Theater in college was BS. He was learning how to make himself look like a seventy-five year old man. He thought, if they wanted a seventy-five year old man, why not hire one! They don’t fire a twenty year old kid who paints his face for two hours.
It was nonsense. This is not how it is. He left college and over the course of his life, he was fortunate, he never did anything else. There was a ten year period where he was never out of work, not even for a day. He went from one show to another. In two years, Joel did forty-six shows! He did a show a week for twenty weeks. He has had the entire history of the Musical Theater. He did The Ballad of Baby Doe with Beverly Sills and Walter Cassel at The Cleveland Music Hall. Johnny Price did wonderful things there. At the end of those two summers, Joel was ready to do The Boyfriend. He could do a fourteenth century cavalier in the courtyard of Louis XIX. He
Carol and Gower
could play a monk in The King and I. You learned how to do ALL of this.People who were in the choruses on Broadway went out and were principal
actors in summer stock. Those that had been in the choruses in stock
would come in and replace the chorus members on Broadway. Everybody
worked. If you messed up in Cleveland, nobody knew it.
Today’s kids don’t know this world. They know how to act, dance, and
sing, but there’s no heart. Carol had the ability to touch every single
person in the theater, no matter where they were sitting. Audra McDonald
has that in spades. She had it from the moment she opened her eyes and
mouth and walked on the stage.
It has gotten refined over the years, but she knows how to do it. She, like Carol, is a force of nature. They don’t come around so often. The rest of it, you can learn.
You still have to have the talent and all that goes with that, but you can learn how to BE on a stage.Joel was already in rehearsals for Sweet Charity as he was preparing to leave Dolly. Joel had gotten hurt when he was in Dolly. He injured his knee and was out about four or five weeks recovering. They made someone else the dance captain and they replaced Joel.
Carol and David Burns
They held Joel’s place for about a month. When he was ready to come back to the company, he was told there was no longer a space for him. As soon as a space opened, he was brought back to the show. By that time, his taste for the show had changed. It wasn’t the same without Carol. His complete love and enjoyment of being in that show existed with Carol. When she left, he still loved being in it. That’s because he had big responsibilities. He was so busy, he didn’t have time to know he wasn’t having a good time. It was after coming back that he realized it was time to start looking for something else. Fosse’s assistant saw Joel in the street one day and asked him what he was doing. Joel told him that he had just gone back into the show. Joel was informed that Charity was about to close and that Juliet Prowse was about to take it on the road. He joined that company as Charley Dark Glasses. After a while, he took over the role of Vittorio Vidal. Even before leaving Dolly physically, mentally he had moved on.Hello, Dolly was a seminal event in Joel Craig’s life. It changed his reference point of what he was capable of doing. It changed his reference point of HOW to behave in the theater. Carol and Gower contributed ninety percent to that. In watching Carol and Gower, Joel learned a lot about being a professional and doing your job. Doing your job is bringing tremendous joy to audiences. Sometimes not; you still have to do it. Ted Williams’ famous quote is, “The difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional goes out there and does what he has to do even when he doesn’t feel like it.” To Joel, that is the way to behave on the stage.

The Other Players