IF THEY DON’T WANT US IN RUSSIA, WE’LL GO TO VIETNAM!
The International tour began with Mary Martin strutting down the main streets of the United States playing in eleven cities, opening Broadway’s doors to Japan, journeying to Vietnam and Korea, finally settling at the Theater Royal in London for six months.
The Dallas Morning News of May 31st, 1965 chronicled the tour, which had begun in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and continued to Kansas City, Missouri, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Dallas, Texas with Carleton Carpenter as Cornelius Hackl and Loring Smith as Horace Vandergelder. The article went on to say that the next stop would be Memphis, Tennessee where the production was already sold out!
The national tour would end in Oregon, as detailed by the Oregon Journal: “Portland is the last stop…the show will make before its tour of the Orient.”
There is a great blog called Theater Aficionado at Large. In its installment on Mary Martin in Hello, Dolly!, the blog begins the following:
“There’s Carol, there’s Barbra and of course Pearlie Mae. But Mary Martin was the one who not only opened Hello, Dolly! in London but also toured with the show in Vietnam and Japan during the Vietnam War.”
Mary Martin had that special ability to take a part and make it exclusively her own. The mention of her name brings to mind a particularly vivid set of images: Ensign Nellie Forbush washing that man right outta her hair, that other Dolly, Dolly Winslow—whose heart belongs to Daddy—shedding her furs, and Peter Pan teaching the Darling children to fly and to crow: er-er-er-errrh!
Martin was considered for the role of Dolly after Merman had declined, and prior to Channing. Martin, like Merman however, had also turned it down. Her track record for several Broadway projects that were first offered to her but that she turned down was not the best.
Carol Channing was leading the Broadway company in 1964, but Mary Martin would be taking it around the world.
In that opening year of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, Mary Martin and her husband, Richard Halliday, were spending more time at their home in Brazil. However, in 1965, she was persuaded to embark on a world tour of Hello, Dolly!
The show would travel around the United States before launching the production internationally. The DALLAS [Texas] MORNING NEWS on May 31, 1965 reported the tour which had begun in Minneapolis, Minnesota in April 1965 (see below) and continued to Kansas City, Missouri and New Orleans, Louisiana. For its first week in Dallas, Texas, the show set a box office record in which milestone was then broken in the final week. The next stop would be Memphis, Tennessee, where the show was already sold out.
The closing night audience in Dallas – which included Jerry Herman and Josh Logan – would not let Mary off the stage. So, after three standing and cheering ovations, she returned with a trumpet and played “The Eyes of Texas,” as thecast sang the lyric.
The United States tour would end in Portland, Oregon, as detailed by the OREGON JOURNAL: “Portland is the last stop the show will make before… Tokyo.” At the September 9, 1965 closing curtain in Tokyo, Martin revrised the title song in Japanese and ended with “Louie, would you please tell these dear people how welcome they have made us feel in Tokyo.”
The Associated Press confirmed the Opening day in Vietnam as October 9, 1965. Merrick detailed the preparations on October 20 in the HERALD TRIBUNE: “The trouble always started at dusk. They wanted us off the roads then. We would line up six Army convoy trucks, which are absolutely flat, to form the stage and then we would build our ramp around them and use a kind of framework overhead for a proscenium.”
The tour played Vietnam for eleven shows, and Okinawa and Korea followed. The UNITED STATES FORCES/ KOREA news release reported the tour under the headline: “Curtain Rings Down on Hello, Dolly!” After the fifth performance Miss Martin offered: “We, the cast of DOLLY!, are not only saying goodbye to Korea tonight but goodbye to each other as well. After more than twenty two weeks on the road, most of the cast is returning to the U.S. while the principals will open DOLLY! in London.
We have shared many ups and downs in the air and on stage. But most important we have shared the wonderful experience of being able to entertain. And no one deserves to be entertained more than our troops overseas. We are so proud of you all.”
Champion directed and choreographed this production, and the cast starred – in addition to Martin – Loring Smith as Horace Vandergelder, Johnny Beecher as Barnaby, Garrett Lewis as Cornelius, Mark Alden as Ambrose Kemper, and Marilynn Lovell as Irene Molloy. Dora Bryan replaced Martin when Martin’s contract ended. (Read my other chapters on Carleton Carpenter, Bob Avian, Robert Hocknell, and Judith Drake).
As stated above, the tour kicked off in Minneapolis on April 19th, 1965. The show opened with a then unheard of top ticket price of $7.50. Variety said in its opening night review, “National and International company’s version of Hello, Dolly! should – prove that “Dolly” isn’t Carol Channing’s exclusive property or Louis Armstrong’s either. Mary Martin gives title role her own interpretation and Miss Martin has never been known to take a backseat to anybody. As Mrs. Dolly Levi, Mary Martin is a knockout. Her “Dolly” is perhaps more whimsical, less boisterous than Carol Channing’s but it’s a rousing delineation of the role. Another apparent difference is that Miss Martin doesn’t completely dominate show. Except for her gaudy strutting of the second act’s title number, she seldom overshadows rest of the company. She isn’t the whole show by any means.” This was truly and honestly an ensemble cast. After inaugurating Martin and the international tour, according to John Anthony Gilvey in his brilliant biography on Gower Champion, Before The Parade Passes By: Gower Champion and The Glorious American Musical, Gower joined Marge for a well-earned vacation in the Greek isles. The evening of their arrival, Gower relaxed and enjoyed himself for the first time in months. Then, Gower became ill as months and months of intense work and over-exhaustion caught up with him.
Then, it was on to Cincinnati.
Broadway producer David Merrick was in the unusual position of having two shows on the road gross over $100,000 each. Registering the top take was the Broadway-bound “Pickwick” in its first week of Civic Light Opera time in Los Angeles. Trailing was the Mary Martin company of Hello, Dolly!, which set a legit record for Cincinnati in the initial stanza of a two-week engagement there.
It would then go to Toronto where it played for three weeks concluding around the 15th of July 1965 at the O’Keefe Theater.
Mary Martin managed to make Dolly Levi her own during this tour.
The North American tour lasted five months. Martin was chosen for two missions: first, to tour throughout the Orient under the auspicious of the State Department and eventually under the Defense Department when they decided to take the show to Vietnam, and the second would be to go to London for the West End premier in December of 1965.
We are very fortunate that we have a representation of this company due to the original London cast recording. Sadly, Carleton Carpenter is not represented on this recording. He had to leave the London company prior to opening due to a broken pelvis which was the result of a misstep off the ramp at the first rehearsal at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. He was then replaced by Garrett Lewis.
This tour was to originally travel to Russia. Carleton Carpenter had told me, “The Russian government was not happy about the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam war. The guys were very disappointed that the show would not be going to Russia.”
Merrick said if they didn’t want this production because of the United States in Vietnam, they would take the show to Vietnam! He called President Johnson and essentially said, “You owe us! We helped you get elected President!” Johnson’s campaign song was “Hello, Lyndon!”.
The popularity of the title song of Dolly was EVERYWHERE!
Enter the Defense Department and it was a done deal as soon as the cast signed off in agreement of going. Mr. Merrick and Gower said they would not take the show to Vietnam unless the company was in full agreement. This was a very hot button and sensitive subject at the time. Although there were a few in the company that had reservations, the “yeses” outweighed the “nays.” With the war in Vietnam in full force, everyone was not on the bandwagon of saying “Hello, Dolly!” Top military brass were not happy at all with the disruptions caused by having to take care of provide, and protect a company of 75 “civilians.”
At one point, Mary Martin was invited to an elegant party in Saigon hosted by US Ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge. When the entire company was not invited, Mr. Merrick publicly criticized that decision which brought a lot of media attention to this bringing added controversy that they were in Vietnam in the first place.
The following is from TIME dated October 22nd, 1965, “No sooner had he arrived at Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge’s Saigon residence, Broadway Producer David Merrick, 52, was bristling. Only Mary Martin and three other principals of Hello, Dolly! were at the party. How come none of the other 68 troupers who had been perking up the troops in South Vietnam were invited?
By way of retaliation, snipped Merrick, “I cut the ambassador dead—left him a floating island of ice in his sea of protocol.” Still, the ambassador did pretty well standing on his protocol floe. After Mary warbled through ditties from South Pacific, Lodge whooped into Minnie the Mermaid (“She forgot her morals down among the corals”). Later, the State Department reported that Merrick had made a slight mistake—it was Mary’s husband, Richard Halliday, who had drawn up the guest list from Dolly. Producer Merrick sheepishly decided to recast the ambassador as a “charming, handsome man.”
The following is from Variety November 24th, 1965, “It seemed as if we were No. 1 on the Hit Parade.” That is how Mary Martin summed up her experience in the South Vietnam battle zone with the Hello, Dolly! company.
Although she has frequently given camp shows for the troops this was Miss Martin’s first experience of performing in a battle area. As she euphemistically put it, there were plenty of incidents. “Incidents,” according to Miss Martin are such minor things as constant bursts of gunfire and jet fighters and bombers zooming immediately above the open-air stage.
“Not even I could be heard above the roar of the planes,” she added apologetically.
Miss Martin described it as an unforgettable experience which has added a new dimension to her thinking and which had a deep emotional effect. without being sentimental about it she could not avoid identifying her own grandchildren with the troops in the battle area. Apart from being her first time in a combat zone, Miss Martin chalked up another “first” by having her initial flight in a helicopter.
“I was lying on a stretcher with my head resting on grenades while alongside me were a couple of soldiers with tommy-guns at the ready,” she added.
Among the “incidents’ in Saigon was the discovery of a Vietcong guerilla in the uniform of a South Vietnamese police officer trying to plant a bomb under the stage of the theatre. That happened just as dusk was falling and the company’s curfew came into force.”
Although they had costumes, they did not have sets. They just performed on flatbed trucks. For security purposes, each performance (eleven in all) was not announced until an hour beforehand.
Staging the London production of Dolly! was no mere matter of polishing a previously existing company, as an entirely new ensemble was brought in.
On December 29th, 1965, Variety reported that Mary’s company had chalked up a new house record of $62,ooo at the Drury Lane.
By the time the show got to London at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on December 2, 1965, in which it would run for 794 performances, fatigue was beginning to show. In my interview with Johnny Beecher, who played Barnaby Tucker, he states that he feels the cast recording did not capture her on stage performance in a way that Carol Channing’s cast album does. However, Variety reported in its review dated February 16th, 1966, “Miss Martin’s approach is different from Miss Channing’s stylized attack, but once again, the title song registers as the large, glowing centerpiece of the Jerry Herman score.” Recorded December 5, 1965, in London, England; produced by Hugh Mendl.
Richard Halliday also kept her on a very strict regimen due to her diverticulitis and other health issues. The London engagement began on December 2, 1965 and Martin was with the show five months. Outside of the principals, British Equity did not allow much of the ensemble to be a part of this production. That same week, the original Broadway p r o d u c t i o n with Ginger Rogers as star grossed $70,010 at the St. James Theatre, N.Y., and the Betty Grable edition began an indefinite run at the Riviera, Las Vegas. In the latter case, the musical was offered as a no-admission (usual $5 minimum) come-on for the gambling- resort, so no gross was involved. The production got a flat weekly fee! The following week Carol would be opening an eight week run at the Municipal Auditorium in Oklahoma City.
In May of 1966, Mary Martin would end as Dolly Levi and would return to New York to embark on her next project: I Do! I Do! The production would once again be produced by David Merrick, directed by Gower Champion, and she would bring her friend – Bob Avian, who she met on Dolly! – along as production stage manager.
Years later, in January of 1986, Carol Channing and Mary Martin would co-star in Legends! They would open in Dallas. This was a comedy by James (A Chorus Line) Kirkwoodand started a tour at the Majestic Theatre with a plan to go to Broadway in the late spring. THAT never happened. The venomous play—about two bitterly feuding Hollywood screen legends who must share a New York stage—starred Mary Martin, who was 72 at the time and Carol Channing who was 62. They had been pals for 36 years, but this was the first time they performed together. (They split a $25,000 weekly salary and shared in profits.) For Martin, Legends! marked her return to the theater after suffering a punctured lung and fractured pelvic bone in a 1982 car accident in San Francisco. The crash killed her manager, Ben Washer, and severely injured Martin’s movie star pal Janet Gaynor, who died two years later. This tour would infamously be chronicled in James Kirkwood’s, Diary of a Mad Playwright.
A huge thank you to George Dansker for many of the images seen here.