Ray Workman: A Fan's Memories of Hello, Dolly!
In the large scheme of things, you probably have never heard of Ray Workman. He’s not “in the business” and he has no other relationship with Dolly beyond being a huge fan. When you hear his story, I think you will understand why I chose to include him as part of this project.
Dolly is a busy-body matchmaker type, who likes being in on everything and knowing everything there is to know about everyone she meets. Can't dance? She'll teach you. Ray feels the same about Dolly Levi.
He probably holds the undocumented record of seeing Hello, Dolly, probably nine hundred performances! He has seen up to twelve or thirteen different Dollys. Obviously, it is Ray’s favorite show. He feels that nothing has ever topped it. He doesn’t think anything ever will.
He has seen Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, Phyllis Diller, Pearl Bailey, Dorothy Lamour, Sheila MacRae, Jo Anne Worley, Eve Arden, Yvonne De Carlo, Carol Swarbrick, and then some women that are not as well known as the ones cited here. He also saw Nell Carter in DOLLY with Nipsy Russell in Long Beach in the early 90's, just before the Long Beach CLO went under. They booked that show as the First International Cast, as it was a totally mixed ethnic cast. She was fine as Dolly, and Nipsey was very funny. Ray remembers she cried during her closing night speech, saying it was one of the best companies she had ever worked with.
It all began when Ray had just graduated high school in 1965. Actually, this story begins in August. His grandmother came to him, telling that the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the LA Music Center was opening in Los Angeles.
She wanted to get season tickets. She was an avid theater goer. Ray had never been to the theater. His grandmother talked him into going. That season included Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly and Florence Henderson and Ricardo Montalban. Ray was familiar with Channing because of a television special she did. He was enthralled with her.
She blew him out of his chair. He couldn’t wait to see her in Dolly. She had also done a number, at that point, on the Ed Sullivan Show. He’s thinking it was Before the Parade Passes By. Of course, EVERYBODY was singing the title tube.Ray’s parents knew that he and his grandmother were going, so they asked if he could get tickets for Dolly for them as well.
Ray took his younger brother who was about ten years old at the time. Because of huge demand, they opened the ticket sales window on a Sunday. That had never been done before. The phones were ringing off the hook. Dolly was only going to play LA for seven weeks.
They wanted to sell all the tickets on the same day and give everybody the same chance. Ray and his brother took the bus about half an hour from where they lived. They lived in Compton, California which is about twelve mile south of LA. They got up around five thirty in the morning and they got to downtown LA around six fifteen AM. The box office wasn’t open and already the crowd was enormous! This was documented in The LA Times.
The lines to buy tickets were so intense and they opened the box office at ten AM. The box office stayed open until every seat was sold. That was about four thirty that same afternoon. Ray and his brother stood in line from seven AM until four PM. An announcement was made about half an hour before they got to the box office window. “May we have your attention, please? There are no more Saturday night tickets left.” They did that as each day sold out. Ray’s parents could only go on a Monday night. Ray’s father was off only one day a week at that time. As they stood in line and kept hearing all of the days dropping off like flies, there were some nights AND matinees disappearing, narrowing their options. By the time they got to the box office window, they were able to get the last two tickets on a particular Monday night! There were still people behind them. God only knows what their fate was. In the next day’s LA TIMES, it was stated that all fifty six performances for its entire seven week run was sold out! This was before TKTS and Telecharge or TicketMaster! They weren’t even taking telephone orders. You HAD to go to the box office! People didn’t have the credit cards that are now the norm. Of course, there were no ATMs at that time. People were there with full cash buying what they could. One thing, also, that is noteworthy. There were two food trucks who got word about this huge lines of people standing in the hot Californian August sun to buy tickets for Dolly. Those two food trucks completely ran out of food.
Ray and his grandmother ended up buying season tickets. They were in the third row of the third balcony. At that time, that was expenditure to watch their pennies to do. Remember, Ray was still in high school. He was working part time in a movie theater.
He was making a dollar thirty an hour. His grandmother was working for Western Auto.
Ray saw one of her pay stubs after she passed away. This woman lived on ninety three dollars a week. She thought when she got the tickets that she would buy better tickets for Ray’s parents and then switch them. Needless to say, they kept their tickets. Ray’s parents ended up in the last row of the third balcony. Ray’s father always joked that there was only one person higher up than him and that was God. They were up where the follow spot was positioned to follow Channing. For those of you who have been to the Pavilion, you know that that is high up. There are 3197 seats at the Dorothy Chandler. Ray’s parents did not see it the same night that Ray and his grandmother did. Ray’s parents saw it the second week on a Monday night.
Ray and his grandmother saw it the following week on a Tuesday night. The night that Ray’s parents saw it, they got home that evening about eleven forty five PM. Ray’s mother was holding her beloved Dolly program that she had purchased. In those days, it was one dollar to purchase a souvenir program. In that cast, Horace McMann was Horace Vandergelder and Harvey Evans was Barnaby Tucker. Ray remembers Horace was very good. Ray didn’t know too much about him prior. He was so enthralled with Carol that it was as if she was the only one on stage.
He does remember how wonderful Harvey was as Barnaby. As he recalls, there WAS a good chemistry between Channing and McMann. He doesn’t remember too much about McMann other than he looked the part. Even his picture in the program captured that. He reminded Ray of David Burns from pictures he had seen. He didn’t travel long with her before being replaced by Max Showalter. McMann passed away in 1971. He was sixty five. The show opened at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center, on Tuesday Evening, September 14, 1965 and closed on Saturday evening October 30, 1965.
Her standby was Lisa Kirk. Evening Performances were Monday through Saturday Eves at eight thirty PM Matinees, on Wednesday and Saturday at two thirty PM. Dark on Sundays.
Harvey had the enthusiasm that Barnaby needs. He really nailed it for Ray, much more so than the actor playing Cornelius Hackl. Harvey was the right age and build for it. Hid enthusiasm was infectious. Also, the cast was fresh; this was the beginning of the week and they had not done a matinee that day.
The show opened late September 1965. Ray had started college.
He had the cast album and practically wore it out before he even saw the show!
The one thing that Ray remembers above all others that night was Carol Channing’s smile. It showed up to the third balcony. It also didn’t hurt that they had opera glasses. Carol took that entire audience of 3200 people with standing room and had them in her hand and held them there for two and a half hours. Everyone was absolutely enthralled with her performance. He has never seen an audience get back to their seats after intermission as this cast did. They loved Act One so much, they couldn’t wait for Act Two.
Ray only saw Channing once during that run at the Pavilion but he did see her in future productions over the years. The moment the show was within reach, Ray got a group of tickets in hand.
In 1977, she played the Pantages Theater in LA on Hollywood Boulevard. When he saw it at the Pantages, he had better seats than six years ago at the Dorothy Chandler. This time around, he had fourth row aisle seats in the orchestra section. This time around, he caught everything, ALL of Channing’s nuances, all of her facial expressions, her eyes when she would roll them at Vandergelder for one reason or another.
It brought the house down, those aspects that he missed from the first time. He ended up seeing that production three or four times.
Tour stops included the Los Angeles County Music Center in 1982 and the Orange County Performing Arts Center and Pasadena Civic Auditorium in 1995. They staged the show in 1978 for the opening of Long Beach's Terrace Theatre. They were not able to open on their scheduled opening at The Terrace Theater due to a sound issue in the theater.
Carol would not allow the show to open without the sound being perfect. They ended up opening on a Wednesday night after that. In 1978, Ray was working at The Long Beach Civic Light Opera. He saw the Terrace Theater run also three or four times. He remembers the last performance of that run took place on a Sunday, there was a matinee and an evening show and Ray saw both.
Ray caught Carol’s last tour in 1994 in several places. He saw her at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco. In 1995, Channing received the Lifetime achievement Tony Award. Harvey Sabinson, who was the press rep for Dolly also received a Lifetime Achievement Award that year. Carol had previously won a Tony Award in 1964 and the New York Drama Critics Award for her role in Hello, Dolly!
Ray saw both the opening and closing performances at the Orpheum. She played the Sacramento Community Theater in Sacramento. That was the last time he saw her do it in February of 1997. Thirty years later, under the guidance of Lee Roy Reams as director, she had a little more sexuality in her performance. Channing, now 76, seemed so comfortable in the role you couldn’t picture seeing anyone else on stage doing it. The opening night crowd at the Community Center clearly loved her every minute she was on stage. Carol had the audience won over the second she first appeared and could do no wrong in the eyes of the crowd. During her Ephraim ‘Let me go” speech, she had tears in her eyes, something Ray had never noticed before.
Again, this is due to Lee Roy’s influence. There was poignancy to rejoining the human race again. Perhaps it had something to do with his seat, but he never recalled seeing that before. Channing worked the role well. Lee Roy Reams played Cornelius Hackl and Scott Bridges appeared as Barnaby Tucker.
In 1982, The Long Beach Civic Opera acquired the rights to present Jo Anne Worley in Dolly. Tickets were printed up as well as advertising and promotional materials including posters. It was announced as part of that season. Channing was also touring with Dolly that year. An engagement fell through with one of the stops of that tour. In was decided that they would bring Channing back into LA in for two weeks to play the Dorothy Chandler. Meanwhile, this was going to overlap with the Jo Anne Worley production at The Long Beach Civic Opera. The LA Times had fun with this calling it the dueling Dollys. At one point, Jo Anne was interviewed and talked about the fact that she had been Carol’s standby in New York. Jo Anne said in the interview at that time that although she did not see Carol that often, they were still friends. Jo Anne also said in that interview that the difference between a standby and an understudy was five hundred dollars. That was on Channel Five, on one of the local networks.
|Jo Ann Worley|
So for a brief moment, you had these two Dollys in two productions about fourteen miles apart.
His second favorite Dolly is Pearl Bailey. “She nailed it.” She brought to Dolly something that Carol had not done. It was a completely different show with Bailey. You couldn’t help but love it. Bailey reached out and grabbed the audience just as Carol did. You always felt that Carol was part of the company. And, as with Carol, you were with her from the moment she put down that newspaper until her “third act”, which was almost a forty five minute stance after a full two and a half hour show, in which she would do a club act while the company stood there! Ray saw it with both Cab Callaway and Billy Daniels. Carol, for Ray, will always come in as Number One but Pearl will come in as Number Two.
The one Dolly who was missed the mark, for Ray, was Sheila MacRae. Jo Anne Worley was supposed to do Dolly in San Bernadino. She was offered a tour of Pirates of Penzance. They brought in Sheila MacRae at the last minute. He doesn’t know if it was lack of rehearsal, or what it was, Sheila just didn’t do the part justice. She came across like a “truck driver in drag. She missed it completely.” He felt like the “humorless” restaurant scene would go on for the rest of his life. He thought they would never get to the polka number.
Martha Raye did it at the Long Beach Civic Opera. Dorothy Lamour played it with a bus and truck company several years prior to that. Even though Martha Raye did it on Broadway, she didn’t seem to know her lines the night Ray saw it. She was paid ten thousand dollars to perform it for nine performances. That was three weeks in a row, Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday matinees. She was going up all the time on her lines.
|Martha Raye Company|
Ray saw several of those performances. A funny thing happened on her closing night that brought the house down. In the Harmonia Gardens, Vandergelder stands up and tells Dolly he’s leaving. Martha says, “Wait a minute! The Polka contest is about to begin and I just remembered my lines!” The audience fell off their chairs laughing. She kept breaking that fourth wall all the time. There was a gay bar in Laguna Beach called The Little Shrimp that busloads of guys would go to the shows from. She had a large contingency attending her shows from there. She frequented it , even sitting at the piano bar singing. Also on closing night, as she is hugging the cash register, she says, “When I think of the money and the jewels and brunch at the Little Shrimp in Laguna” as she looked up at the mezzanine. Ray thought to himself, at the time, that if the creators were there, they wouldn’t like that, breaking that fourth wall, although she got laughs. There is an unwritten law that you don’t go off script for anything. Read what Will Mackenzie had to say about that when he went off script in Ginger Roger’s Dolly company.
The last Dolly that Ray saw was Carol Swarbrick at the Sacramento Music Circus. Ray believes that something is lost when Dolly is performed in the round. He believes it needs a proscenium stage. When the runway and stairs are gone, you are missing two important elements of how this show was meant to be performed. Carol Swarbrick made her entrance into the Harmonia Gardens as the cast sang Hello, Dolly to her. It didn’t have the same impact. Carol Swarbrick was fun and a good Dolly. It was not nearly as exciting as a proscenium stage production. She was funny, the restaurant scene, in particular. He doesn’t know what she was eating, but she did it with such relish, just as Channing did.
|Carol Swarbrick as Dolly|
She just kept gobbling down this food. The more she did so, the more the audience roared.
The restaurant scene was also out in the house, on a riser. She was that much closer to the people around her. There was no place for her to get rid of anything that might not be tasty.
Carol almost checked to death on stage with no where to go.
Ray also had another layer to his Dolly story. He was friends with Danny Lockin who had played Barnaby Tucker in several productions of Dolly AND repeated the role in the film. Ray was taking Theater Arts in Cerritos College in Norwalk, California. He was also studying journalism. When Dolly came back in June of 1967, once again at the Dorothy Chandler, this time with Ginger Rogers and David Burns, Ray once again took his grandmother. They moved from third row in the third balcony to fourth row center orchestra seats. This time, also, it was his treat. Now, he had money coming in; he was working in addition to going college. Danny Lockin blew Ray out of the water; he couldn’t believe how wonderful Danny was. He nailed the part of Barnaby Tucker. Danny seemed to have even more enthusiasm than Harvey did, if that is at all possible. Ray sent Danny a note asking him if he could interview him for his college paper. He mailed it to him in care of the Pavilion. A week later, Danny called Ray at home. He told Ray he would love to meet with after the Saturday matinee. Ray ended up interviewing him backstage in his dressing room which he shared with Bill Mullikin, who was playing Cornelius. Ray wrote fast and furious since he didn’t have a tape recorder. After the interview, he asked Ray if he would like a tour of the backstage area. It was getting close to six PM, and there was a lot of backstage activity for that night’s show.
|Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin from the film|
Ray sent a copy of the interview before it was published. Danny read it and approved it. They kept in touch with each other. Ray also saw the show a couple of times during that run.
Ray saw it every week, sometimes three or four times just to see Danny do it, Ray thought he was so great. After seven weeks at the Pavilion, the show was moving to the Curran in San Francisco. Ray said that he was going to get the tickets and go up for their closing night. Danny wanted to treat Ray for the tickets, but Ray declined.
Ray was invited back by Danny. Danny introduced Ginger to Ray who remembered him from Los Angeles. She was very gracious. After seeing Ray a couple of times, she would greet him with, “You’re back again! How did we do this time?” Around that time, Danny told Ray that something was brewing that he could not talk about. It was the movie! He never said a word about it until after all contracts were signed. Ray loved him in the movie; thought he was wonderful. He was toned down for the movie. Gene Kelly toned down the enthusiasm that Lucia unleashed on stage.
Unfortunately, Danny had a sad ending. Ray heard about it at work. This was August of 1977.Someone that Ray worked with called to tell him that Danny Lockin had been killed. It was in Variety. Ray ran out and got the paper. It was a daily at that time. Variety wasn’t as clear as the LA Times as to what had happened.
He was brutally stabbed over a hundred times. Apparently, he had met someone in a bar in Garden Grove. Ray, who is gay, did not know that Danny was. Danny was dating one of the girls in the show when Ray met him. They also got married and had a child. Ray and Danny had gone out for coffee and pie for a couple of times, never for cocktails. Ray was not a drinker. They never discussed sexuality. Ray’s attraction to Danny was because he was a great man, nothing more.
Ray had met Cathy Haas, who Danny married. Cathy had played the front end of a horse in a dance number when the Dolly! company played in San Francisco. In 1967, while working with Dorothy Lamour in Las Vegas, they got married and later lived in a tiny apartment in New York City. During the shooting of Hello Dolly, Cathy became pregnant, so they moved back to LA., bought a house and in early 1969, their son Jeremy Daniel was born. She was very standoffish and aloof towards Ray. Maybe it was because Danny and Ray clicked as two friends. He doesn’t know.
The first time Ray saw Dolly, he was eighteen years old. He is now sixty-five. The show epitomizes for Ray the message that you can start all over again with your life. It doesn’t end because someone passes away. Dolly says it all in Before The Parade Passes By. As Carol Channing says, that is the spine of the show. Dolly fights on and succeeds. The show hit at the right time in our country. Kennedy had been assassinated a mere few months before this show opened on Broadway. What this country needed was something light and airy and fun. That is why, there is a production of Dolly playing somewhere in the world on any given night. We are overdue for revivals of both Dolly and Mame on Broadway!