Tommy Tune, is a 10 time Tony Award winner in a career celebrating 50 plus years on the Great White Way. He sings, dances, and laughs his way through those glorious musical moments that made him a Theatre Legend.
Tommy Tune was dancing in the chorus of How Now Dow Jones when Hollywood came knocking. The number that Tommy was in was cut for the evening performances.
The original Broadway production opened in December 1967.
The casting director, Alix Gordon, and Roger Edens were scouting New York talent for the film version of Dolly and came to a matinee performance. They saw Tommy do his matinee performance of a number that was cut and never seen again! It was probably performed seven times before producer David Merrick cut it. Gordon and Edens called the theater. They wanted Tommy for a screen test. He didn’t have an agent at the time. Chorus boys didn’t have agents. Someone suggested he call an agent named Peter Cereghetti. He would not be able to do a screen test except through an agent. The big movie studios protected themselves that way. If they see someone and they want them, and they haven’t done that much, they can be held up in negotiations. It was called “setting up a deal.” Through Cereghetti, it was arranged for Tommy to do a screen test and be flown out to Hollywood.
Tommy, first of all, had to get permission from David Merrick.
Merrick, believe it or not, felt a little bad about Tommy’s number being cut from the show.
He did a number from How Now Dow Jones on the Ed Sullivan Show on January 14th, 1968, a Sunday night. A car was waiting for him at the stage door of the newly named Ed Sullivan Theater. On December 10, 1967, to mark The Ed Sullivan Show’s 20th year, the studio was named The Ed Sullivan Theater in honor of the great host. Prior to that, it had been called the Manhattan Theater and Billy Rose’s Music Hall. He flew out overnight and rehearsed and shot the screen test missing the Monday performance (which Merrick had graciously let him out of). The screen test consisted of what would be Ambrose Kemper (Tommy Tune)’s first scene in the movie.
Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) telling him he is a six foot six nincompoop. He didn’t film the scene with Matthau, but rather, with a very good character actor. Obviously, we know the outcome. Tommy was asked to sign a seven year contract to appear in that movie. When they finished that film, it truly was the end of the big Hollywood musical. They wanted to change Tommy’s name because it sounded too much like a musical comedy entertainer. They wanted him to be the new Jimmy Stewart. None of what they desired him to do or become was not right for him. He went to the powers that be at Twentieth Century Fox and said, “I want to go back to New York and Broadway. Is that ok? Y’all aren’t doing movie musicals anymore. ” The Nanny and the Professor was just not cutting it for him. He did not desire to do sitcoms. His heart was not in it. Twentieth Century Fox let him out of his contract. He wanted to see his screen test. No one had been allowed to see their screen tests.
He felt that his screen test was better than what appeared in the final result because he did not know anything. The screen test was directed by Gene Kelly with full sets and costumes. It was just as if he was already shooting the movie. The difference was that TOMMY was the star of his screen test. It was all about screen testing him and getting the angles on him and getting him right. When it came to filming the movie, it was about getting it right for Walter Matthau and Barbra Streisand in their scenes. They tested twenty seven guys for this part. It was a different time. That would never happen now.
Tommy had done The Matchmaker in college and he had seen Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly on stage. He played Cornelius and knew the story very well. Tommy considers Carol the beginning and the end of everything. Carol is Tommy’s theatrical godmother. He had no desire to see any of the other Broadway Dollys.
When they were shooting the Dancing number, Tommy received the single greatest advice from his career from Gene Kelly. Tommy wasn’t slacking off but Gene said to him, “Dance better.” He wasn’t the choreographer. That was Michael Kidd. Tommy is the opposite of what Michael Kidd liked. He likes to have tall girls and short guys working together. It was a sex thing. He loves for the men’s heads to be right where the women’s breasts are. It was also an energy thing. It was just the opposite with Tommy and Joyce Ames who played Ermengarde.
They didn’t interest Kidd as a couple and there were huge possibilities. It was the reverse of what he saw. Gene just stepped in to help. Tommy loved Gene and felt sorry for him. They would work with Barbra, get everything all set, and then he would get the angels as he saw fit as the director. In truth, he called
Barbra, when she was not on the set and he was ready for her, he would say, “Bring on the dreaded Barbra.” He truly wasn’t a mean man. He would say that to the crew in earshot of everybody. She would come on, change everything, and he would go along with it.
Tommy found Kidd very busy , very “proppy”, very athletic…not three of Tommy’s favorite things. He likes simple, elegant, clean.
Tommy believes the movie has gotten better with age. He was totally embarrassed by the movie when it came out. Now he looks at it, and because standards have dropped so much in the world, he now goes, “That’s good!” or, “That’s really enjoyable.” He didn’t think at the time of its release that it was near good enough or imaginative enough.”
For one, he doesn’t feel that it was ideal casting for the movie. The match-ups didn’t all work. Roger Edens originally wanted Tommy for Barnaby. That role went to Danny Lockin. When they went to see Tommy in How Now Dow Jones, they WERE looking for Ambrose. After Roger saw Tommy, he told
them back in Hollywood that he had found a Barnaby.
He wanted them to spin their head around in a different direction. Roger thought that if Tommy played Barnaby, it would have taken the film to a different level. Tommy thought that he would have been better for Cornelius, having played the role in The Matchmaker.
That role had already been cast by Michael Crawford.
Tommy shot the film for six months.
Tommy has even considering Dolly himself. The Weissler’s, Barry and Fran, had a wonderful idea: Hello, Dolly starring Whoopi Goldberg. When they asked Tommy if he would do it, he said yes and saw the entire show in his head. He saw it and it was unique. They asked him to talk to Jerry Herman about this. He didn’t desire to do it on the phone. He felt that he needed to be with Jerry to sell this idea. He thought that Jerry might think it was too radical and it wasn’t. He hates when revisals are done that are so far from the intent of the original creators that it ends up being a different show.
Tommy’s instincts once again were right on. Jerry Herman nixed the idea.